Heroin Addiction: Facts And Further Resources
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs you’ll encounter. Heroin addiction and the substance itself is responsible for thousands of deaths annually due to overdoses. The CDC notes that over 14,000 people died from drug overdoses from heroin in 2019.
This massive body count demonstrates the danger this drug presents to the average individual. Heroin’s addictiveness is only enhanced by how cheap it is to obtain. Thanks to how easy it is to make, it has become one of the most popular illicit opioids flooding America’s streets. But what exactly is heroin, and how does it impact the lives of so many people negatively?
What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid, making it a painkiller. It is derived from morphine, which comes from the seeds of the poppy plant. Unlike other painkillers, however, heroin is illegal. One can easily find it on the street with names such as smack, horse, or dope.
While heroin can find use as a painkiller, the side effects of the drug make the most lasting impact on individuals. When someone takes heroin, it does numb pain, but it also creates a feeling of euphoria and well-being in the person’s brain. This euphoric feeling is what leads to dependence and, eventually, addiction.
Heroin’s addictiveness is further enhanced by dealers who “cut” the drug with other substances. The most common substances used to mix with heroin are quinine, powdered milk, sugars, or starch. Pure heroin is a white powder that’s bitter to the taste.
Unfortunately, the mixtures found at street-level sold by dealers aren’t usually pure and come in various colors, including brown and pink. Heroin’s popularity stems partially from the opioid epidemic that swept the nation in the late 80s and early 90s.
Thanks to the easy availability of this drug and the amount of dependent opiate and opioid users, the popularity soared. Today, the drug is still widely distributed, and law enforcement has had to play catch-up with these traffickers and distributors.
The Heroin Problem in the US
In the US, overdose deaths from heroin have soared year after year. The heroin problem that US cities have been facing is a symptom of a much larger problem known as the opiate crisis. When opiates and opioids were first discovered, doctors prescribed them to anyone who suffered from chronic pain.
However, long-term studies started to show a distinct pattern of addiction from those who routinely took the substance. Over time, these users would become addicted to the substances, making doctors think twice about putting other patients on them.
The most prominent addiction rates doctors had seen had come from the regular use of morphine as a painkiller in the Civil War. Civilian use of these substances was highly limited following this period. All this changed in the 1980s.
As the 80s rolled around, drug companies started to manufacture new opioids and claimed that they would remain safe for use and not addictive if used to manage pain legitimately. Doctors seemed to agree with this explanation and started to put their patients on these painkillers for chronic pain.
Again, patients would start using these painkillers legitimately but would slip into abuse over time as they became addicted to the euphoric feeling of the drug. Doctors cut their patients off these painkillers, forcing them to find other methods to get high. One of the easiest available methods was heroin.
Functioning Heroin Addicts
Heroin became the drug of choice for many previous painkiller addicts. Since they could no longer reliably get their painkiller prescriptions filled, they turned to the street, which eagerly provided for their addiction. Despite being illegal, these individuals still managed to score opioids.
Many of these people defied (and continue to defy) the conventional stereotype of a homeless or disadvantaged heroin addict, by continuing to hold work and meeting most of their social obligations.
Beneath a façade of function, however, the need for heroin in order to function effectively becomes a huge impediment financially, socially, and in maintaining bonds with friends and family.
There are other reasons the drug has become increasingly widespread in recent years. Heroin comes in multiple forms and can be injected or snorted to produce its effects. Since it is so easily transported, this alone forms the basis of distribution to a new sector of society.
Chronic pain sufferers who had used legitimate painkillers for years and became hooked on opioids can now access these drugs from street sellers. Unfortunately, there is no quality control, and many of these drugs contain mixed proportions of other substances, even other drugs, such a fentanyl.
With questionable purity and no safety valve, overdoses became familiar in a demographic that no one suspected. Opiates, including heroin, are highly addictive. They keep bringing their users back for more, even though they know how dangerous they can be. What makes them such an addictive class of drugs?
Why is Heroin So Addictive?
Before deconstructing how heroin works on the brain, we must first look at how the brain functions normally. When a signal is transmitted across the brain, it relies on neurotransmitters to carry it. These neurotransmitters are chemicals that diffuse across the gaps in brain axons and bind to receptor sites.
Receptor sites are where heroin does the majority of its work. Heroin is a competitive inhibitor, meaning that it starts binding to the same receptor sites that pain signals would use, making it impossible for them to be transmitted.
This inhibition of pain signals results in less pain, making it remarkably effective as a painkiller. Unfortunately, opiates also bind to other receptor sites in the brain, those that deal with creating pleasure.
When opiates like heroin bond to these receptor sites, they flood the brain with dopamine – the “feel good” chemical. The brain releases dopamine when it does pleasurable activities as a reward. Heroin short-circuits this reward path and allows the brain to get dopamine anytime the person takes heroin.
Unfortunately, the more often someone uses heroin, the more tolerant they become to its presence in their bloodstream. They end up needing more of the substance to get the same high they would have previously felt. In this way, heroin starts to rewire the user’s brain, making it impossible to function without the drug in their bodies.
Dependence on its own is a dangerous situation, but it is different from addiction. Addiction is a brain disease that sees a user going to extreme lengths to acquire a substance they’re dependent on.
Usually, this means bypassing social norms and even legal barriers to get that substance. Addiction stems from dependence, and a person’s behavior usually changes to let someone know that they’re dependent on a substance.
How Can You Tell if Someone’s Addicted to Heroin?
The signs and symptoms of heroin addiction differ depending on the individual. Each addiction case is unique, with the strength of urges based on how long the person has been using the drug, how often they use it, and even their genetic makeup. However, there are some common signs of addiction, including:
- Irritability or agitation that can’t be explained otherwise
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
- Avoiding loved ones
- Lying about their drug use, the frequency, or the volume
- Sudden and noticeable weight loss
- Scabs or bruises resulting from picking at the skin
In addition to these symptoms, there’s usually a period where the user withdraws themselves from society. They cut ties with those close to them. Their performance, either at work or at school, starts to suffer.
This decline in performance is accompanied by risky behavior due to their urges to take more of the substance. Because of heroin’s impact on the brain, the user might experience periods of manic hyperactivity followed by periods of low energy.
They may show signs of apathy and a lack of motivation to the things they had once enjoyed. Their attire may change if they use needles in their drug abuse. They’re very likely to start wearing long sleeves or long pants to hide needle tracks from others.
Why Come to California for Addiction Treatment?
When a loved one becomes addicted to heroin, there is hope of recovery. Rehabilitation centers in California can help someone overcome their urges and give them the will to leave their habit behind.
California itself is one of the best places for someone to choose to recover from an addictive substance. There is an extensive network of recovering individuals who can offer support to one another.
Additionally, many recovery locations provide a wide range of treatment facilities at varying price ranges. California’s treatment centers have skilled personnel that has dedicated themselves to overcoming this opioid epidemic. Heroin recovery is possible.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Addiction treatment for heroin starts with a visit to the chosen rehab center. Usually, the staff will ask the visitor a few questions and prepare them to enter detoxification. The team’s questions help acquaint them with the patient and understand how long they’ve been using.
This questionnaire gives them an idea of what approach they should take that would be most useful in helping them. The Discovery House approaches treatment on an individual basis with each patient.
We know that addiction is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Once we’ve developed a personal plan, the patient enters detoxification.
Detox is the first stage of recovery. In this step, the person tapers their heroin use and then stops it altogether. Unfortunately, stopping the use of an addictive substance usually creates issues in the form of withdrawal symptoms.
Detox is a necessary part of the recovery process because it helps the body evict the addictive substance, leaving the person free to continue on their road to recovery. Withdrawal symptoms for heroin addiction can last up to a week in the most extreme cases. Some patients prefer to detox on their own, but this choice is dangerous. Heroin withdrawal can lead to severe symptoms.
The Discovery House has trained medical personnel on hand, allowing our patients to detox with the peace of mind of knowing that help is close by in case things go badly. Once a person goes through the process of detoxification, they can move on to other treatments.
Some facilities offer inpatient treatment as a method of overcoming addiction. Inpatient treatment is usually the best option for individuals who have had a long-standing heroin addiction. Within an inpatient facility, a patient gets one-on-one and group therapy to help them overcome their urges.
This therapy is usually in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which has shown massive success in helping recovering persons spot the negative thoughts that give rise to their urges.
Inpatient treatment limits the patient’s exposure to triggers that may lead them to relapse by allowing them to stay at the facility while they go through rehab.
Outpatient treatments offer a bit more freedom and flexibility for recovering individuals. They don’t need to stay at the facility while recovering but must attend scheduled sessions at the rehab center.
This type of treatment is better for individuals who have managed to control their urges significantly. It places more responsibility on the recovering person to ensure they get to treatment but impacts less on their lives outside of the facility.
Outpatient treatments allow a person to retain much of their lives as they go through rehab but carries the constant risk of falling back into their old behaviors.
While inpatient and outpatient treatments set the stage for recovery, a recovering person still needs more support. Both inpatient and outpatient facilities help them get the social support they need from other recovering persons to keep focused on their own recovery.
Other support groups and networking methods can also work to offer much-needed support to recovering persons. In many cases, the drive to return to their lives comes from the friendships they forge through these programs.
Choosing the Right Facility for a Heroin Addiction Rehab
Heroin addiction can cause severe damage to a person’s mental and physical outlook on life. The right recovery center can help to repair that damage.
The Discovery House in California offers a unique blend of therapy that can guide recovering persons out of the shadow of addiction. Trained medical personnel provide support and treatment to our patients.
We cater to a wide range of individuals and derive individual treatment plans for each one. If you want a facility that puts your needs as a patient first, give us a call. We’d be glad to set up an appointment to get you on the road to recovery.