heroin addiction
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Drug Profile: Heroin Addiction, Withdrawal & Treatment

It goes without saying that drugs are inherently dangerous and incredibly addictive. Nobody who experiments with substance abuse intends to become addicted; as users continue to recreationally abuse alcohol and drugs over time, they build a tolerance to them and begin to need a higher and higher dosage to achieve the desired effects. Before they know it, they’ve become physically and even psychologically dependent on alcohol and/or drugs, requiring an addiction treatment program in order to overcome their chemical dependencies.

Although all chemical substances carry a certain risk and addictive potential, there are some drugs that are even more dangerous and addictive than others. Cocaine and methamphetamine are considered very addictive and habit-forming, causing changes in brain structure and functioning that make individuals compulsively fixated on the consumption of these substances. However, the substance that’s arguably more addiction than any other is an opiate known as heroin. In recent years, heroin abuse and dependency rates—and even the number of annual deaths from heroin overdose—have skyrocketed and are higher than they’ve ever been before. In fact, the recent spike in

In recent years, heroin abuse and dependency rates—and even the number of annual deaths from heroin overdose—have skyrocketed and are higher than they’ve ever been before. In fact, the recent spike in heroin addiction—almost doubling in the United States between 2007 and 2012—has been referred to as a “heroin epidemic,” reflecting the rapid spread of heroin use and the drugs incredibly destructive influence on society.

With rates of heroin addiction being so devastatingly high, it’s important to understand the dangers of heroin and why it’s so addictive. The following will define heroin, discussing its chemically addictive properties, the withdrawal symptoms that accompany heroin addiction, and how heroin dependency can be treated.

What is Heroin? Why is It So Addictive?

The opium in the opium poppy has been used for thousands of years, which has led historians to believe that its use for both recreational and medicinal purposes predates written history. The sap derived from the opium poppy was known to have been used by the ancient Minoans and Greeks, the latter of whom bestowed the name “opium” that has persisted to this very day.

In the late 1800s, chemists began to experiment with opium in the hope of developing derivatives, which were usually hoped to be more powerful forms of opium that could be used as a local anesthetic during surgery. In 1874, experiments with morphine—considered the first isolated ingredient of a planet and the earliest derivative of the opium poppy—yielded a substance that was several times more powerful than morphine itself and had a much more rapid onset.

After a period of being marketed by Bayer—known for Aspirin—under the name Heroin as a non-addictive cough suppressant, it was found that heroin was, in fact, quite dangerous with a high potential for addiction and has been illegal in the United States since 1924. In some countries, heroin is infrequently used as an alternative for morphine to treat post-surgical and acute pain from injury or trauma, but it’s more widely known for its widespread illicit and recreational use.

Most often administered intravenously using a hypodermic syringe, heroin is a favorite of recreational drug users due to its high potency, strong euphoric and intoxicating effects, and rapid onset; however, being such a power drug it also means that users of heroin quickly develop a tolerance to the drug, needing high and higher dosage to achieve the desired level of euphoria and intoxication. The desired effects of heroin include euphoria and a sort of numbness throughout the body, relaxation, and drowsiness, and warming of the skin, but other effects include respiratory depression, decrease in body temperature, loss of muscular and skeletal motor control, and sometimes nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

When an individual administers heroin, the body metabolizes it into morphine and similar metabolites, which allow heroin to bind to the brain’s opioid receptors. This process is what allows opioid substances to treat physical pain. Additionally, heroin triggers the brain to release a surplus of serotonin and dopamine, accounting for the pleasurable, pleasant feelings attributed to heroin use. However, with repeated use the brain begins producing less and less of these chemicals on its own, relying on heroin to maintain chemical levels and resulting in withdrawal symptoms after a period of time without heroin. The appearance of withdrawal symptoms alerts to the presence of dependency, meaning that the individual has become physiologically dependent on heroin.

Heroin withdrawal typically begins about six hours after a user’s last dose of heroin. The symptoms of heroin withdrawal are numerous and include general feelings of unwellness or malaise, sweating, restlessness and an inability to sit still, anxiety, the sensation of the body being extremely heavy, excessive yawning and/or sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, insomnia, chills and cold sweats, genital sensitivity in females or priapism in males, aching of the muscles and joints, diarrhea and nausea, cramps, fever, and muscle spasms.

These symptoms typically begin suddenly, albeit usually at a mild level while becoming increasingly more severe as time passes. The peak of withdrawal in which the symptoms are the most intense typically occurs 24 hours after the last dose, lasting about three days before gradually subsiding over a period of about five to seven days. However, in instances of long-term or severe heroin addiction individuals might experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms for weeks or even months, which is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Treatment of Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal

Due to the highly addictive nature of heroin and the severity of heroin addiction, the most effective treatment for heroin addiction is to enroll in an inpatient addiction treatment program at a residential treatment facility. Inpatient treatment often begins with a period of detox in which the individual is monitoring while the drug works its way out of the body; medical supervision during detox means that physicians can assist individuals by alleviating withdrawal symptoms with medicinal interventions if necessary to ensure safety during recovery.

Upon completion of detoxification, individuals will begin inpatient treatment, which consists of daily individual and group therapy, relapse prevention sessions, addiction education, and a number of holistic and alternative treatments while the patient lives on-site in the facility for the duration of the program.

Another option would be to participate in outpatient treatment, which allows recovering addicts to continue living at home while commuting to the facility for each day’s treatments; while outpatient treatment might be preferable to those who have inflexible employment schedules or familial obligations, outpatient treatment doesn’t offer the intensity of an inpatient program, which is why they’re seen as less effective than inpatient treatment.

Additionally, replacement therapy is also an option, albeit somewhat controversial, in that it focuses more on harm reduction than on overcoming chemical dependency. In replacement therapy, individuals treat addiction by replacing heroin with a prescription for a substance such as methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone), which protects them from heroin overdose and many of the risks associated with intravenous drug use—such as contracting bloodborne illnesses from sharing syringes with other drug users—while allowing individuals to avoid uncomfortable or even painful withdrawal. However, replacement drugs are also sometimes used for very brief periods to assist with supervised detox prior to an inpatient program, showing that such drugs have other uses than merely for replacement therapy.

Learn More About Heroin Addiction and Recovery Today

If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin or another substance and would like to learn more about inpatient, outpatient, or replacement treatments, Drug Treatment Center Finder is here to help. We have a team of knowledgeable, caring recovery specialists who have helped countless addicts find their way back to sobriety and health by matching them with the addiction treatment programs that best addressed their individuals needs. Don’t wait—give us a call at 1-855-619-8070 so we can discuss your recovery from alcohol or drug addiction today.