What is Heroin
A potent opiate synthesized from opium, heroin produces strong analgesic and euphoric effects. Sold on the streets, heroin carries incredibly high addiction potential, quickly causing users to develop lengthy and harrowing addictions. With nightmarish withdrawal symptoms, strong cravings and rapidly developing tolerance, heroin addiction can be one of the most difficult forms of chemical dependency to recover from without professional help.
Table of Contents
History of Heroin
Why It’s So Addictive
Heroin’s opiate properties initiate both analgesic and mood-enhancing effects. In fact, heroin hits the bloodstream within seconds of use, binding to pain receptors in the spinal cord and body. As a result, users experience a sense of painlessness, numbness and relaxation. Secondly, as heroin metabolizes into morphine, the drug acts upon neurotransmitters in the brain, changing brain chemistry in a powerful “rush.” In particular, heroin alters the brain’s levels of endorphin, GABA and dopamine release, leading to feelings of euphoria, calm, contentedness and pleasure experienced as heroin’s high.
Heroin addiction arises due to a series of properties of the drug. In addition, heroin’s short half-life means that users must frequently ingest heroin dosages, leading to strong behavioral associations as the brain’s reward centers are repeatedly activated. The resulting positive association becomes Pavlovian in nature, strengthened by the negative reinforcement of withdrawal symptoms and cravings. Over time, the brain adapts to the overpresence of dopamine in the brain, lowering its natural production of vital neurochemicals. When heroin exits the system, heroin users feel the sharp neurochemical imbalance, creating anxiety, depression and anger as the deep urge to reuse sets in. Simultaneously, even short periods of sobriety cause the body to violently react, leading to severe withdrawal symptoms that push heroin addicts back towards opiate abuse.
Street Terms for Heroin
During heroin’s long history of use, the drug has acquired a plethora of street names and pseudonyms. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the most common terms for heroin on the street include “ska,” “junk” and “smack.” Additional street names for heroin include “dope,” “horse” and simply “H.” Heroin slang terms also sometimes refer to the euphoric effects of the drug, with nicknames like “Dr. Feelgood,” while other slang terms for heroin include the appearance of the drug itself, such as “brown,” “brown sugar,” “China white,” “mud,” “black tar” and “Mr. Brownstone.”
Signs of Addiction
When heroin addiction takes hold the effects tend to be pervasive, with symptoms of use spanning the physical, behavioral and psychological realms.
Health Issues From Long-Term Heroin Use
Prolonged heroin use batters the body, leading to persistent long-term health issues if addiction remains untreated. Long-term health issues arising from heroin addiction include:
- Permanent long-term memory problems due to brain damage
- Respiratory problems
- Bronchitis and pneumonia
- Tooth decay and gum disease from persistent dry mouth
- Impaired coughing reflex
- Skin abscesses, infections and scarring
- HIV transmission
- Hepatitis infection
- Cirrhosis and liver cancer
- Cardiovascular disease and cardiomyopathy
- Cardiac arrest
- Cerebral hemorrhaging (bleeding in the brain)
- Fatal blood clots
- Vision problems
- Chronic constipation and abdominal cramps
- Anorexia nervosa
- Spontaneous abortion
- Irregular menstrual periods
- Sexual dysfunction
- Suicidal ideation
Heroin overdoses can also lead to serious physical harm, though prompt medical treatment may be life-saving. No matter how long heroin users have been addicted to the drug, overdose can occur – often most commonly in new users unfamiliar with safe dosages and veteran heroin addicts whose tolerance has risen high enough they accidentally overdose in pursuit of a high. Additionally, varying purity levels in heroin can mean that an amount of the drug that was nonlethal in one purchase can be lethal in the next. Because heroin can cause a mix of emotions ranging from despair to euphoria, addicts will often keep ingesting the drug until they receive the desired emotional effects. Mixing heroin with other drugs – such as cocaine, alcohol and other opiates – can also have life-threatening effects.
When heroin addicts attempt to stop use, withdrawal symptoms set in as the body responds to the chemical changes in the body. According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be harrowing, including insomnia, tremors, persistent nausea, severe vomiting, profuse perspiration and dangerously high fevers. Heroin users also frequently experience goosebumps and chills, causing the aptly named heroin withdrawal period as going “cold turkey.” One of the hallmark signs of heroin withdrawal is involuntary muscle action, most often affecting the legs and extremities – the origin of the term “kicking the habit” to describe severe drug withdrawal. Chronic diarrhea also often sets in as the body adjusts to the absence of heroin in the system. Intense itching is another telltale sign of heroin withdrawal, in a condition known as “itchy blood” where users often scratch themselves to the point of bleeding.
Psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include hallucinations, intense cravings, jolting mood alterations, suicidal tendencies, severe clinical depression and violent episodes. The combined force and intensity of these withdrawal symptoms often results in heroin addicts returning to drug use, unless treated in a professional detoxification facility.
Statistics on Heroin Abuse and Addiction
Though it can be difficult to believe a loved one has spiraled into heroin addiction, statistics show that heroin use remains steady – and in some cases, even on the rise. In fact, recent studies within the last several years have shown revealed surprisingly high levels of heroin abuse across the United States.
- Nearly 25 percent of those who experiment with heroin develop full-blown addictions.
- More than 1.2 million people across the United States have engaged in some form of heroin abuse.
- According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), heroin-related emergency room visits topped 200,000 in 2009 alone.
- Heroin smoking increased by 12 percent in the decade between 1992 and 2002 alone.
- In 2009 alone, more than 605,000 individuals in the United States had engaged in heroin use in the past 12 months, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- As of 2010, just under one percent of 8th graders, high school sophomores and high school seniors had used heroin in the last year.
- Heroin accounted for roughly 14% of drug treatment admissions in 2008.
Benefits of Professional Detox
When heroin addicts finally seek treatment, the first – and arguably most vital – step on the pathway to addiction recovery is detoxification. Heroin detox attempted alone can have disastrous consequences – including serious medical complications and even lethal overdose due to the likelihood of return to heroin use when withdrawal symptoms and cravings are not professionally managed. Fortunately, professional heroin detox centers can provide supervised, managed care to ensure the safety and health of heroin addicts as they recover. Overall benefits of professional heroin detox include:
- Safe, medically supervised heroin detoxification
- Availability of medications targeted at easing heroin withdrawal symptoms
- Psychological support to enable patients to cope with cravings
- Medical assessments and diagnostic testing to ensure overall health
- Hydration and guided nutrition
- Exercise programs to release endorphins and promote stress relief
- Mind-body therapies to provide relaxation
- Pain management capabilities
- Dual Diagnosis support for those with concurrent mental health issues
- Participation in group therapy and 12-step traditions
- Medication management
- Community support during detoxification
Finding the Most Effective Rehab Program
Making the choice to enter treatment is the most important step in recovery, but selecting from the plethora of drug addiction rehab centers can be daunting. Here are several key questions to consider when deciding which heroin rehab program may be most effective for you or a loved one.
- What is the patient-to-staff ratio?
Lower ratios of patients to staff members will generally indicate more personalized attention. Some residential drug rehab centers will even limit enrollment tightly, to ensure that each patient receives the care they need.
- Does the heroin rehab program have on-site detox?
On-site detoxification simplifies the recovery process, allowing patients to easily transition between detox and therapeutic phases of recovery. Additionally, on-site detox facilities will allow for the patient to receive therapy, medications, peer support and professional supervision that can make a difference in recovery.
- What form of heroin detox – rapid, natural or medical – is offered?
Proponents of natural detoxification point to the high addiction rates that occur when potentially addictive medications such as methadone are used in heroin recovery. Other treatment programs favor rapid detoxification methods, allowing patients to essentially “sleep” through withdrawal, though critics suggest skipping this vital phase of recovery may be detrimental. Medical detoxification favors the conservative use of medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings, while providing health care supervision for patients.
- Are 12-step modalities and group therapy used?
Group support can increase the effectiveness of treatment. Consider 12-step involvement and process groups that may be available to clients.
- What kind of transitional planning or aftercare is available?
Recovery from heroin addiction is a process, and one that often requires ongoing support, obstacle planning and follow-up care. Ask about alumni events, graduate outreaches, referral and shadowing services, and aftercare programs.
Call Today for More Information
At Axis, we understanding the strong pull that heroin can have on an addicted individual. Through our state-of-the-art on-site detoxification program and our array of targeted therapies, we offer hope and healing to those trapped in the throes of heroin addiction. Our compassionate, knowledgeable intake professionals are awaiting your call to speak to you about how to make heroin addiction treatment work for you.