Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Heroin is a powerfully addictive drug that takes over the centers of the brain that control pleasure. A white to dark brown powder or tar-like substance, heroin can be injected, smoked or snorted.
Why Is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin produces feelings of intense euphoria. Users describe experiencing an incredible sense of joy, happiness and serenity within seconds or minutes of using heroin.
As physical and psychological dependence begin to develop, heroin users begin to spiral into daily use. Once addiction sets in, the heroin abuser’s focus in life becomes getting and using drugs, turning them into a person who is unrecognizable to family and friends.
Because the heroin that is available today is higher in purity and lower in price, it has become an attractive option to a larger group of people, including adolescents and young adults.
Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use
Some of the short-term effects of heroin use include:
- Depressed breathing
- Flushing of the skin
- Dry mouth
- A sense of heaviness in the arms and legs
- Slow, slurred speech
- Constricted pupils
- Droopy eyelids
- Nausea and vomiting
Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use
After prolonged use, heroin can have the following long-term effects:
- Collapsed veins
- Infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C)
- Liver or kidney disease
- Bacterial infections
- Infection of heart lining and valves
Heroin users can build a tolerance to the drug, meaning that they need more of the drug to experience the same euphoric effect. The more of the drug they use, however, the greater the possibility of developing an addiction to heroin or overdosing.
If an individual stops using heroin, they may experience painful withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle pain, restlessness, cold flashes and intense drug cravings. Withdrawal usually lasts two to seven days, but sudden withdrawal can, in rare cases, be fatal.
Treating Heroin Addiction
Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be treated. Outcomes are particularly favorable when a heroin addict enters treatment early on. Some of the interventions available to treat heroin addiction include:
Detox is usually the first step in recovery from heroin addiction. Heroin detox programs are designed to help patients get through the difficult withdrawal period with minimal pain or discomfort. While this stage is essential, by itself detox is not usually sufficient to achieve lasting recovery. Heroin rehab, complete with counseling, relapse prevention planning and aftercare, is one of the best ways to treat heroin addiction.
Methadone has been heavily researched over the past three decades and has a proven record of success as a treatment for heroin addiction. The medication is taken orally once a day to suppress drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms for 24-36 hours. When taken under the supervision of a doctor, methadone is not intoxicating and does not interfere with typical daily activities. While some people use methadone for a short period of time, it is medically safe to take it for years if needed.
Buprenorphine is a newer medication than methadone that offers less risk of addiction and can be prescribed in the privacy of a doctor’s office. When an individual stops taking buprenorphine, they generally experience fewer withdrawal symptoms than those using methadone.
Suboxone is another medication for heroin addiction. It is a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone that is specially formulated to minimize abuse.
While medication can be highly effective in treating heroin addiction, it is particularly useful when combined with individual, group and family therapy. Whether they are provided in an outpatient or residential setting, behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy can help heroin addicts build coping skills, stress management skills and life skills to prevent relapse.