Since heroin is one of the most commonly abused drugs in America, it’s not surprising to find out that many Americans struggle with a heroin addiction. Those who are abusing heroin will quickly develop dependence and tolerance to the drug. In 2016, 948,000 Americans reported using heroin at least once in the past year. That’s quite a lot.
Heroin doesn’t only affect Americans. Approximately 9.2 million people in this world are addicted to this drug. Heroin is extremely addictive. It’s derived from the resin of poppy plants and refined until it becomes a fine, white powder. This is heroin in its purest form. In most situations, the heroin is cut with other drugs and comes in the form of a sticky substance. This is known as tar heroin.
Heroin is usually injected intravenously by drug addicts. It creates a potent high that is unmatched by any other illicit substance. Those who constantly inject heroin in the same spot will experience collapsed veins. It’s also easy to overdose on heroin. With all this in mind, this article will look at the withdrawals, side effects and treatment approaches available for heroin addiction treatment.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are particularly nasty and difficult to deal with. Studies show that withdrawal symptoms are responsible for relapses. Continued withdrawal symptoms also decrease the reward sensitivity of taking the drug. When treating a heroin addiction, it’s vital that the recovery center put a lot of effort into easing heroin withdrawals. Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms to look out for include:
- Cold sweats and chills
- Cramping in the limbs
- Intense heroin cravings
- Nausea and vomiting
- Profuse sweating
- Runny nose
- Severe bone aches
- Severe muscle aches and pain
- Sleeping problems like insomnia
The symptoms of heroin withdrawal tend to mimic flu symptoms. They are quite similar. Those who are weaning off of heroin will look like they’re experiencing a bad flu. With that said, the intensity and range of symptoms experienced will differ from person to person. It is dependent on one’s biological makeup, the length of the drug use, the amount of heroin taken, the method of administration, among many other factors.
In worst case scenarios, these withdrawal symptoms can turn deadly. This is why heroin abuse is so dangerous. Many drug addicts either end up overdosing or dying from fatal withdrawals. To ensure that the withdrawals don’t become too much to handle, patients receive 24-hour supervision from medical staff at the treatment center.
Side Effects of Heroin Abuse
When heroin enters the body, it easily passes through the blood-brain barrier and into the brain. This is why this type of drug addiction is the hardest to kick. Once heroin enters the brain, the body converts it into morphine. Short-term heroin use will lead to certain side effects. Long-term heroin abuse will also lead to some long-term side effects. Some of these side effects are permanent and irreversible. We’ll explore the many side effects of this type of substance abuse below.
The short-term effects of heroin tend to kick in pretty quickly. The drug binds rapidly to the opioid receptors. They change neurochemical activity in the brain stem, and effectively affect autonomic body functions. Drug abusers will experience slowed heart rate and breathing. The drugs can also alter activity in the limbic system. The limbic system is responsible for controlling emotion. When the limbic system is affected, drug-taking behavior may intensity.
The intensity of the short-term heroin effects is usually dependent on the amount of heroin taken. The most common short-term side effects include:
- Dry mouth
- Heavy feeling in the extremities
- Intense euphoric sensations
- Slowed heart rate and breathing
- Severe itching
- Vomiting and nausea
- Warm flushing of the skin
The heroin abusers will also feel drowsy and sleep for several hours. The drug clouds their mental function. They are unable to act quickly or make logical decisions.
In worst case scenarios, the slowed breathing and heart rate could lead to respiratory and cardiac failure. Those who take too much heroin may overwhelm their system. Respiratory and cardiac failure are symptoms of heroin overdose. Slowed breathing can result in coma and death in severe situations. Drug abusers need to look out for these effects of heroin abuse. If loved ones have gone through an overdose, it’s time to look into the various treatment options offered at an addictions treatment center.
Long-term, chronic heroin abuse can also lead to long-term side effects. These side effects of heroin abuse are not likely to dissipate with time. In fact, most of the damage is usually irreversible and permanent. Some common long-term heroin effects include:
- Bad teeth
- Cold sweats
- Depression and mood disorders
- Diminished mental capacity and loss of memory
- Inflammation of the gums
- Loss of appetite
- Menstrual disturbance in women
- Muscle weakness and aches
- Partial paralysis
- Pustules on the face
- Respiratory illnesses and conditions
- Reduced sexual capacity and impotence in men
- Severe itching
- Sexual dysfunction, like an inability to orgasm
- Sleep disorders like insomnia
Long-term heroin abuse will lead to a weakened immune system. When dealing with a long-term addiction, addictions treatment is necessary for a full recovery. Otherwise, the withdrawal symptoms can be too difficult to bear. Drug abusers should get help before any of the above signs and symptoms begin to appear. Long-term abuse can also lead to irreversible brain damage. A heroin addiction is much more serious than what most people would like to believe.
Treatment Options for an Addiction to Heroin
If you’re addicted to heroin, there are several different substance abuse treatment options available for the drug. Since the withdrawals can be quite intense, the most recommended treatment option for this commonly abused substance is a residential treatment plan.
During the first part of the treatment, patients are prescribed prescription drugs that help ease the withdrawal symptoms. This is also known as Opiate Replacement Therapy (ORT). The heroin is substituted for weaker opioids, like methadone or buprenorphine. These agonists work in a similar way to heroin and will ease withdrawal symptoms.
As patients wean off of the drug, they will also go take part in various behavioral therapy sessions. These sessions help treat psychological withdrawal symptoms and teach patients healthier life skills. Popular options include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Motivation Interviewing (MI) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).