Heroin Addiction Treatment:Serenity Lane’s Approach To Treatment for Addiction
Heroin is an incredibly addictive opioid drug that can affect all aspects of a user’s life. Compared to prescription opioid use statistics, heroin use is relatively low. That being said, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has determined that more than 67,000 people died of opioid overdose in 2018, including heroin and prescription opioids.
Heroin is not a new drug by any means, but the opioid epidemic has made medical professionals seek to understand opioid addiction and what approaches to treatment are the most effective.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an incredibly addictive illicit opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine. The seeds of the opium poppy plant are what makes for the basis of morphine. This processed drug typically comes in the form of a fine brown powder.
Opium poppy fields are usually found in Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. This is where the climate allows for the most effective cultivation of the plant. Because of this, we see the influx of heroin into the United States coming from mainly these regions.
Heroin, in its processed form, is referred to by multiple different street names:
- “Hell Dust”
Many of these street names are references to the different forms in which the drug can be sold. Most commonly, the drug is manufactured as a white, tan, or brown powder. This pure powder is often “cut” or mixed with inert powders that stretch the volume of the powder for increased profit. Some of the inert substances that are most commonly used include baby powder or cornstarch.
Some heroin is processed into a sticky substance referred to as “black tar.” This type of heroin is generally believed to be of lower quality and less pure than other forms. In the context of drug use, less pure can often mean more dangerous or risky.
In its different forms, heroin can be ingested in a number of different ways including snorting through the nostrils, smoking, or injecting a solution of the drug intravenously (IV). While all of these types of ingestion carry their own risks, intravenous use carries the highest risk of overdose as the drug is injected directly into the bloodstream.
Short-Term Effects and Symptoms of Use
Heroin tends to have immediate and powerful effects on its user, depending mainly on method of ingestion. There are many short-term signs and symptoms to look out for that suggest that a person is under the influence of the powerful opiate. We’ve compiled a list of these signs:
- A rush of euphoria or a “high” in the user that may include elevated mood or energy
- The flushed or reddening appearance of skin that may also be paired with increased temperature or sweating
- Severe itching due to heroin’s effects on nerve endings which may eventually lead to complications with lesions or infection
- Dry mouth due to lack of saliva production
- Shivering or cold flashes in users
- Reduced mental awareness or general fogginess
- A sharp decrease in motor skills
- Slowed breathing, often to a dangerous extent that suggests heroin overdose
How quickly someone may experience these effects, and for how long, may depend on the quantity and purity of heroin ingested. For example, someone who smokes the drug or uses it intravenously is typically at a higher risk for addiction as heroin reaches the brain quicker with these methods of ingestion. The itching, vomiting, and nausea felt by inexperienced users of heroin typically subsides as they fall deeper into addiction.
Many of these side effects are seen as pleasant or desirable and are what lead to heroin addiction in the first place. Someone will continue to use heroin in order to chase the initial high or euphoria that they felt when they used the drug for the first time.
This is a phenomenon commonly referred to as “chasing the dragon” and can lead to long-term, strong addiction.
Long-Term Effects of Heroin Addiction
Along with some of the short-term side effects described above, extended heroin use has effects that only become apparent after long-term use. These effects can be both behavioral and physical:
- Increased tolerance to heroin, meaning that the user will require more of the drug to achieve the same desirable effects
- Physical dependence on heroin leading to withdrawal symptoms when the person stops using
- Various emotional disorders, such as depression and anxiety, that may affect how a person reacts and behaves during stressful situations
- An increased risk of death by heroin overdose due to increased use of the drug
- Impaired decision-making abilities and cognitive function
Long-term heroin users are also at an increased risk for various health conditions:
- Pregnancy issues and miscarriage
- Kidney disease or decreased kidney function
- Heart problems such as arrhythmia and heart disease
- Brain damage and damage to cognitive function
- Lung issues such as pneumonia
- Increased risk of infectious disease such as HIV or hepatitis C for users who take heroin intravenously
Physical and Behavioral Signs of Heroin Addiction
Along with the physical risks involved with heroin use, there’s also a whole set of different physical and behavioral signs to look out for when determining whether you or a loved one may be suffering from an addiction to heroin.
Some physical symptoms of heroin use may include
- Red or bloodshot eyes
- Constricted or tiny pupils
- Sudden, rapid weight loss
- Other noticeable changes in appearance
- Trouble staying awake, extreme drowsiness, or nodding off
Some other behavioral signs of heroin addiction may include
- Depression or anxiety
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Suspicious or secretive behavior
- Constant lying
- Legal troubles
- An increase in risky behavior in the pursuit of acquiring heroin
The behavioral symptoms of heroin addiction can be a very difficult thing for parents and loved ones to understand. The need to use heroin can hijack the brain in such a way that leads to the user engaging in risky behaviors that they would have never engaged in otherwise. Heroin addiction can damage the parts of the brain that are responsible for decision-making and the ability to foresee the consequences of their actions.
After an extended period of heroin use, the body will become accustomed to the influx of the drug leading to physical addiction. If that person tries to abruptly stop using heroin, they may experience symptoms of withdrawal that are both distressing and uncomfortable.
The longer someone has used heroin, how it was used, and the amount that was used each time are all factors that play into the severity of withdrawal symptoms when the person stops using. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms will vary from person to person but there are some symptoms that are universally experienced.
As we know, heroin is an opioid drug that can suppress some of the functions of the central nervous system such as heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature regulation. Heroin works by binding to opioid receptors, causing an increase in the chemicals responsible for pleasure in the brain. After extended opioid use, the brain begins to adjust to this newfound source of pleasure chemicals and ceases production of them on its own. When heroin is removed from the equation, the brain and body are left to readjust, leading to the negative symptoms of withdrawal.
These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and while they can be extremely uncomfortable, they are not generally seen as life-threatening. Some of these symptoms may include
- Abdominal cramps
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Agitation and irritability
- Tremors and goosebumps
- Anxiety and depression
- Hypertension and rapid heart rate
- Impaired breathing and muscle spasms
- Difficulty feeling positive feelings or pleasure
- Extreme cravings for the drug
Because of the severe nature of heroin withdrawal, it is always recommended that users detox in a medically-supervised setting.
Heroin Drug Addiction Treatment at Serenity Lane Starts With Detox
Serenity Lane is proud to be one of the top quality addiction treatment programs in the northwestern United States. We currently provide a cutting edge medically-supported withdrawal program, also known as detox, at our inpatient care facility in Coburg, Oregon.
We’re proud to offer a full continuum of treatment services for people suffering from heroin addiction. Detox is the first step in your journey towards living a drug-free life.
Our team of medical professionals uses a standardized protocol that is designed to be the most effective way to receive long-term recovery from dependence on heroin. They are prepared and qualified to handle all aspects of detox, including withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues that may be seen.
It is important to remember that even if they aren’t life-threatening symptoms, the withdrawal process is known to be painful, scary, and it can make it harder to want to stop using heroin.
In order to be sure that safety is the top priority of medical detox, we embrace the benefits of having qualified, compassionate, professionals that can handle the withdrawal process with ease. The discomfort and pain that are associated with heroin withdrawal can make it crucial that those going through detox get a medical intervention that combines both their emotional and medical needs. That is why a medical detox program is so important.
The end result of a successful medical detox is that the individual is no longer at high risk for complications related to their substance use. The feeling of cravings may still be there and that is why medical detox is usually the first step in the continuum of care provided to individuals seeking care.
Specialized Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal Using Buprenorphine
Over the past decade, we have seen an alarming rise in the misuse of opiates, both in a prescription form, such as OxyContin®, Percocet®, morphine, and Vicodin®, as well as street drugs like heroin. Here in Oregon, with the closure of many methadone clinics, there are fewer options for the treatment of opiate use than ever before. To fill this void, The American Society of Addiction Medicine has worked to find alternative, effective treatments for opiate addiction. In October 2002 the drug buprenorphine received FDA approval for this purpose.
In clinical studies, buprenorphine has proven effective in minimizing the extremely painful side effects of opiate withdrawal without patients feeling either euphoria or sedation. It is also virtually impossible to overdose on buprenorphine.
Medication-Assisted Treatment at Serenity Lane
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of certain medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a unique approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Some of the drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), known as FDA-approved medications, are naltrexone, buprenorphine and methadone. These work best in combination with clinical therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders—which is why MAT exists.
Medication used in MAT such as buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone works by normalizing brain chemistry, relieving physiological cravings, and normalizing body functions without the negative withdrawal effects of heroin.
Opioid receptor binding—which is when something finds a way to attach itself to a special space in the brain that is meant to receive the signals that opioid medications send—causes the signs and symptoms of overdose. It can cause the euphoric effects or “high” associated with opioid use. MAT works by acting on the same targets in the brain as heroin.
For example, methadone and buprenorphine suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings. Whereas naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids at their receptor sites in the brain and is used only in patients who have already been through detox.
At Serenity Lane, our MAT program incorporates evidence-based, solution-focused methods for treating heroin addiction. Some key elements of the program include
- Integrating a medical component
- Providing extensive, holistic family education and therapy
- Engagement in treatment programming
- Ongoing support, monitoring, and communication through all levels of care
It is important to understand that medication alone is not a cure-all solution for heroin addiction. Medication at Serenity Lane is used as just one component in our comprehensive treatment programs.
Serenity Lane offers individualized, effective, and innovative solutions for your clients, neighbors, colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and family members struggling with opioid dependency, and any other addiction. Our residential treatment center in Coburg, Oregon can help you or a loved one today.
Don’t wait another day to get the help you or a loved one needs. Call to speak to a recovery specialist now: 800-543-9905
We’ve compiled a few frequently asked questions to help you better understand the complicated issue of heroin addiction:
- How do you treat heroin addiction?
Treatment for heroin addiction always starts with detox. From there, treatment centers will often use a combination of psychological therapy and assistance from medication to help cope with the underlying issues that led to addiction in the first place.
- How to help someone with heroin addiction?
The best way to help someone who is experiencing heroin addiction is to convince them to seek treatment at a licensed addiction treatment facility. While detox from heroin is rarely life-threatening, it is intense and can dissuade people from kicking their addiction. Seeking help at a licensed facility can help with the uncomfortable symptoms of heroin withdrawal and help them transition to a life free of drugs.
- What is heroin addiction like?
Heroin is an extremely addictive opiate drug. Someone in the throes of a heroin addiction may prioritize getting and using drugs above all else in their life, neglecting health and relationships in the process. Heroin addiction is not a sustainable lifestyle and medically-supervised treatment is highly recommended.