Heroin, an illegal and extremely addictive substance, continues to be a commonly abused drug in the United States. Used and sold in a number of forms like solid black chunks, white or brown powder, or sticky black substance, heroin can be smoked, snorted or injected.
The drug is quite quick in showing its effects. Known to induce a state of relaxation and euphoria, heroin use blocks the brain’s ability to perceive pain as it depresses the central nervous system. As heroin imitates the brain’s natural process of seeking pleasure, its initial experience can lead to addiction.
On entering the brain, heroin binds to opioid receptors that play an important role in the perception of pain and reward system. These opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem that controls critical life processes like blood pressure and respiration. Thus, heroin overdose can lead to suppression of breathing that can result in hypoxia.
As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use has significantly increased in the U.S., affecting both men and women of all age groups and income levels. As per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), in 2011, 4.2 million Americans, aged 12 or above, had used heroin at least once in their lives and about 23 percent of people who use heroin eventually develop dependence.
Symptoms and effects of heroin abuse
Long-term and heavy use of heroin can lead to the development of drug tolerance. In such a situation, the user would require more of the drug to achieve the same effect. In addition to causing tolerance, long-term opioid addiction can also result in substance dependence that is characterized by the need to continually use the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Heroin abuse is also associated with a number of serious health conditions, including liver or kidney diseases, constipation, fatal overdose, infectious diseases and collapsed veins.
The symptoms of heroin abuse depend on the dosage, frequency and duration of the abuse. Some of the symptoms of heroin abuse include:
- nausea and vomiting
- dry mouth
- slowed breathing
- slowed heart rate
Heroin abuse can also increase the risk of infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, persistent mental health issues like depression, reproductive issues like irregular menstrual cycles and damage to nose tissue due to snorting.
Heroin abuse can also lead to troubled relationships, financial problems and legal consequences. Following are some of the behavioral signs of heroin abuse and addiction.
- hostile behavior
- stealing or borrowing money
- social withdrawal
- deceptive behavior
When used in excess and for a longer duration of time, it can result in overdose. Following are some of the effects of heroin overdose.
- depressed heart rate
- slowed breathing
When stopped abruptly, absence of heroin can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The length of the withdrawal depends on the dosage, frequency and duration of heroin abuse. Following are some common withdrawal symptoms:
- muscle and bone pain
- nausea and vomiting
- drug cravings
- cold sweats
Treatment for heroin addiction
As heroin withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, one should seek heroin addiction treatment under the supervision of a medical health professional in a certified heroin addiction rehab center. Heroin abuse and addiction require treatment from specialists who can manage opiate detox and withdrawal. Heroin drug rehab centers can provide both pharmacological and behavioral treatments depending on the severity of the addiction.
Treatment for heroin abuse and addiction can be provided at both inpatient and outpatient treatment centers. Treatment at an inpatient care facility offers 24/7 care in a sober environment where the user can be closely monitored and assessed. Those with personal and professional commitments can opt for an outpatient facility where the treatment program provides the flexibility to fulfill the personal and professional commitments.
A heroin addiction treatment program in a heroin addiction treatment center consists of a medically supervised detoxification, followed by behavioral therapies or counseling sessions. Detoxification helps reduce drug dependence by gradually flushing out the drugs from the body. The withdrawal symptoms experienced during detoxification can be easily managed by FDA-approved medications. After detoxification, therapy and counseling sessions help identify the underlying causes of addiction and make important behavior changes in order to maintain sobriety even after treatment.