Do I Need a Heroin Rehab?Anna Ciulla
Heroin is a dangerous, unpredictable opiate that continues to claim lives and wreck families despite its illicit, Schedule 1 status. The black-market drug, once sold almost exclusively in inner cities and other crime-ridden urban areas, is now ubiquitous, appearing even on college campuses. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over the past decade heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25. In 2012, first time heroin users doubled from 2006, and there are no signs of the epidemic stopping. Despite intensified efforts by government and law enforcement agencies to crack down on the deadly opiate, it continues to flourish— often an inevitable extension of gateway drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin that lead to its abuse.
Similar to the progression of other drugs, heroin creates physical dependency that interferes with every aspect of a user’s life. It is common for people to find themselves burdened by social, economic, professional, and legal difficulties once heroin-dependent. Even when it doesn’t kill, heroin hijacks healthy brain chemistry, ravages the body, and destroys psychological stability in the process.
HOW HEROIN IMPACTS THE USER
There is nothing casual about the effects of heroin on a user— including occasional recreational use. Like other opiate drugs, heroin works by binding to opiate receptors in the brain and central nervous system (CNS). Once bound, heroin manipulates and artificially increases chemical receptors responsible for the management of pain and pleasure, particularly the neurotransmitter dopamine. The euphoric high this flood of dopamine produces is incredibly potent and immediately addictive.
Whether smoked, snorted or injected, heroin is known to penetrate the blood-brain barrier in seconds, digging its vicious claws into the brain stem and triggering an automatic compulsion for more. Once dependent, many users are willing to go to any extreme to obtain more of the drug and achieve the same high. Eventually, a heroin-dependent person restructures their entire life around getting and using the drug.
SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL IMPACT
Heroin dependence, like that of other hard-core, mind-altering drugs, encourages an unhealthy sense of social isolation and neglect of major obligations like friendships, family connections, and intimate relationships. School and work performance also suffer as the user descends into a black cloud of self-imposed isolation, sleeping excessively and not “showing up for life.” In order to sustain their habit, many socialize almost exclusively with other heroin users or those accustomed to a drug-based, on-the-fly lifestyle. With progressive use, motivation plummets, and users are frequently assailed by a constant, underlying urge to get high.
PHYSICAL IMPACT AND BEHAVIORAL ISSUES
The human body is not designed to withstand the damage inflicted by heroin dependence, and even strong, robust individuals will suffer a litany of negative health effects. Heroin’s disruption and assault on body chemistry and mental stability are unparalleled, and despite what some users may erroneously believe, it is not possible to be heroin-dependent and live a healthy, productive life.
Chronic heroin use produces noticeable physical signs and symptoms in a user that help distinguish it from other hard-core or recreational drugs. Heroin users often have flushed irritated skin, dry mouth and suffer from extreme constipation. They may randomly nod off mid-conversation and have serious difficulty maintaining normal social interaction. Many become irresponsible to an alarming degree, leaving visible injection paraphernalia or other supplies in the home environment.
Perhaps more than any other known characteristic, a highly confused, disoriented state is a giveaway— especially when paired with the following:
- Tiny pupils, in some cases diminishing to the size of a pinpoint
- Dramatically impaired short and long-term memory
- Oral abscesses, burn marks on the fingers or collapsed veins
Over time, heroin inevitably creates long-term health problems and diseases, some of which are terminal. The liver, kidneys, lungs, and entire cardiovascular system are among the multiple organs compromised by chronic use.
ADDICTION AND WITHDRAWAL
Once an individual is caught in the grips of full-blown heroin addiction, withdrawal symptoms are inevitable and, in many cases, severe. Quitting cold turkey can produce an intense backlash of symptoms known as precipitated withdrawal, and even a brief lapse between uses can trigger the following symptoms:
- Intense, body-wide pains
- Cold flashes
- Involuntary spasms
- Goose bumps
- Suicidal thoughts
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you notice these indicators of heroin addiction, you need immediate help. Without exception, heroin dependence and addiction require professional medical assistance in order to prevent the progression of the disease from turning deadly. There is no such thing as safe, effective at-home detox or self-guided therapy. The heroin-damaged body and mind require intensive inpatient treatment in order to help stabilize the user and reverse, or at the very least, neutralize the destructive effects associated with the drug.
If you are suffering from heroin addiction, a minimum period of one month (and often three) in a residential treatment program followed by continuing outpatient treatment is mandatory in order to optimize your chances of long-term recovery. Even if you have not yet begun to suffer from serious social, legal, medical or professional consequences as a result of your use, it is only a matter of time before they appear, and once they do, it is frequently too late. Call a substance use professional today and quit playing Russian roulette with your life!
For more information about heroin addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- Alternative Method for Managing Pain without Opiates
- Heroin Detox Guide—Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
- Speedballing: Cocaine and Heroin’s Deadly Combination
- What to Do if Someone you Love Is at Risk of Overdose
American Journal of Preventative Medicine (AJPM). Geographic Variation in Opioid and Heroin Involved Drug Poisoning Mortality Rates. Dec, 2017.
The International Journal of Drug Policy. Exposure to fentanyl-contaminated heroin and overdose risk among illicit opioid users in Rhode Island: A mixed methods study. August, 2017.
The British Journal of Psychiatry. Heroin on trial: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials of diamorphine-prescribing as treatment for refractory heroin addiction. July, 2015.
The Pharmaceutical Journal. Heroin abuse: breaking the cycle. June, 2015.
The Lancet. Heroin prescription for opioid addicts. March, 2002.