It’s estimated that at least 9.2 million people worldwide use heroin. In 2007, some figures claimed that as many as 900,000 people in the United States were using or were addicted to heroin. With such staggering statistics, it’s no wonder why so many experts are calling this a serious global epidemic.
If you know someone who’s a previous or current heroin addict, or are suffering this addiction yourself, you likely know how difficult it is to find and finish treatment. If you’ve been put into the position of helping a loved one find treatment, educating yourself on the effects of heroin and what drug treatment entails can make a huge difference in your ability to help the individual. Statistically, drug treatment programs are the only way to effectively overcome a drug problem.
What Heroin Does to the Body
The effects of heroin are divided into two categories: short- and long-term effects. The short-term effects are what initially occur and give a user the “high.” The user first experiences a rushing sensation followed by a warm feeling of the skin. Some people get dry mouth, while others experience vomiting or severe itching. After these effects start to wear off, the user will feel incredibly drowsy for a few hours. Bodily functions like breathing and heart rate begin to slow due to the secondary depressive effect on the body.
Once the high starts to wane, a person who’s addicted to heroin will begin to experience cravings. A lack of a fix will result in withdrawal symptoms that are extremely unpleasant. These can be flu-like and include feelings such as an aching body, vomiting, diarrhea and restlessness.
The long-term effects of heroin are quite scary. Because the most common method of heroin use is by injection, many people experience adverse effects at their injection sites. Infections are quite common because of the frequent use of dirty needles. These infections can be minor, but they can also become quite serious and lead to a systemic infection called sepsis. Dirty needles increase the person’s risk for dangerous diseases like HIV and hepatitis, both of which are irreversible. Long-term users will have scarring at injection sites, making it difficult to perform injections in these areas.
Heroin users find that their immune systems become increasingly weakened the more they use, making them more susceptible to infections, viruses and sores on the skin. The most common illnesses to which they fall prey are respiratory in nature, especially if they smoke or snort heroin versus injecting it. Muscle weakness is another long-term effect, and one that can’t always be reversed. Studies have shown that heroin alters the brain physically, reducing the ability to use memory or perform other essential cognitive functions.
Treatment Programs for Overcoming Heroin Addiction
Inpatient treatment facilities give a heroin addict the best chance for recovery. Detox is often offered at such facilities to help the addict overcome the withdrawal effects of the drug. Medically assisted detox will be monitored by doctors and nursing staff, and the patient will be given medications to improve her comfort during the intense withdrawal symptoms. These medications will help combat the nausea, irritability and body aches that occur during withdrawal.
Once the detox process is complete, the heroin addict will enter treatment. A good treatment facility will offer counseling for both the patient and her family members to help all those involved learn the addict’s triggers and how to effectively combat them. Some residential treatment programs are based on the 12-step program model and might even take residents to outside Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Other facilities take a mind, body and spiritual approach to treatment. This means that patients address the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of addiction for effective treatment. Regardless of the type of facility attended, addicts learn how to eliminate triggers from their lives and how to gain coping skills when back in their daily routines. These coping skills can be activities such as going to church, joining a running club or volunteering for worthwhile organizations.
Some facilities will give patients medicated treatment to battle the physical addictions. Methadone is the most common treatment given and much more effective when the doses are strictly regulated. Buprenorphine is also effective in treating heroin withdrawals and has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a treatment for opioid addiction. These replacement medications give the brain the fix it craves without creating the resulting high. The patient will be gradually weaned from the drug until no longer dependent on it.
A good facility will require patients to have responsibility during their stay as well. That might include cleaning their rooms, participating in the preparation of meals, doing laundry or cleaning the facilities. Because many addicts confess they’ve let their responsibilities go, having the chance to be independent again will serve them greatly in long-term recovery.
Make the Commitment to Change Your Life Today
Heroin addiction is serious. If it doesn’t kill an addict, it’s sure to destroy everything in her life. Heroin addiction doesn’t discriminate; upstanding people with happy families and homes can fall prey to the sinister effects of the drug. With four out of five drug deaths occurring from heroin overdoses, this is an immediate problem.
The sooner you get help for addiction, the faster you get to enjoy a healthy life, free from the chains of addiction. Whether you’re an addict or know someone who is, making the commitment to change and destroy the hold heroin has is the best thing that can happen. If you aren’t sure where to begin, start by calling the hotline at 800-447-9081 for advice, support and even local resources. The first step is always the hardest, but it’s the stepping stone to a better life.