Heroin addiction affects every strata of society — from the corner grocer to the corner office executive — but it can be effectively treated.
The Lure of Heroin
H, horse, dope, boy, smack. No matter what you call it, it’s heroin. It’s readily available. It’s highly addictive. And it can be downright deadly.
So why do people use heroin?
Heroin immediately produces feelings of intense euphoria. So anyone suffering from any kind of problems, will feel as if those problems have miraculously gone away the minute they get high. That’s right. Emotional turmoil, economic distress, high anxiety and more will seemingly disappear in the blink of an eye.
Of course those problems don’t do anywhere at all. In fact, they get worse. Much worse. And as any long-term user of heroin can tell you, they can end up to be devastating.
Short-Term Effects of Heroin
Heroin users report feeling a “rush” of pleasure or euphoria. However, there are other common effects, including:
- dry mouth
- warm flushing of the skin
- heavy feeling in the arms and legs
- nausea and vomiting
- severe itching
- clouded mental functioning
- going “on the nod,” a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious
Long-Term Effects of Heroin
People who use heroin over the long term may develop:
- collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
- damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
- infection of the heart lining and valves
- abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
- constipation and stomach cramping
- liver and kidney disease
- lung complications, including pneumonia
- mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
- sexual dysfunction for men
- irregular menstrual cycles for women
Intravenous heroin users are also at a high risk of contracting the HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) virus. These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, which can occur when sharing needles or other injection drug use equipment. In fact, HCV is the most common bloodborne infection in the United States. While HIV is less common, it can also be contracted during unprotected sex, which drug use makes much more likely.
But these are simply the physical effects of long-term heroin use. Heroin addiction also often has severe social implications. It can cause loss of a home or a job, as well as the severing of relationships. Because possessing heroin is a crime (and addiction can lead people to commit even more crimes), heroin addiction quite often also leads to incarceration.
Heroin is highly addictive. Regular heroin users quickly develop a tolerance. That means they need higher and/or more frequent doses of the drug to get the desired effects. Eventually mental and physical health issues arise. People fail to meet responsibilities at work, school or home. This is called Substance Use Disorder (SUD).
Heroin addicts who stop using the drug abruptly generally suffer severe withdrawal. Those withdrawal symptoms — which can begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken — include:
- severe muscle and bone pain
- sleep problems
- diarrhea and vomiting
- cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”)
- uncontrollable leg movements (“kicking the habit”)
- severe heroin cravings
Studies have also shown some loss of the brain’s white matter associated with heroin use. This may affect decision-making, behavior control, and responses to stressful situations.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Heroin addiction can be effectively treated through Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). MAT combines medicine with behavioral therapy, and has proven be most successful in the long term.
MAT medicines include buprenorphine and methadone. Both medicines work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin, but they do so more weakly, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Another MAT medicine is naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors and prevents opioid drugs from having any effect whatsoever. However full detoxification is necessary for treatment with naloxone.
Behavioral therapies for heroin addiction include methods called cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps modify the patient’s drug-use expectations and behaviors, and helps effectively manage triggers and stress. Contingency management provides motivational incentives, such as vouchers or small cash rewards for positive behaviors such as staying drug-free. These behavioral treatment approaches are especially effective when used along with medicines.
If you or your loved one is battling heroin addiction, please get in touch with ALEF. We’re here to help.