When your body develops an addiction to a drug, you cannot function well without it. You will crave the drug, both psychologically and physically. As tolerance grows, you’ll need more and more of the substance to keep withdrawal at bay. If you use heroin on a regular basis, you are dependent on it. For every addict, seeking treatment comes with the certainty that they will have to first face withdrawal.
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, withdrawal from heroin tends to start setting in six to 24 hours after your last use of the drug, although how large your last dose was and your level of tolerance are factors, too. Symptoms often reach their worst point between day one and three of the process and level off by five to seven days into withdrawal.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is an opiate-based drug derived from the pod of the opium poppy plant. Sometimes referred to as “smack,” “black tar,” “horse,” and other names, the morphine alkaloid substance is generally cut with other products — like sugar or cornstarch — in powder form that can be smoked, snorted or dissolved into a water-based solution for injection. The latter is one of the most dangerous forms of use due to the increased risk of contracting an infectious disease, and the growing dependence it brings on heroin’s most intense high. Across the nation, approximately 669,000 people used heroin in 2012, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports. NIDA also notes that 4.2 million Americans older than 11 years of age had used heroin at some point in their lives as of 2011.
The drug is widely cultivated in the Golden Triangle nations of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand along with Afghanistan in the Golden Crescent. The White House reports the latter is the world’s largest supplier of opium, putting out about 80 percent of the global supply. When it comes to heroin making its way into the United States, 90 percent of it is smuggled into the country from Colombia and Mexico, according to the Washington Post.
Heroin is highly potent. This heightened strength means withdrawal is far more severe than with milder drugs like marijuana. There are additional risks involved with heroin abuse due directly to its potency. Street dealers cannot be sure that their batches of drugs are consistent from one to the next. Thus, the supply of heroin you bought last week could very well be a strong concentration, often because it’s cut with less filler, whereas next week’s supply could be far milder. When this happens, a regular user is at an increased risk of overdosing. This is due to the need to take more of the second batch than the first and possibly taking too much. The overdose rate for heroin jumped to 2.1 per 100,000 in 2014, up from 1 per 100,000 in 2012, the Daily Beast reports. Keeping potency in mind, some addicts have fallen prey to developing the beginnings of dependency after only one use of heroin.
Withdrawal is often at the root of perpetuating an addiction because it is severe and painful. Heroin users can spend anywhere from $150 to $300 a day to continue their habit to veer away from withdrawing, per Health Research Funding. Withdrawal can be an uncomfortable process, and it isn’t safe to attempt without medical supervision. Generally, you can expect to experience the following side effects while withdrawing from heroin:
- Nausea that may or may not be accompanied by vomiting
- Runny nose
- Accelerated heart rate
- Loss of appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Irritable mood
- Muscle and joint pain
A lot of addicts attempt to detox from heroin at home. This practice is very dangerous and not advisable. The risk of hallucinations, tremors and suicidal ideations are multiplied in a home-based setting that isn’t enhanced or supervised. Your chances of recovery are far greater if you seek professional treatment than if you attempt to detox at home on your own. Individuals who detox at home stand less of a chance of remaining abstinent than those who detox in a professional setting.
Compounding the problem is the increased risk of overdose that comes to self-detoxers. The heightened risk occurs as a result of users who quickly relapse to old behaviors. A good portion of heroin overdoses occur in users who have recently detoxed from the drug. They automatically assume their body can still tolerate the same dose of heroin that they were accustomed to before detox, and they’re wrong. This mistake has cost many their lives.
While no one is truly exempt from drug addiction, there are certain individuals who are more likely to fall prey to it. According to Healthline, genetics play a 40 to 60 percent role in the game of addiction. Your environment matters, too. Growing up in a household where drug abuse is prevalent will significantly increase your risk of engaging in the same behavior in your own adulthood. Likewise, the earlier one starts using drugs, the more likely addiction is to develop. Those with mental health disorders are also at an elevated risk of struggling with drug addiction.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states that 53 percent of drug addicts have one or more serious mental health disorders. Injection drug users are more likely to become addicted than those who use other abuse methods. This is concerning for heroin users, as many prefer injection methods.
Substances such as heroin are more addictive by nature, too. Some of the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction include mood swings, disorientation, track marks and constricted pupils, as well as:
- Evidence of needles and syringes
- Burned spoons
- Pipes or other paraphernalia used for smoking heroin
- Burnt straws
- Traces of a white powder
If the red flags noted above sound like you or someone you know, it’s time to ask for help.
Life After Heroin
This doesn’t have to end badly for you. If you’re suffering from a mental health condition on top of your drug issues, both issues can be treated at the same time in integrated treatment to assure you leave rehab with a foundation to help you avoid relapse. Detox is just one part of the treatment process. It serves to set you up with a clear mind and body that are ready to learn how to avoid relapse going into the future.
Group and individual therapy, support groups, diet and exercise programs, meditation and more can help you to build the path to lasting sobriety, and you can access all of these things in treatment with us. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reported in 2006 that individuals who sought continued treatment within a month of finishing detox took 40 percent longer to relapse, if they did at all.
Long-term medicated treatment methods are among the primary choices in mediating heroin addiction today. Methadone continues to be the leading form of treatment for opioid dependence in America. The opioid agonist drug mimics the actions of endorphins to keep opioid receptors fully activated. According to the California Society of Addiction Medicine, patients who are treated with methadone can be part of the 60 to 90 percent of patients who successfully abstain from relapse.
Another well-suited treatment drug for opioid addiction is buprenorphine. Branded as Suboxone, the drug is a partial agonist and works in much the same manner as methadone, while coming with an added perk that methadone does not carry. Users of buprenorphine can take increased doses of the drug and still won’t be able to get high off it due to its ceiling effect. Success rates for buprenorphine vary. The Fix reported initial rates as high as 88 percent, but studies since have touted lower numbers at 50 percent, per Medscape. It’s still early in the game for this drug, but it certainly shows promise.
Even newer to the scene is naltrexone, an opioid antagonist that inhibits the opioid receptors in the brain from feeling the effects of heroin. It is commonly used to treat alcoholism, too. While it does help decrease cravings in some patients, most will not benefit directly from the drug in the same way they would with other methods. This drug does not deter the urge to use heroin, but rather gives the user the knowledge that if they do use heroin, they won’t be able to get high — rendering its use to be pointless.
Another drug you might hear some buzz about in the heroin community is Narcan, which is the brand name for naloxone. This drug is not a long-term treatment option yet, but rather one that can be administered in emergency situations to counteract the effects of opioids and prevent overdose. The Fix reports high success rates, reaching 95 percent in one New England town.
By calling Michael’s House today, you can start over. It is possible to wipe the slate clean, and we will hold your hand through the entire process. Call now.