Nearly one million Americans have used heroin in the last year, and more than half of those individuals have a heroin use disorder, a testament to the addictive potential of the drug. People who use heroin often experience dramatic life changes due to their addiction, whether it’s their health or personal life. Heroin addiction treatment can help you improve your quality of life and overcome addiction.
Below, you’ll learn about heroin addiction, ways to identify addiction in yourself or a loved one and the variety of effective treatments for heroin addiction.
Heroin is an illegal street drug that goes by many names, including hell dust and smack. Heroin is an addictive drug derived from morphine, a highly controlled substance made from poppy plants and used as a painkiller in hospitals. Heroin is often in the form of a white or brown powder, which is sometimes mixed or “cut” with other substances, including cornstarch, baby powder or black tar.
The addictive opioid drug can be injected, snorted or smoked, though heroin is most often associated with injection or “shooting.” Injecting heroin allows it to enter the bloodstream immediately and deliver its effects to the opioid receptors in the brain. When these receptors are activated, a person will experience a surge of dopamine, creating an intense feeling of pleasure.
The euphoric feeling from the dopamine release and altered pain reception encourages people to continue using heroin, which can lead to cravings and heroin use disorder.
The federal government considers heroin a Schedule I substance, meaning the drug has no acceptable medical applications and has a high risk of misuse and addiction. The “rush” people experience when heroin passes the blood-brain barrier and activates the opioid receptors is what makes the drug so addicting.
Obtaining heroin from the streets puts you at risk since you can’t be sure about the purity of the drug or what it’s been laced with. Dealers sometimes mix heroin with poisons or pesticides that increase the risk of an overdose.
Once a person starts using heroin regularly, they’ll begin to develop a tolerance, meaning they’ll need to use more of the drug to achieve the desired effect. An increased tolerance often leads to addiction, and it becomes challenging to quit using the drug once the body has developed physical and psychological dependence.
Many people with a substance use disorder share similar signs, as drug addiction can negatively impact a person’s life and well-being. Some of the signs of heroin addiction include:
When a person becomes addicted to heroin, they’ll find it challenging to quit even when they experience various negative consequences. Heroin has multiple effects on the body, creating unique symptoms, such as:
If someone becomes addicted to heroin and they stop using the drug suddenly, they’ll experience withdrawal symptoms that can potentially be severe and life-threatening without medical intervention. Withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable and can dissuade a person from quitting heroin. Some of these withdrawal symptoms include:
If you or a loved one is experiencing any signs or symptoms of heroin addiction, it’s time to seek treatment from a professional addiction specialist.
Heroin use destroys lives. Get the support you need to help yourself or your loved one break free of heroin addiction.
There is no single cause for heroin addiction, but various factors usually work together to contribute to the addiction. Some of the causes and risk factors of heroin addiction include:
Other causes and risk factors for heroin addiction include a history of trauma, lack of social support and low self-esteem. When multiple risk factors and causes come together, the risk of heroin addiction increases. Once a person becomes addicted to heroin, it can be challenging to quit without professional help.
Using heroin has various short- and long-term effects on the brain and body. There are negative consequences on a person’s physical, mental and social well-being when they become addicted to heroin. It’s essential to be aware of the effects of heroin so you know when it’s time to get help for yourself or a loved one.
When a person uses heroin, the drug enters the bloodstream and creates a “rush” of pleasure. Other short-term effects of heroin include:
The short-term effects of heroin can last for a few hours. Once these effects start to wear off, a person can experience a depressed mood and will want to use heroin again to improve how they’re feeling. Repeated heroin use can quickly alter the chemicals in the brain and create an addiction.
Heroin has various severe long-term effects on the brain and body, including:
Buying heroin on the street can put you at risk since you don’t know what the drug could have been mixed with. Dealers have started mixing heroin with fentanyl, another dangerous opioid drug with a high potential for overdose. Some substances mixed with heroin can cause permanent damage to various organs, including the brain, lungs and liver.
Repeated heroin use can also alter how the brain functions, and a person will feel the need to use the drug to feel comfortable. They’ll also find it challenging to quit the drug, despite the negative consequences on their physical, mental and social well-being.
Depending on how you choose to administer heroin, you can experience various effects in different parts of the body. For example, if you inject heroin, you can have scabs or an abscess develop at the injection site. If you choose to snort heroin, you can cause damage to your nasal cavity or respiratory system. Long-term snorting of heroin can cause nasal perforations holes in the septum. You may also experience more frequent nose bleeds and a weakened immune system, making you more prone to illness or infections.
Injecting heroin also increases your risk of HIV or other bloodborne infections if you share needles with other people. Being under the effects of heroin can also impact your judgment and make you more likely to participate in reckless behaviors, such as sharing drug paraphernalia or dangerous sexual acts.
Gateway Foundation offers customized, evidence-based recovery plans to support your recovery and ongoing healing.
Various types of treatment exist for heroin addiction since some people will benefit more from one treatment over another. Each person has unique circumstances and factors that contribute to their addiction, so personalized treatment is the best way to help patients overcome their heroin use disorder.
Below are some of the common types of treatment you’ll encounter at a heroin addiction treatment facility.
When a person stops using heroin, they can experience various withdrawal symptoms, including cravings and physical symptoms. Heroin withdrawal can be uncomfortable and, in some cases, dangerous to a person’s health. Long-term dehydration due to vomiting or diarrhea can cause medical complications that require medical intervention, for instance.
A medication-assisted treatment program can help you manage your withdrawal symptoms and make you more comfortable during treatment. You’ll be monitored by medical staff 24/7 to ensure the medication is working and that you’re as comfortable as possible.
Different pharmacologic treatments used during the detox process include Naltrexone, Disulfiram, Methadone and Buprenorphine. An addiction specialist will help you determine which medication is proper for you to help you feel safe and secure during your treatment.
A residential inpatient treatment program helps you recover from heroin addiction in a safe and sober environment. While you may experience cravings as you detox from heroin, you won’t be able to give in to temptation in residential care. You’ll be able to overcome the most challenging part of recovery under the care and supervision of trained medical staff.
Inpatient programs provide patients with a routine that limits the number of decisions they have to make to focus on their treatment rather than their cravings and uncomfortable feelings.
Patients will also have access to a withdrawal management program to help them manage their lingering symptoms. While the physical withdrawal symptoms can fade rather quickly, the psychological symptoms can last much longer. You’ll have access to medication if you need it and counseling to help you manage how you’re feeling.
Patients can also participate in an outpatient treatment program if they need more flexibility in their treatment. Some people have responsibilities in their daily lives, including childcare, work or school. Outpatient care allows people to maintain their responsibilities while improving their overall well-being.
The intensity of your outpatient care will vary based on the severity of your addiction. Some people will attend treatment for eight hours a day, five days a week. Others might attend meetings every other day for a few hours. You’ll also have access to many of the same treatments as people in inpatient care, including withdrawal management and various types of therapy.
Regardless of whether you participate in inpatient and outpatient care, you’ll attend various therapies to help you get to the root of your addiction. Therapy can help you restructure your thinking and improve how you view yourself and your addiction. Therapy will also help you treat any underlying medical conditions or trauma that could be contributing to your addiction.
Some of the psychotherapy and behavioral therapies used in treating heroin addiction include:
Once you enter treatment, an addiction specialist will help you determine which type of therapy is right for you. You’ll likely participate in multiple forms of treatment to get to the root of your addiction and improve your physical and mental well-being.
One of the most critical parts of heroin addiction treatment is relapse prevention, which equips patients with the tools to prevent triggers and cravings from causing a relapse. Substance use disorders are lifelong diseases and don’t go away once official treatment ends. Once a person reenters society, they may encounter triggers and cravings that could result in a relapse.
Relapse prevention helps you create a plan to prevent relapse when encountering a challenging situation. You’ll learn how to utilize coping skills and your support network in reaction to your triggers and stressors. For example, if you experience stress at work, rather than turning to heroin to cope with stress, you’ll learn healthy ways to respond to this situation. You’ll also have access to healthy alternatives to substances, such as yoga, meditation, journaling and hiking.
When you decide it’s time for treatment, you’ll go through a specific process to facilitate a successful recovery. An addiction specialist will walk you through each step to make the process as simple as possible. Below is what you can expect when entering an official treatment program.
Before you begin official treatment, you’ll meet with an addiction specialist for an assessment. The evaluation will help you and your specialist create a personalized plan to help you get the most out of your treatment.
During the assessment, it’s essential to be honest about your experiences and symptoms to get the level of care you need to improve your well-being. You can rest assured that an addiction treatment center is a safe and non-judgmental space to share your feelings and experience with heroin. The staff is dedicated to providing you with quality, compassionate care.
Once the assessment begins, an addiction specialist will ask you questions about your substance use. They might ask questions such as:
They may also ask you questions about how addiction is affecting your life. For example, they might ask about your productivity at work or your family life. They’ll also ask about your physical and mental symptoms to get an accurate idea of the severity of your addiction.
Once you’ve answered all of their questions, you may also take a urine or blood test to determine the level of substances in your system. Additional testing may be required to see if you have any underlying health problems.
You’ll also be assessed for various mental health conditions that could be contributing to your addiction. Many people who enter addiction treatment have co-occurring disorders that require simultaneous treatment. If an addiction specialist determines that you have an underlying mental health condition, they’ll curate your personalized treatment plan to address both disorders.
Once you’ve completed your assessment, the next step is to detox from heroin so you can start treatment and enjoy sober living. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable and, in severe cases, life-threatening. As your body detoxes from the drug, you’ll have access to 24/7 medical supervision to ensure your safety and comfort. You may also participate in a medication-assisted treatment program to help you cope with the uncomfortable symptoms and focus on your treatment.
Withdrawal management can also help you deal with the lingering symptoms and help you learn what to expect as your body readjusts to sobriety. Access to medical support and care can help you maintain your sobriety during recovery and help you cope with your symptoms in healthy and productive ways.
As you detox from heroin, you’ll participate in various treatments to help you get to the root cause of your addiction and provide you structure so you have fewer decisions to make throughout the day. Whether you’re in an inpatient or outpatient program, you’ll have access to many of the same treatments, including:
You can also use coping skills therapy to learn how to handle challenging situations and your triggers. Coping skills can help you overcome uncomfortable feelings related to mental health conditions and addiction.
Part of your treatment may also include group and individual therapy. Group therapy will help you connect with others who share your experiences so you feel less isolated during treatment. Members from these therapy sessions can even become a vital part of your support network and can hold you accountable through treatment.
You may also participate in recreational activities during treatment, which will help you learn how to enjoy other activities besides drug use and how you can take care of yourself during recovery. One of these activities can turn into a healthy passion or interest you can use as a coping mechanism once you complete official treatment.
The final step in your treatment will be to create an aftercare plan to help you take care of yourself once you complete treatment. You’ll work with an addiction specialist on a relapse prevention plan, which will outline your triggers and how to handle uncomfortable situations. You’ll also list the names and contact information of your support network so you can call them when you feel like you might relapse.
One of the ways you can work to sustain your sobriety is by participating in a 12-step support group. These are group meetings where you connect with others who share similar experiences with addiction and talk about your challenges or concerns. You can also ask questions or offer your support to others going through a tough time. Aftercare planning is essential for your treatment since it will help you maintain your sobriety long after official treatment.
If you’ve never gone through addiction treatment before, you likely have some questions about the process and what you can expect. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most commonly asked questions to help make the treatment process more approachable.
When you’re detoxing from heroin, you may have concerns about how long the substance will stay in your system. Multiple factors will determine how long heroin will remain in your system, including:
In general, the withdrawal timeline will typically start within 12 hours after taking your last dose. The physical withdrawal symptoms can fade after about a week, but the psychological symptoms can linger. Official treatment will help you manage these symptoms and help you develop the skills to overcome your triggers and prevent a relapse.
Residential inpatient treatment programs follow a specific structure to help reduce stress and limit decisions for patients. While in inpatient treatment, you’ll have a set time to wake up and go to sleep each day. Once you’re up and have eaten breakfast, you’ll start participating in various treatments and activities to help you overcome your addiction.
In the morning, you’ll likely participate in group therapy led by a counselor to help you understand how your addiction started and how you can make positive changes to your behavior and prevent a relapse. After lunch, you may participate in more group and individual therapy, which will vary from person to person. You might be treated for addiction and mental health simultaneously during individual treatment, or you might discuss your traumas with a counselor.
You may have a few hours of free time toward the end of the day to participate in recreational activities, such as yoga, hiking or meditation. After dinner, there may be another individual or group therapy session to help you process everything you learned throughout the day and ask questions if you’re unsure about something.
Thanks to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) passed by the United States government, insurance providers must provide the same level of coverage for mental health and addiction as they would physical conditions. However, it’s important to remember that if you have limited coverage for physical ailments, you will also have limited coverage for mental health conditions and addiction treatment. Despite this, most insurance providers cover some level of addiction treatment.
Gateway Foundation accepts all major insurance providers. Part of the admissions process involves gathering your health insurance information, and an expert can help you understand your specific coverage.
If a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, the best thing you can offer is your support. Before talking with a loved one, you should get advice from an addiction specialist to approach them in the best way.
When you talk with your loved one about their heroin addiction, it’s essential to remain calm. You don’t want your loved one to think you’re angry with them or accusing them of something. Remember that addiction is a disease, and once a person’s substance use has gotten to that point, it’s nearly impossible to control without professional help.
Be honest about how their addiction is affecting your relationship and their life. Emphasize that you care about their well-being and are willing to help in any way.
Some people might react defensively or angrily when approached with the reality of their addiction. Try not to get angry back at them and stay as calm as possible. If your approach doesn’t work, you can always seek professional help from a counselor to talk to your loved ones about needing treatment.
Heroin addiction can affect a person’s life in many ways. The longer a person uses heroin, the more problems they may have with their physical and mental health. They may also experience challenges in their personal life, such as tense family relationships or the inability to hold down a job. The good news is that it’s possible to recover from heroin addiction and improve your quality of life.
Gateway Foundation has many levels of care to accommodate your needs and help you find success in your addiction treatment. We can teach you the skills you need to handle your triggers and take care of yourself during each stage of your recovery process. Contact us today to learn more about our heroin addiction treatment centers in Chicago, Illinois, and beyond.