Heroin and Opiate Addiction
Heroin is a type of opiate drug derived from the opium poppy. Other drugs in this family include opium, morphine and codeine. Used medically to relieve pain, opiates have a high level of abuse due to their ability to make users feel incredibly calm and euphoric, especially in larger doses.
In recent years, there has been a surge in addiction to prescription drugs in the opiate family, with OxyContin sitting at the top of the list. Originally marketed as a strong painkiller with little to no addictive possibilities, it was later found that indeed it is very addictive, and many people who had been prescribed this drug for pain had begun abusing the drug and/or had become addicted. Buying prescription drugs on the street is quite expensive however, and so many people turned to the cheaper alternative, heroin, to get their fix. Prescription opiates and heroin have the same effects on the brain, the difference between the two lays in the strength of the drug and how they are taken. For the purpose of this page, opiate addiction will further be referred to simply as heroin addiction.
Heroin Addiction and Its Effects on the Brain
An extremely addictive drug, heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain which not only makes the users crave more and more of the drug (active addiction), but studies show that heroin promotes the deterioration of the brain’s white matter as well. This can affect a person’s decision making abilities as well as the ability to regulate behavior and responses to stressful situations.
Long-Term Health Effects of Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction can lead to many severe and dangerous long-term effects which include:
- Addiction/heroin dependency resulting in extreme withdrawals when ceasing use.
- Contracting HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases.
- Collapsed veins.
- Contracting bacterial or fungal infections.
- Kidney failure.
- Infection of the heart lining and valves.
- Rheumatologic problems such as arthritis.
- Poisoning from contaminants added to cut/dilute heroin.
Death is the final stage for approximately 50% of all heroin users with the major cause of death being overdose. Heroin overdose is incredibly common because tolerance to the drug develops quite quickly in the body, causing users to seek more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects. Eventually, a user takes more than the human body can handle, even after developing a tolerance, an overdose occurs.
Is Medically Supervised Drug Detox required for Heroin Addiction?
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are often felt within a couple of hours after the last high wears off, and include the following:
- Uncontrollable crying
- Cold sweats/chills
- Severe muscle and bone aches
Although withdrawal symptoms for heroin can be incredibly painful and physically and psychologically uncomfortable, they are not life-threatening and thus a medically supervised detox is not required. However, it is suggested that during this period of withdrawal, a heroin addict is monitored by an addiction counsellor or support worker. Because of the severity of these withdrawal symptoms it is very common for addicts to give up on recovery at this point. In severe cases, methadone may be administered to help soothe the withdrawal symptoms and ease body off the drug.
What Types of Heroin Addiction Treatment Work Best?
Heroin addiction is one of the most disabling drug addictions. It is rare to see a high-functioning heroin addict, meaning that they are able to maintain work, family and social obligations during their addiction. However, especially in the case of different opiate addictions such as opium or prescription drugs, outpatient treatment is an option for those who have not yet hit ‘rock bottom’.
For those who have difficulty maintaining day to day responsibilities, or who have completely lost everything due to their addiction, inpatient addiction treatment is recommended.
Benefits of Inpatient Heroin Addiction Treatment
Probably the most important benefit to attending a residential rehab centre for heroin addiction is that this allows the addict to be completely removed from their daily life where people and places encourage them to use. Instead, they are able to stay in a safe place where everyone shares the same goal – ridding themselves of their addictions.
Residential heroin addiction treatment also provides counsellors and support workers round-the-clock, meaning that no matter what time of day, there is someone to speak tor for support. Completely confidential inpatient treatment allows addicts the ability to remove themselves from all regular life stressors while focusing completely on addiction recovery.