Heroin addiction has been on the rise in the United States for several years. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin addiction affects roughly 6 million Americans at any given point in time. Part of the appeal of this drug is its low cost (just $5 per bag). A still larger part of the appeal is the highly addictive nature of it. All illicit drugs pose some danger to users, but heroin addiction is particularly problematic because the drug is usually injected, putting users at risk for serious diseases like hepatitis and HIV (the virus responsible for AIDS). Though difficult, fighting heroin addiction is possible with the right tools and a supportive environment.
Heroin is a derivative of morphine, which itself is a derivative of opium (the reason that both drugs are classified as “opiates”). Heroin and morphine are narcotics made by extracting a naturally occurring substance from the seed of poppy plants. In its pure form, this drug appears as a white or slightly brown powder. In its pure form, it can be snorted or smoked, while the impure version is generally injected under the skin, into muscles, or directly into veins.
It is said that a single dose of this narcotic is enough to cause addiction, but addicts will flat out tell you that’s a myth. In fact, those addicted to heroin say the fact that it isn’t addictive after just one use is part of the reason the drug is so dangerous. When individuals fail to get addicted after the first hit, they keep using without worry, thinking they are immune to its effects or that the risk has been overstated (it has been). Eventually, however, they find themselves dependent on the drug’s effects.
Physical dependence is the first step to addiction and occurs when the body cannot go for extended periods of time without the drug due to withdrawal symptoms. In the next stage of addiction, users start to crave the drug when they don’t have it. They feel “junk sick” when they go for too long without a hit and will often seek out heroin just to feel normal. As they continue to use the drug, however, the amount needed to achieve the same good feelings increases. At some point, heroin dependence takes center stage in a person’s life and nothing else matters. This is the point at which dependence becomes addiction.
Common early signs of heroin abuse include sudden changes in behavior, cycles of hyper alertness intermixed with extreme fatigue, a “droopy” appearance (as if the extremities are heavy), and constricted (small) pupils. With prolonged use, track marks (injection site injuries), apathy, depression, and decreases in performance at work or school become more common. External (environmental) signs of heroin abuse include used syringes, burned spoons, burned aluminum foil, missing shoelaces, straws with burn marks, plastic bags with whiter powdery residue, and the existence of other drug paraphernalia.
Heroin withdrawal is characterized by sweating, anxiety, depression, extended erections (priapism), sensitive genitals, insomnia, cold sweats, muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, and feelings of restlessness. These symptoms usually begin 6 to 24 hours after the last dose of the drug is consumed. Some people experience involuntary muscle spasms during withdrawal.
The physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal generally aren’t life-threatening. That said, the symptoms can be hugely uncomfortable and a major impediment it complete abstinence. To prevent these symptoms from occurring, other narcotic drugs are used to slow the rate at which opiates are expelled from the body. Drugs commonly used to ease the symptoms of heroin withdrawal include morphine, methadone, Suboxone, Buprenorphine, diamorphine, and Naltrexone.
In addition to treating the physical symptoms of heroin addiction, there are methods for treating the psychological dependencies that develop. Though there are a number of different programs, including inpatient detoxification, inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and 12-step programs, they all are roughly equally effective.
To get help finding addiction treatment options, call Alcohol Treatment Centers New York at (646) 918-5955.