According to one report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), heroin addiction affects around 1 million Americans age 12 or older. That’s roughly 0.4% of the total U.S. population.
If you or someone you love is struggling with this condition, you may wonder if there’s light at the end of this dark tunnel. Can you stop a heroin addiction? If so, what are the most effective recovery options?
Today, we’re taking a closer look at this disorder and sharing how you can find a healthier, happier way forward.
What Is Heroin?
Before we dive into how using heroin can lead to a disease of addiction, let’s briefly review what this substance entails. In short, heroin is a very addictive and quick-acting opiate. This means it’s a drug that is derived from opium.
Opium is a natural substance that’s extracted from the seedpod of a plant called the opium poppy. To get even more specific, heroin is derived from morphine, which is one of the main components of opium. Its appearance can vary drastically depending on how it’s made and where it’s sold.
In the eastern U.S., heroin is typically sold as a white or off-white powder. In the western part of the country, black tar heroin is more common. This form of heroin can be sticky or hard to the touch.
There are a few different ways to take heroin, including:
Often, new users will choose to snort or smoke heroin to avoid the stigma associated with injection drugs. They may mistakenly believe that they’re less likely to become addicted if they use the substance this way. However, as their bodies become accustomed to those effects, many individuals will eventually graduate to injecting heroin in an attempt to recapture the intense reaction they first experienced.
Risk of Overdose and Related Conditions
Both new and experienced users can overdose on heroin, primarily because it’s nearly impossible to trace its origins or verify its purity. When this drug is sold on the streets, it’s often mixed with other types of substances, such as:
In some especially dangerous instances, heroin can even be combined with poisons, such as strychnine. This is a highly toxic crystalline alkaloid that’s commonly used to kill rodents. When consumed, it can lead to a range of severe effects, from muscle spasms and stiffness to respiratory failure, seizures, and death.
A heroin overdose can occur regardless of the means by which the substance is used. Some of the signs that indicate an individual is experiencing an overdose include:
- Shallow, slowed breathing
- Muscle spasms
Left untreated, a heroin overdose can lead to a coma and even death. While this is obviously the most severe outcome of a heroin use disorder, there are other conditions to be aware of, such as cotton fever. Experienced by long-term heroin addicts and some meth addicts, cotton fever (also known as dirty shot) occurs when someone uses cotton to filter the drugs before injecting them.
It can cause symptoms that include:
- Abdominal pain
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
Some people erroneously believe that cotton fever occurs when pieces of cotton accidentally get into the bloodstream during an injection. However, its true cause traces back to a type of bacteria that’s often present in cotton, called Pantoea agglomerans. These bacteria colonize in cotton plants before they’re processed, releasing a dangerous endotoxin.
Treatment Options for Heroin
Now that we’ve covered how this particular substance use disorder occurs, let’s take a look at the other side of the coin. What recovery options exist for individuals who are struggling with this condition? Addiction can take a major toll on one’s life, from their physical health to their emotional, financial, and even spiritual well-being.
It’s important to find a treatment plan that will work for you, and meet you exactly where you are. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment, so let’s take a look at some of the most effective options.
The first step in treating heroin addiction is helping an individual recognize the implications and risks of their behavior. An intervention is a pre-planned meeting that can help bring these issues to light.
Sometimes, the intervention is one-on-one. Other times, a group approach is more efficient. Think about which strategy may appeal to your loved one the best.
In many instances, a classic intervention is best. With this approach, family and friends of a loved one will come together to express concern about his or her actions. As they do so, they’re careful to be gentle, non-judgmental, and available to lend their support.
It may take more than one intervention to get the message across. For instance, when adolescents are suffering from heroin addiction, parents will often choose to have several one-on-one meetings before moving on to a classic one.
Once an individual agrees to seek help for their heroin addiction, the next step is usually detoxification. This is the first stage of treatment, which is the process of ridding the mind and body of the addictive substance.
While the detox process can be physically and mentally challenging, it’s a necessary part of the recovery process. It can improve the individual’s overall health, while also optimizing their mental clarity. Detoxification gives them the strength and energy they need to fully recover.
During a medical detox, healthcare professionals will oversee the process to ensure the patient’s health and safety are not compromised during the experience.
As the name implies, residential treatment is a type of recovery program that allows an individual to remain on-premise at a designated center while going through their recovery. This way, they have a safe and supportive space in which to go through this difficult process.
At many residential treatment centers, patients can work one-on-one with designated physicians, therapists, and other medical professionals. This might include psychotherapy visits, which allow them to identify and address the issues that might have led to their addiction.
They can also participate in group therapy and counseling sessions. There is power in community, and these programs often play a major role in supporting a patient’s long-term recovery. They typically last at least 90 days or more.
While residential treatment programs last for months, inpatient treatments are typically shorter-term in nature. These can include stays at local psychiatric units or special psychiatric hospitals, and usually last for no longer than 30 days.
Inpatient programs tend to be more intensive in nature, with a focus on getting a patient immediate medical help. They are not set up for long-term care, and patients will eventually transition into different types of treatment centers, including residential facilities.
As an alternative, there are also partial hospitalization programs (PHP) available to assist with heroin addiction. These plans tend to fall between inpatient and residential treatment programs, as well as more intensive outpatient patient (IOP) programs. With a PHP, patients will typically live in a recovery house full-time, and then participate in intensive treatment activities at a different treatment location.
Rehab treatment can occur in designated rehab facilities or as part of a larger-scale residential treatment program. These locations will include on-staff clinicians who can help patients with a variety of needs. Once they’ve completed the detox process and their body is free of toxins, they will dive deeply into the root of their addiction.
This will include examining the nature of the addiction, as well as the core reasons why they felt the need to turn to heroin in the first place. As they move further into the treatment process, they’ll learn skills and coping mechanisms that can help them live a freer, healthier, and happier life moving forward.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment
During an intensive outpatient treatment program, a heroin addict will receive therapy and treatment from licensed addiction therapists. Unlike inpatient treatments, these programs do not require the individual to live on the premises full-time.
This is often a preferred approach, especially for patients who cannot commit to living away from their homes, workplaces, or loved ones for an extended period of time. They also tend to be less of a financial commitment.
Some outpatient programs meet every day of the week, while others only meet a few times each week. Sessions tend to be held in the evening, so patients with daytime commitments can attend without conflict.
Sober Living Housing
Once someone addicted to heroin completes a recovery program, it can be difficult to integrate directly into society. There may be outside triggers that make it difficult for them to sustain their progress. This is where a sober living environment (SLE) can be especially beneficial.
In an SLE, residents can live in a safe, supportive environment while pursuing their recovery. This is meant to be the next step after an individual leaves a recovery or treatment center, and before they transition back into the real world.
Find Help for a Heroin Addiction
When you are in the throes of heroin addiction, it can feel like there is no way out. However, there are many different treatment and recovery options available.
The key is finding a solution that works for you and taking the right steps toward it. At Detox to Rehab, we can help you choose the right program that fits your needs and your schedule. This step can be hard, but it’s one of the most important ones you can take.
If you need help, call us at (866) 578-747. You can also contact us online to learn more!