Heroin is an illegal drug that accounts for approximately 90% of opiate addiction in the United States. It is a most commonly injected directly into the bloodstream through the use of hypodermic needles. Heroin, just like other opiates, inhibits the production of endorphins in the brain.
Endorphins are the body’s natural way of dealing with physical pain. The lack of endorphins in the body requires a heroin user to continue taking the drug on a frequent basis in order to avoid extremely painful withdrawal symptoms. The fear of experiencing withdrawal is what fuels heroin addiction. Withdrawal symptoms can begin as quickly as six hours after the last dose taken. Long-term heroin use can pose various health risks including the following:
- Respiratory problems
- Central nervous system problems
- Decreased heart rate
- Weakened pulse
Intravenous injection alone poses many serious health risks if a non-sterile needle is used. These risks include but are not limited to the following problems:
- Infected abscesses
- Endocarditis (fungal infection of the heart)
Heroin Detox Methods
Detox is the crucial first step necessary to overcome heroin addiction. Detox is the process that rids the body of heroin and breaks debilitating physical dependency. Due to the potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, simply stopping the use of heroin can be very dangerous, and even fatal. Heroin detox must always take place under professional medical supervision at a detox clinic or drug rehab facility. There are several approaches to safe heroin detox.
The first method is referred to as maintenance detox. This method involves replacing the opiate with a weaker, less-addictive opiate such as methadone or buprenorphine. These drugs mimic the effect of opiates in the brain but do not deliver a high. This effectively eliminates or significantly minimizes withdrawal symptoms. Over time, the dosage of this replacement drug is gradually decreased until the person is drug free. Methadone has been successfully used as a treatment method for over 30 years. Buprenorphine is a newer drug that is becoming the preferred replacement drug over methadone. It has an even weaker opiate effect on the brain, so the chance of a recovering addict developing a physical dependency on it is lesser than that of methadone.
Another approach to opiate detox is the treating of each individual withdrawal symptom with prescribed medication. At a professional rehab facility, a doctor would prescribe medicines if a person were experiencing nausea, vomiting, headaches, etc. This method alleviates discomfort and helps the addict through the first several days of detox, when symptoms are most severe.
Heroin Rehabilitation Programs
After detox, completion of an inpatient rehab program offers an individual the greatest chance of successful recovery. Addiction counseling and behavioral therapy helps a recovering addict identify emotional catalysts and negative environments that may have caused them to begin using heroin. Knowing what factors can lead to heroin use give a recovering addict the tools to avoid future situations that may lead to relapse.
It is not uncommon for heroin addicts to be simultaneously afflicted by a psychological disorder such as depression or anxiety. It is of utmost importance that any such disorder be properly diagnosed and treated. If ignored, psychological disorders can easily lead a recovering addict to relapse.