In recent years, heroin use has escalated at an alarming rate and in the process attracted a broader population than ever before. Users who never dreamed of forming this habit are caught in its vicious cycle. The reason for heroin’s increased popularity is its direct link to prescription painkiller abuse. In total, close to 3 million people are addicted to these drugs combined.
Prescription Drug Use and Heroin
When people form an addiction to high dollar pills such as Oxycodone, Vicodin or Percocet they can eventually meet barriers to accessing and supporting their habit. These medications are initially prescribed commonly and seem harmless. They are known as the medicine cabinet buffet – a common fix to any type of pain. But when people get addicted, they have no idea the real price tag involved. Prescription pain medications are very expensive to buy illicitly without a valid prescription. Attracting the “average Joe” as a gate drug, the desperation of this addiction leads them to pursue other options.
Heroin is a perfect alternative to satisfy the dilemma to the addicted brain. It provides the same effect at a fraction of the cost. It is easily accessible and can be bought sometimes for less than the cost of getting drunk on alcohol. This dramatic appeal to someone already in the throes of addiction is a key factor for heroin’s rise in recent years. It also explains how people who don’t fit the previous stereotype end up on street drugs.
What is heroin?
Heroin is classified as an opiate. It is derived from the poppy plant. When the plant is processed, it eventually becomes morphine. Upon further refinement, heroin is formed. Heroin is typically a fine white powder but can be gray, dark brown and even black tar or chunks. Street heroin is typically cut with other chemicals that in and of themselves can have a perilous effect. With each batch sold on the street, there is no way of knowing exactly what additives are involved.
When snorted, smoked or injected heroin becomes bound to molecules on cells called opioid receptors. These receptors directly influence the way the body perceives pain and finds reward through pleasure. This reaction is what creates a brain disorder over time. Once the drug enters the bloodstream, a sense of euphoria floods the brain and produces a high. It has the attractive benefit of calming a person, creating relaxation, providing a pain-free sensation, and leaving the body feeling warmth and heaviness. While this is the addictive appeal, it quickly wears off creating a never-ending demand for more.
Many times the initial intake of heroin will make a person sick. But after continued use, the body gets extremely sick without it. People will eventually form a need for the drug so severe; they will do about anything to get the next high.
While it can be hard to know exactly what drug a person is taking, heroin users share some outward visible behaviors:
¥ Pinpoint pupils
¥ Shallow breathing
¥ Nodding off or dropping in and out of wakefulness
¥ Flushing of skin
¥ Possession of drug paraphernalia
¥ Restlessness (during withdrawal)
There are short-term and long-term dangers of all drugs. Heroin is extremely dangerous because it affects the automatic processes of the body responsible for breathing and blood pressure. If taken excessively, heroin will lead a person to slow breathing, or can cause them to stop breathing. The overdose risks are extremely high, especially after a person experiences sobriety and then relapses. Thus, if you know someone using heroin, it should always be known they are in imminent danger. There is no such thing as an “innocent” high. Each time a person uses they may not survive.
Withdrawal and Detoxification
Withdrawal from heroin is significantly difficult. It triggers overwhelming physical sickness that assaults the immune system and leaves a person weak and unable to function without a new high. Thus, its vicious cycle is very hard to break. Of any drug, it typically requires detoxification under the care of a supportive medical team.
Symptoms of Heroin Detoxification
The withdrawal process is directly related to how long someone has been using and at what levels the dependency has been reached. Someone using high levels of heroin for periods of years will typically struggle more.
Mild Withdrawal Symptoms
¥ Stomach discomfort and nausea
¥ Abdominal cramping
¥ Runny nose
¥ Sweats and Chills
¥ Muscle and bone aches
Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms
¥ Feelings of depression and agitation
¥ Shakiness and tremors
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
¥ Inability to sleep (insomnia)
¥ Rapid heart rate
¥ Muscle spasms and pain
¥ Difficulty feeling pleasure
¥ Drug cravings
While there are not usually life threatening symptoms related to the detox process, the pain is why a medically managed detox is so critical.
There are different approaches to using drugs to aid in the withdrawal process under guidance and supervision of professional staff. One of the most common is through the use of Suboxone.
Used with a particular protocol, Suboxone during detox can alleviate the symptoms and withdrawal sickness.
How Long Does Detox Last?
Withdrawals start 6-12 hours after the last dose. Usually, detoxification from heroin will peak the first few days and then subside between five and seven days. Most drug addictions have adverse long-term symptoms that can last weeks and months.
Treatment is strongly recommended following detoxification so that sobriety can be retained outside of the normal living environment. If a heroin user believes they are “fine” after detox and seeks no further help, you can be almost positive they will relapse. Don’t underestimate the power of this addiction!
Treating Heroin Addiction
While heroin symptoms are similar, the approaches to treatment are night and day. Evaluating what constitutes a medical or professional program can vary incredibly. Furthermore, the approaches to address the spiritual side of addiction also contain vast differences.
The truth is once heroin leaves the body through detox, the healing is only beginning. A person recovering from heroin will come to learn the actual addiction wasn’t the real problem. In treatment, New Life Spirit Recovery adopts the belief that drugs are a systemic issue in a person’s life. They aren’t the cause, but rather the effect of deeper rooted issues. While the nature of heroin must be understood, the freedom lies in a relationship with God, self, and others. Whatever benefits heroin had, the benefits of sobriety must outweigh them.
Usually, people enter program broken by heroin’s unthinkable destruction. Those that recover do so because they address their heart issues and secure their foundation in their identity in Christ. They never downplay the lure and potential for relapse. They live “one day at a time” trusting God moment and moment, and surround themselves with people and an environment free from heroin.
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