How Does Heroin Addiction Happen?
Heroin is a highly addictive substance known as an opioid. Specifically,
it is a type of naturally derived opioid known as an
opiate. These drugs work by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, blocking
sensations of pain and releasing high quantities of dopamine and other
“feel-good” chemicals. This results in a euphoric “rush”
or high and disrupts normal communication pathways in the brain.
Over time, the brain loses its ability to complete the natural processes
required for the person to feel pleasure, meaning they become dependent
on the drug. Heroin dependency can quickly lead to addiction, as the individual
must not only use heroin to experience feelings of calm and happiness
but also to fend off withdrawal symptoms, which can be extremely unpleasant.
Many people who start using heroin do so only after having previously used
other, less-addictive drugs. This is because many people who chronically
use less-addictive substances start to develop a tolerance to them. Eventually,
they will need more powerful substances, like heroin, to get high.
Whether it is used as a last resort for individuals who cannot get high
with other substances, or it is the person’s first experience with
drugs, once heroin gets a grip on someone, they are at a very high risk
of becoming addicted. The only way to overcome heroin addiction is to
attend professional heroin addiction treatment.
What Effects Does Heroin Have on the Brain & Body?
As an opiate, heroin has many of the same properties as
prescription painkillers. Like prescription opioids, heroin works by attaching itself to the opioid
receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for regulating
pain, emotions, and “reward” behaviors, which can drive addiction.
By attaching itself to the pain receptors in the brain, heroin has a euphoric,
pain-relieving effect on the brain and body. In many ways, heroin functions
like a prescription painkiller on steroids.
The short-term effects of heroin include:
- A euphoric “rush” or high
- Flushing of the skin
- Dry mouth
- A feeling of “heaviness” in the extremities
- Poor cognitive functioning
- Severe itching
- Slowed breathing
People who chronically use heroin also increase their tolerance to the
substance relatively quickly. As a result, it starts to take more and
more heroin to cause chronic heroin users to get high.
Some of the long-term effects of chronic heroin use include:
- Changes in brain structure and physiology
- Neuronal and hormonal imbalance
- Lowered decision-making skills
- Reduced ability to regulate emotions, behaviors, and reactions
- Withdrawal symptoms when not using heroin
As chronic heroin users continue to increase their tolerance to the substance
and continue to use more and more heroin, their dependency and level of
addiction only increase. Continuously increasing the amount of heroin
that one consumes also increases the chance of experiencing a heroin overdose
or death. The only way to stop this dangerous cycle of heroin abuse is
to attend professional heroin addiction treatment.
Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Abuse
Many of the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse develop quickly and continue
to progress. Typically, the more severe the signs and symptoms of heroin
abuse are, the more severe the heroin addiction.
It’s important to note that the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse
are primarily physical or behavioral. With that in mind, here are some
of the most common signs of heroin abuse and addiction:
- Illicit behavior centered around heroin (e.g., receiving a DUI due to heroin
use, stealing, etc.)
- Problems with personal relationships at home
- Diminished bodily and/or cognitive function
- Poor personal appearance due to lack of proper hygiene
- Problems at work or school
- Loss of interest in favorite hobbies
- Needing to increase heroin doses to feel its effects
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Spending significant time obtaining, using, or recovering from heroin
Someone who is using heroin may become increasingly secretive or may start
spending time with new groups of people. They may lose interest in activities
they once enjoyed and will likely experience numerous problems in their
relationships with others. A definite sign of heroin addiction is a compulsive
desire to continue using heroin despite the negative effects it has had
in the person’s life.
Signs of Heroin Overdose
Many people have lost their lives to heroin overdose. While heroin overdoses
are often deadly, they can be managed. The first step to effectively preventing
heroin overdose death is to know the signs that someone has overdosed.
Some of the signs of heroin overdose include:
- Shallow breathing
- Very pale skin
- Low blood pressure
- Blue tint on lips and fingertips
- Unresponsiveness to stimuli
If you notice someone showing these signs, call 911 immediately. You should
also try to keep the person awake. Turning the person that is suffering
from a heroin overdose on his or her side can help the individual continue
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe. As a result, many people
who are dependent on heroin are unable to stop using the drug without
Some common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Breathing issues
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
- Severe cramping
- Body tremors and convulsions
- Nausea and/or vomiting
In many cases, it is not safe for a person who is addicted to heroin to
suddenly discontinue use, as this can lead to potentially life-threatening
complications. Instead, supervised heroin detox is recommended so that
individuals may have the 24-hour support they need, as well as appropriate
medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and improve the chance of a successful recovery.
Those who suffer from heroin addiction almost always need to attend medical
detox prior to attending heroin addiction treatment. To ensure that heroin
detox is effective, it’s important to choose a detox program that
is supervised by a medical staff. If the heroin withdrawal symptoms become
too overwhelming, the medical staff will be there to provide medication-assisted
If your heroin addiction is severe, it might be best to slowly decrease
or taper off your heroin use while you are in detox until you reach sobriety.
This prevents the body from going into shock when it no longer has the
substances it used to depend on.
How Is Heroin Addiction Treated?
Once a person completes heroin detox, the next step in the recovery process
is heroin addiction treatment. Heroin addiction treatment provides recovering
heroin addicts with the opportunity to work with a therapist on one primary
goal: addressing the underlying causes of addiction.
Determining the underlying causes of heroin addiction is critical to a
person’s overall success in recovery. At Grace Land Recovery, we
believe in treating the root of the issue by looking at what compels people
to begin using heroin and developing effective strategies to manage and
cope with these underlying causes. With the use of healthy coping skills,
recovering heroin addicts can manage addiction and cravings even in the
face of triggers. In other words, these coping skills can help recovering
Residential Heroin Addiction Treatment
Residential heroin addiction programs require the individual to live fulltime
at the treatment facility. During residential heroin addiction treatment,
individuals will undergo both
individual therapy and
group counseling. When not in counseling, residential heroin addiction treatment patients
can enjoy the amenities provided by the residential treatment center.
Outpatient Heroin Addiction Treatment
For some people, residential treatment is not possible. In some cases,
outpatient treatment may be an appropriate alternative. People who attend
outpatient therapy for heroin addiction must report for pre-scheduled
therapy appointments at a rehab center. When not attending these pre-scheduled
appointments, heroin outpatient addiction treatment patients get to live
in their own homes. The amount of time that a recovering heroin addict
must invest in individual outpatient therapy for heroin addiction depends
on the type of outpatient treatment program that he or she is in.
Outpatient treatment options include:
Patients attending each type of outpatient treatment program for heroin
addiction should continue to seek addiction treatment once their programs
are over if they still feel as if their sobriety isn’t secure.
At Grace Land Recovery, we offer a range of personalized outpatient addiction
treatment services, including general outpatient treatment, intensive
outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization. We also offer aftercare
to help our clients continue in their journey to sobriety. Our goal is
to be there for you every step of the way, providing the support and care
you need to heal.