Heroin Addiction Information

Anyone who has struggled with heroin addiction can say that it is one of the most difficult illicit drugs to overcome. As an opiate, heroin simultaneously gives the user a rush of euphoria and makes the body dependent on the continued use of the drug. The combination of these two effects makes heroin very addictive. Unfortunately, sustained use and abuse of heroin is associated with many adverse effects on mental, physical, social and psychological health.

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Heroin Addiction in Colorado and the US

More than half a million people use heroin in the United States at least once during the year, with over three hundred thousand people having used heroin in the past month. Because the drug is highly addictive, it is no surprise that many of those who use heroin - even casually - become addicted.

We want to be clear here: heroin addiction is not a final state of being. Addiction as a whole is a mental disorder, which means that it is treatable. Overcoming addiction takes a great amount of hard work and not a small amount of outside, professional help; but addiction can be overcome. If you or someone you know and love struggles with heroin addiction, you can get the help you need. Get to know the information on this page in order to gain a better understanding of heroin addiction - then take the next step and reach out. We are here to help.

There is no way around it: heroin is one of the most dangerous and pervasive drugs in the United States. If you want to learn more about the detrimental effects of heroin, what heroin addiction looks like, or what heroin rehab options you have in Colorado, you can find the answers you are looking for here. This guide to heroin addiction addresses all of the following questions:

  • What is heroin?
  • Why is heroin detrimental - what effect does it have?
  • Why is heroin addictive?
  • What does addiction to heroin look like?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of addiction?
  • What drug rehab and detox options are there for those addicted to heroin?
  • What are the next steps to recovery?

What is Heroin and Why is it Addictive?

Heroin is essentially a more processed version of morphine. As an opiate, heroin originates from poppy plants and works on the user by blocking pain receptors, giving the user a calming effect, and increasing pleasure in the brain. Despite these seemingly pleasurable effects, heroin is a highly dangerous drug because of its highly addictive nature.

Heroin is an illicit drug, which means that it cannot be obtained in a legal way.

Because of the wide market for heroin, it can come in several different forms. Pure heroin is usually white, though when it is cut with sugar or starch it can take on a brownish color as a powder. Less pure heroin, called 'black tar' is processed more crudely, which means it has a lot of impurities. This can also make heroin more dangerous. The drug can be smoked, snorted, dissolved or injected. Other common names for heroin are dope, horse, junk and smack. No matter how the drug is taken or what it is called, heroin has the same short-term effects and the same long-term negative impact on health and wellbeing.

Many people know the dangers of addiction and of injecting heroin, but still take the drug anyway. More often than not, this continued use does not come from a place of choice - instead, continued drug abuse despite the negative effects comes from a place of addiction. So why is heroin so addictive, and why is heroin addiction such a problem?

In simple terms, heroin is addictive because of the effect that it has on the user's brain.

Injecting or snorting heroin results in a rush of euphoria - this is the 'high' that so many heroin users talk about. In addition to this simple increase in pleasure, heroin has physiological effects, such as making hands and feet feel heavy and inducing a state of semi-consciousness. All of this traces back to the brain and the effect that heroin has on the central nervous system as a whole. When it enters the brain, heroin changes back into morphine and attaches to opioid receptors. When it reaches these receptors, the drug releases dopamine - this is the neurotransmitter that is directly responsible for the pleasurable feelings associated with the drug.

Dopamine is naturally released in the brain by a variety of activities - from physical exercise to achieving goals.

The High

Heroin changes this natural process by triggering the release of large amounts of dopamine at once - the high. This is why people begin using heroin - to get high. But eventually the body builds up a tolerance to and dependence on the drug. This is what makes heroin addiction such a problem.

Increasing the Dose

Those who use heroin must start taking higher and higher doses of heroin to achieve the same high that they first experienced, which in turn increases tolerance. It is a vicious cycle. The body also becomes dependent on the effects of the drug, which is why people experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking heroin.

Addiction Kicks In

This leads people to take heroin as a means of avoiding the discomfort of withdrawal, rather than primarily as a means of getting high. In short, heroin is addictive both because of the high associated with its usage and because the body becomes dependent on the drug.

Understanding Heroin Addiction and Abuse

Knowing the adverse effects of heroin is crucial to understanding why heroin addiction is so detrimental to those who use it. Heroin abuse and addiction usually leads to a great many physical, mental, personal and even professional issues.

The physical effects of heroin are the most obvious, since the drug alters one's mental state in the short-term and can lead to many physical ailments in the long-term. However, dependency on heroin also affects nearly every area of life, just as with any form of addiction or drug and alcohol abuse. In a phrase, the brief pleasure experienced after injecting heroin is far outweighed by the weight of the consequences of addiction. The consequences of addiction include some of the following changes in personal, physical, professional, emotional and social wellbeing:

  • Strained or broken relationships with family, friends and loved ones
  • A change in the way you treat those around you - increased aggression and irritability
  • Losing your job, either directly because of drug use or because of the detrimental changes it brought about
  • Being suspended from sports activities, school or university
  • The creation of an unhealthy home life for yourself or your family
  • A change in your personality due to the way heroin alters brain chemistry
  • Increased financial issues, as you exhaust resources and relationships to seek out more heroin

It is also important to note that, because heroin has no medical purpose, the use of the drug is almost synonymous with abuse of the drug.

Whereas prescription opioids can serve a legitimate purpose as prescribed by a doctor, heroin only wreaks havoc on your body and your mind, leaving no trace of benefit at all once the high is gone. In addition to the social and personal impact described about, heroin abuse can lead to some serious health effects. In its wake often lie a whole host of both short-term effects and long-term problems.

When too much is taken, heroin can create these effects to the point of overdose. This is particularly true when the drug is taken along with either other drugs or alcohol. When used for a long period of time, heroin can also lead to some serious long-term health effects.

By now, the detrimental impact of addiction to heroin should be abundantly clear. But how can you recognize addiction in the first place? While it may not necessarily signify addiction, you can recognize when heroin has been used if you see some of the following symptoms in someone you know:

Dry mouth
Clouded judgment and thinking
A state of semi-consciousness
Itching and soreness
Nausea and vomiting
A substantially lowered heart rate and slowed breathing
Collapsed veins
Infection in the heart
Abdominal cramps
Disease in the liver and kidney
The risk of HIV or hepatitis
Small pupils
Acting disoriented or confused
Extreme changes in behavior
Shortness of breath
Dry mouth
Sudden changes in consciousness
Appearance of having heavy hands or feet

These are physical signs that heroin has been used, but are not necessarily signs of addiction - nor are they unique to heroin abuse.

When heroin addiction is in play, these physical signs are typically associated with behavioral and personal signs of addiction. If you are concerned that someone you know may be addicted to heroin, be on the look out for some, or all, of these additional behavioral indications of heroin addiction:

  • Either hearing the person complain of nausea or witnessing vomiting
  • Seeing the person scratch or cover their arms
  • Observing a marked decrease in the person's personal hygiene and grooming
  • Finding burnt spoons, aluminum foil, powdery residue, or syringes in the person's living area
  • Finding that the person spends substantially more time sleeping
  • Observing worsened attention and performance either in class or at work (including losing their job)
  • Seeing that they lose interest in their favorite activities and hobbies
  • Hearing or witnessing that the person is either continually stealing or borrowing money from family, friends and even coworkers
  • Observing a sudden change in personal behavior, including more irritable and even hostile actions toward loved ones

Knowing the detrimental effects of heroin abuse, if you see these symptoms in someone you love or in yourself, it is time to get help and get on your way to recovery.

Getting Help: Drug Detox and Rehab for Heroin Addiction

The signs of heroin abuse and long-term health effects outlined above may paint a stark picture, but that does not mean that the consequences and dependency cannot be overcome. Getting help for heroin addiction may be the hardest thing you will ever have to do, but it is also one of the best things that you can do - either for yourself or someone you love.

Heroin Detox

First and foremost, it is important to understand that coming off of heroin addiction is associated with symptoms of withdrawal. As your body rids itself of the toxins of the drug, it will essentially be yelling for more heroin. This is one of the most difficult parts of recovery, since it can be very uncomfortable to undergo these withdrawal symptoms. With this in mind, you should know what to expect for withdrawal so that you are prepared to overcome it. Some of the most common symptoms of withdrawal from heroin include:

  • Intensified cravings for the drug
  • Either a runny or stuffy nose
  • Cramping in the legs (it's not called "kicking" the habit for nothing)
  • Aching in the bones and muscles
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills, cold sweats, and a fever
  • Unexplained sweating and crying

If these withdrawal symptoms become too extreme, some addiction treatment centers encourage a medical detox - this essentially means that professional medical staff prescribes other drugs that assist with the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. The three major medications used to mitigate these symptoms are:

  • Methadone: Relieves the withdrawal symptoms directly, and is sometimes used on a long-term basis
  • Buprenorphine: Usually shortens how long detox lasts
  • Clonidine: Used specifically to decrease the anxiety and physical symptoms of withdrawal (i.e. it does not decrease the cravings for heroin)
  • Naltrexone: Also used on a long-term basis to help avoid relapse

Heroin Relapse Rates & Drug Rehab Options

Even with this detox process over with, relapse is a very real possibility for those trying to go through recovery. Research has shown that around fifty percent of recovering drug addictions will relapse at some point. For heroin addicts, the rate is even higher: some estimates have placed the odds of relapse at eighty percent.

Going through drug detox in Colorado is the first step toward this recovery, but it is not the only step. In order to create the long-lasting skills you need to sustain recovery, it is necessary to follow up detox from heroin with intensive addiction treatment. Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs can be extremely valuable in setting you up with the coping skills and strategies that you will need in the future in order to stay sober.

Some people who struggle with heroin addiction, and particularly those who have struggled with addiction for multiple years and attempted to get sober several times, are in need of an inpatient facility. This means that patients stay within the rehab center itself, undergo medical detox from heroin, and remain within the facility for at least a couple of weeks. However, this is not always a necessary step for recovery from heroin addiction. The best alternative is an intensive outpatient program. This is a great option for those who want to kick their heroin addiction completely, but do not necessarily have a life-threatening problem with the drug.

Intensive outpatient rehab for heroin addiction generally requires participants to attend at least ten hours of treatment sessions each week.

These sessions include one-on-one counseling with an addiction counselor, workshops for developing coping strategies and skills for overcoming cravings, as well as group support sessions. All of these combine to give those undergoing recovery support from both professional staff as well as their peers, who are going through many of the same challenges. This mutual support is crucial to successful recovery, and therefore an important part of intensive outpatient treatment for heroin addiction.

Treatment for heroin addiction looks different depending on the treatment approach. However, the cornerstone of intensive outpatient treatment is behavioral therapy, which focuses on addressing the underlying factors that led to and perpetuated addiction in the first place. This is something that cannot easily be addressed on your own or even just in a Narcotics Anonymous session - drug rehab goes much deeper than that.

Next Steps to Recovery: What You Can Do About Heroin Addiction

After reading through this page, you may be asking what the next steps to recovery from heroin addiction are.

First and foremost, the fact that you are here and recognize you're your addiction has presented a problem is the most important step you can take. The second is to seek out help. Since addiction is recognized as a (treatable) mental disorder, you should not feel that you have to go through detoxification and recovery all on your own.

We have the facilities, the professional staff, and the experience to help you start your recovery on the right foot. We can't tell you the best way to approach detox and drug rehab, but we can help you get the resources you need in order to make a decision. If you have any further questions about heroin addiction and what your drug rehab options are, don't hesitate to contact us.