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Heroin Abuse, Addiction, Treatment and Recovery

Heroin Addiction and Rehab: From Abuse to Recovery

Heroin addiction has been a serious problem in the United States for many years. But over the last several it has only gotten worse. This is an issue that can be traced back to a period of time when doctors were frequently handing out prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Little did they know the damage that would be caused later on.

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Eventually, many of the people who were taking drugs like Vicodin and Oxycodone moved on to heroin. Once they did, they found themselves gripped in a powerful addiction that was almost impossible to break. Sadly, a huge percentage of these individuals did not realize that they were heading down the road to becoming addicted.


Heroin addiction should never be taken lightly. It is something that has led to a shocking number of overdoses in our country over the last few years. But how does a person know they are addicted, and what can be done to achieve recovery? These are questions that we would like to answer here today.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug that is extremely addictive. It is processed from morphine, which comes from certain varieties of poppy plants. It is sold illegally on the street, and it appears  as a white or brown-tinted powder.

Heroin is typically cut with other substances to lessen its purity. This is done solely for the purpose of increasing profits for drug dealers. It can be cut with starches, quinine, sugars or other materials.

There is also another type of heroin known as black tar heroin. This type is sticky, and more like the consistency of roofing tar. Or, it can also be sold in hard chunks like coal. Its dark color indicates that there are many impurities that have been left behind in making it.

There is a difference between opioids and opiates; although these terms are used interchangeably all the time. The medical community considers them to be the same, in most cases.

Opiates are drugs that are made directly from the opium poppy plant. Some types of opiates include morphine, opium and codeine. Heroin is also considered to be an opiate drug.

Opioids include synthetic drugs or partially synthesized drugs that are made to work like opiates. They get their active ingredients from chemicals. The molecules in these man-made drugs are similar to opiates, but there are some slight differences.

When it comes to opiates vs. opioids, these drugs work in relatively the same way. They both have pain-relieving qualities that alter the way pain is perceived. They both attach to opioid receptors in the body, which results in less pain.

Also, opiates and opioids will both affect how a person experiences pleasure. Someone who takes them will have sensations of euphoria and deep relaxation.

In short, all opiates are also opioids, but the reverse is not true. The term opiate only refers to substances that have been directly derived from the poppy plant.

Heroin is considered to be both an opioid and an opiate. In fact, it is one of the more dangerous drugs in the world. People who use prescription opioid drugs will frequently move to heroin when they can no longer fill their prescriptions. They may try other methods of getting their prescription opiates first, such as doctor shopping. They may even attempt to order them online.

In the end, people who are addicted to prescription opioid drugs first will often move on to heroin. It is, after all, a drug that will give them the same types of effects as their prescriptions.

The terms diamorphine and diacetylmorphine are both additional names for heroin. In some countries, heroin is actually given as a pain reliever. In fact, this was its original purpose here in the United States as well.

For example, diamorphine can be given in the United Kingdom under extreme circumstances. It is only given in the hospital, and may even be administered to children.

Both diacetylmorphine and diamorphine may be given after a heart attack. They can also be administered to patients who have undergone cancer treatments and have pain.

Surprisingly enough, both diamorphine and diacetylmorphine have also been known to be used in opiate detox. However, in the United States, they are considered to be banned drugs. This is due to their addictive potential.

Heroin is synthesized from the morphine that comes from the poppy plant. The morphine that is used to make it in the U.S. comes from many different sources. It can come from:

  • Afghanistan - they produce up to 82% of the world's supply of heroin
  • Pakistan - an illegal source of morphine
  • Southeast Asia - another illegal source
  • South America - another illegal source of morphine
  • France, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom - sources of legal opium and heroin

As far as how heroin is made, it all starts with a ripe poppy plant. As the plant ripens, a white, milky substance comes out. This dries into a sticky resin, which is raw opium. This is what is made into morphine.

To make morphine, this substance is formed into bricks and dried in the sun. Acetic anhydride is then used to create heroin. Chemicals are used to purify the new drug.

Abusing this drug can be done in a number of different ways. It can be smoked in a pipe or in a cigarette. One popular method of using heroin is to roll it with marijuana and consume both drugs together.

Quite often, when people start using heroin, they will snort the powder. This might be really dangerous, though, depending on what the drug has been cut with. Those who have been using it for longer usually prefer to inject it. That involves mixing it with a liquid until it is completely dissolved. They will then locate a vein and inject it with a needle. This is the method that produces the fastest high.

The first heroin high is usually the "best" high people experience. After that first use, they are always trying to recreate the high. This is often referred to as "chasing the dragon."

No matter which way heroin is used, it is completely unsafe. However, injecting the it can be even more dangerous. People rarely use sterile needs, which increases their chances of infectious diseases. They increase their risks when the needles are shared with others.

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The Heroin Epidemic in the United States

Everywhere we look, all over the United States, there is a heroin epidemic. This is a problem that largely stems from opioid addiction and abuse. Once one takes a look at the statistics surrounding heroin addiction in the U.S., it is impossible to ignore this problem.

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The American Society of Addiction Medicine tells us that:

  • In 2015, almost 600,000 people had a substance abuse disorder that involved heroin.
  • 23% of everyone who starts using heroin will develop an addiction.
  • Four out of five new heroin users will first start out by misusing their prescription opioid medications.
  • In 2014, 94% of survey responders said that they used heroin because opiates were too expensive. They were also much harder for them to obtain.
  • In 2015, about 21,000 teens reported having used heroin at some point during the last year.
  • 5,000 of these teens claimed to be current heroin users.
  • Around 6,000 teens had a heroin use disorder in the year 2014.
  • Women are believed to be more likely than men to use heroin.
  • This is because they are more likely than men to be prescribed higher doses of prescription opioids.

Clearly, the heroin problem in our country has gotten out of hand. It has grown to the point where people are desperate to find their next high. Something has to change before this problem gets much worse.

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What is Heroin Abuse?

It is important to understand what heroin abuse is before it is possible to understand the addiction. Heroin is an illegal drug. It has been deemed a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act. All Schedule 1 drugs have a high potential for abuse. This means that the United States has decided they serve no legitimate medical purpose.

Because heroin is an illegal drug, any use of it at all is considered to be abuse; even if a person only uses it one time. Abusing this substance does not necessarily mean that someone is addicted. Although continued abuse will eventually lead to addiction.

Someone who is abusing heroin may experience many of the common effects from the drug. We will cover these in just a moment. However, as long as an addiction has not formed, that person should be able to stop.

Heroin abuse is characterized by the use of this drug without a compulsion to use. That individual does not feel compelled to use at all. He or she may like the way it makes them feel, but that is all. Also, when stopping the drug, there are no withdrawal symptoms.

Again, abusing this drug can lead to a heroin addiction and for many people, it does.

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Signs of Heroin Abuse

People who abuse heroin will probably act very discreetly about their drug use. They may only use when they are alone, or when they are with other users. It may not be easy tell if a person is abusing this drug unless direct contact is made with them shortly after their use. But there are still a number of signs that could indicate that a drug problem is present.

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Some of the more common signs of heroin abuse include:

  • Making up stories or telling lies about their whereabouts or activities.
  • Significant mood swings.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • An almost constantly running nose.
  • Avoiding the people they love the most.
  • Bouts of hostility toward other people.
  • Going from extreme hyperactivity to feeling exhausted.
  • Track marks on the arms.
  • Frequent and ongoing respiratory infections.
  • Excessive itching all over the body.
  • The appearance of bruises and scabs because of picking at the skin.

Heroin is a drug that can result in extreme paranoia, delusions and hallucinations as well. These symptoms can occur after only one use of the drug.

What is Heroin Addiction?

A heroin addiction is what occurs when someone has been using this drug for too long. There are some who believe that it is possible to form an addiction to it after one use. Other experts disagree. However, if someone was previously using prescription opioids, a heroin addiction can be instantaneous.

When a person is addicted to heroin, they feel as though they need the drug all the time. They may not be able to go a day without using. Otherwise, they begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Heroin addicts simply do not feel like themselves without the drug in their systems. They may struggle to get through the day without it.

A heroin addiction is a disease. However, it is not a disease that cannot be treated. It is highly treatable. Anyone who is addicted to this drug should not stop using it on their own. Doing so can have devastating consequences during the withdrawal phase. In some instances, it can even be fatal.

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Signs of Addiction

How does a person know if they are addicted to heroin? Most people tend to believe that they have complete control over their drug use. But the reality is that the people who feel the most in control are generally the ones who are not.

When people feel in control of their heroin use, but they really have an addiction, this is called denial. Sometimes people live in denial for their entire lives. It is so important for them to learn the truth about their relationship with this dangerous substance.

Heroin addicts usually show many of the classic signs of heroin addiction.

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The signs and symptoms of heroin addiction can include some of the following:

  • Frequent nose bleeds
  • Itchiness of the skin
  • A pale complexion
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Frequent colds or other illnesses
  • Sudden hair loss

Those who do not notice many of the physical signs of heroin addiction may notice some behavioral signs. These might include:

  • Feelings of anxiousness
  • Lying or dishonest behaviors
  • Strange or altered sleeping habits
  • Suddenly becoming isolated
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequently feeling tired or exhausted

If any of these sound familiar, it is most likely because there is a heroin addiction in place.

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Take a Heroin Addiction Quiz to Learn More

Even after going over the above heroin addiction signs, people may still be doubtful. It can be so hard to recognize a heroin addiction in ourselves. There are other ways that a person can find out if they are a heroin addict.

One of those ways is by taking a heroin addiction quiz. This quiz will asks some questions about heroin use. It is important to be honest when answering the questions. Otherwise, it is impossible to get an accurate result.

Once the quiz is finished, the results are available right away, and they should be taken very seriously. For those who are heroin addicts, getting professional help should be their number one concern.

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Heroin Side Effects

Heroin is a very powerful, potent drug, as we mentioned previously. Because it is an opiate, it is safe to assume that using it will produce many side effects. Some of these side effects might be seen as only a little troublesome at first. But, they do tend to increase in their severity as time goes on.

Some common side effects of heroin include:

  • Becoming short of breath very easily
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Having constricted pupils
  • Experiencing sudden changes in behavior
  • Becoming easily disoriented
  • Feeling hyper alert
  • Quickly becoming tired after periods of alertness
  • Feeling like the arms and legs are heavy

Unfortunately, people usually tend to ignore these side effects. Instead, they focus on how good they feel because they used heroin. Over time, it can become easier to ignore heroin's side effects because the addiction has taken control.

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How Does Heroin Affect the Body and Mind?

For someone who abuses heroin once or twice, they may not have any serious effects from it at all. Even so, it is important to note that even one use of this drug can be fatal if too much is taken at one time.

Having said that, the effects of heroin on the mind and body tend to get worse the longer the drug is used. There are a number of short-term and long-term effects that become quite apparent after some time has passed.

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Short-Term Effects

Many of the short-term effects of heroin are a cause for concern. Again, they are not usually  enough to deter people from using. The short-term effects can be experienced after just one use of the drug. They do tend to get worse as time goes on.

Some common short-term heroin effects include:

  • A warm flushing of the skin
  • A very dry mouth
  • Chronic itchiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling drowsy for several hours
  • Slowed heart function
  • Slower breathing rate
  • Brain fog

After just one use of heroin, the person’s life is at risk. This is something people often do not realize. Using heroin may cause severe medical complications. These can happen whether that person has a prior medical history or not. They could be at risk of a coma, seizures or other problems.

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Long-Term Effects

Of course, the longer an individual uses heroin, the more problematic this drug becomes. Using it long-term puts the user at an even greater risk for significant medical issues, not to mention behavioral health concerns. Many of the long-term effects can be devastating.

Some of the long-term heroin effects include:

  • Deterioration of the white matter in the brain
  • Problems making decisions
  • Problems controlling behaviors
  • Difficulty responding in stressful situations
  • An ever-increasing risk of tolerance and addiction
  • Extreme weight loss

There are so many risks involved with using heroin. Still, people continue to considerate it to be a good way to get high. The cycle of addiction can be a difficult one to break out of. The long-term effects of heroin simply are not worth it.

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Options for Recovering From a Heroin Addiction

At some point, many heroin addicts will get to the place in their lives where they want to recover. They finally realize that they have been enslaved by this drug that they thought was truly helping them. But they have no idea how to get off it.

There are a number of different ways that people might try to help themselves recover from heroin addiction. Please keep in mind that we are not endorsing every method that is listed below. Many of them are dangerous, and should never be attempted by anyone. But people still try them because they are so desperate to be free from this drug.

People opt to attempt to quit heroin cold turkey for a number of reasons. Many of them never meant to become addicted to the drug, and so, they choose to stop using it out of sheer panic. Others may be more inclined to think that if they stop taking it abruptly, it will be better than putting themselves through a long, drawn-out withdrawal process.

Cold turkey is not the best way to quit heroin by any means, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The withdrawal symptoms that people experience after quitting can be very difficult to deal with, but they are usually not fatal. Still, there is a very real risk of an overdose if the individual ends up relapsing.

The Business Insider website published an article that was written by a man who attempted to quit heroin cold turkey. This is what he had to say:

“About 4 or 5 hours after my last dose I started to feel antsy. I don't know how else to describe it. I started to bounce my legs up and down on my toes while sitting there. I couldn't focus my attention on anything, except the fact that I had no more dope. My arm muscles felt as if they fly out of my skin, and my skin was crawling. About 8 to 10 hours after my last dose I started to feel nauseated, and started to sweat heavily. These feelings would persist for the next week or so. 

“Heroin, and opiates in general make you constipated. This side effect started wearing off about 48 hours after my last dose. Unfortunately it was replaced by severe diarrhea. My stomach also started to convulse with accompanying vomit and pain. So I spent most of day 3,4 and 5, on the toilet, or with my head in a bucket, or sometimes both at once. My legs, arms, and back started to get painful cramps around day 5 as well. 

“Listing the symptoms or even describing them cannot even begin to convey the pain and fear one experiences while going through this. The poison seems to make a horrid effort to convince you that you will in fact die if you do not get one more fix. 

“The whole physical withdrawal lasted about two weeks in all. The last 5 days or so it was very minor compared to the first week. The mental aspect of it I was not prepared for. I would find myself trying to contact old dope friends, and dealers just to "see what was up". I would crave the rush of the drug. I would dream about it every single night. I would close my eyes and see balloons full of heroin, and needles in my arms. This went on for about 8 months or so. They say 95% of IV heroin addicts never get clean, and I can see why. 

“It has been right at two years since that last dose, and only now do I feel like I'm not a junkie.

This depiction is directly in line with what many others have experienced after quitting heroin cold turkey. While it can be done, it is certainly not recommended. Again, this is a very powerful drug, and the withdrawal symptoms make it very easy to relapse.

Drug detox kits can be found in many online stores, but they are frequently sold in pharmacies as well. Their packaging and ads make them sound very convincing, and people tend to believe that they will work for them.

A lot of drug detox kits contain various vitamins and supplements that the company claims will help with withdrawal symptoms. But the reality is that they rarely work the way they say they do. Please do not misunderstand – the body often needs supplementation during withdrawal for a number of reasons. People often do not feel like eating because they feel sick, so they miss out on critical nutrients from their food. But to think that taking them will get them past heroin withdrawal is not realistic by any means.

Trying a drug detox kit is the same as gambling with one’s own life. Even if the products the kit contains help somewhat, they are nothing compared to what that person could be receiving for treatment. Also, the risks that accompany withdrawal are still there, and the likelihood of a relapse is quite high.

Among all of the quit methods that people attempt, self-tapering might be the most effective. But even that is never recommended. At the very least, the individual should consult with their doctor before attempting to taper off heroin. While the physician cannot offer advice because of the drug being illegal, they need to be made aware of the individual’s plan.

Self-tapering simply refers to the act of using less and less heroin over time. The person may lower their doses, or they may skip some of them. This method is not accurate at all, and in the best cases, it only results in long, drawn-out withdrawal.

When the body does not receive the dose of heroin that it is expecting, withdrawal symptoms can still occur. For many people, they do occur, and it can be so difficult to cope with them and maintain a strict self-tapering schedule.

The other issue with self-tapering is that it is very easy to taper off heroin too quickly. That can bring on withdrawal symptoms that are both abrupt and severe, and that makes them hard to control.

In an attempt to treat heroin addiction on their own, there is a growing number of people who will opt to switch their drug of choice. When they do, they tend to gravitate toward substances that are considered to be much less addictive. There are a number of drugs that they might choose.

Cannabis is one of the most common drugs that people might use to get off heroin. This is a drug that is believed to be non-addictive physically, so they assume that there is absolutely no risk of addiction. That is not entirely true.

Cannabis can become addictive psychologically. That means that people can get to the point where they believe they need it. They may not experience much in the way of withdrawal when they stop taking it, but it will affect them mentally. It can be very difficult to stop using pot, and many experts view this type of situation as trading one drug for another.

Alternatively, CBD may be an effective way to help people through heroin withdrawal without a risk of secondary addiction. The Scientific American has reported that, “Researchers report that among people with opioid addiction, CBD dampens cue-triggered cravings and anxiety, along with reducing stress hormone levels and heart rate.” The results of their studies were published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Finally, there is a third drug that people might use as a way to help their cravings for heroin and recover from this addiction. It is a drug that is only starting to become popular in the United States called kratom.

Kratom’s chemical name is Mitragyna speciosa, which is a type of tree that is native to various parts of southeast Asia. In the U.S., it has been labeled an opioid because of the way it interacts with the body’s opioid receptors. People use it by turning the leaves into powder and then consuming them in water or another liquid.

In lower doses, kratom has stimulant effects and in higher doses, it produces opioid-like effects. While there are many people who have reported using it to work for their heroin withdrawal symptoms, we do not recommend using it.

Many people who use kratom have reported that it is very easy to form a tolerance to it. Before long, they find that they need to increase how much they are taking at one time in order to feel its effects. It can also be highly addictive, and stopping it will result in a number of withdrawal symptoms.

Most professionals will agree that the best way to stop using heroin is to go through drug detox and rehab. This is because of the fact that addiction is a disease, and it needs to be treated like a disease. That means getting the right kind of treatment to help every aspect of the problem.

An addiction has two sides that need to be treated – the physical side and the psychological side. The physical side refers to the withdrawal symptoms that are to be expected once the drug is stopped. We will talk more about what those are in just a moment. But if withdrawal is not treated, the cravings and other symptoms can quickly become too much to bear. The logical way out is to then turn back to using heroin.

The psychological side refers to the person’s belief that the drug helps them in some way. This also includes getting help for the root cause of the problem, which could be any number of issues. People who are mentally addicted to heroin feel that they need it in order to be OK. It takes a lot of time for them to learn that they do not need to be high on this drug to live their lives. But it can be done.

When both of these types of treatment are combined, the results are usually quite good. Of course, success in recovery means being compliant with everything from drug testing to attending all scheduled appointments.

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Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

It is important to note that the withdrawal symptoms that are experienced when the drug is stopped will be different for everyone. There are many factors in play when it comes to heroin withdrawal, and these include:

  • The length of time the drug was used
  • How the drug was abused
  • How much heroin was taken during each use
  • Whether or not the heroin was mixed with another type of drug
  • Whether or not the individual had tried to stop using heroin in the past and relapsed
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Because heroin is an opiate drug that works by suppressing the central nervous system, many different body functions are affected when it is used, including heart rate, respiration and body temperature. When it is stopped, the central nervous system is severely affected, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the more common heroin withdrawal symptoms might include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Becoming restless or agitated
  • Experiencing abdominal cramps with or without diarrhea
  • Feeling very fatigued
  • Alternating sweats and chills
  • Severe and ongoing depression
  • A rapid heart rate
  • Muscle spasms in the body
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Insomnia and other sleep difficulties
  • Problems with breathing
  • Aches in the muscles and bones

Having adequate medical support on hand can help many of these withdrawal symptoms, lessening their severity, and making the detox phase more comfortable.

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Complications From Opiate Withdrawal

Aside from the risk of relapse and overdose, the main reason why heroin addicts should consider treatment is because of possible complications during withdrawal. People often think of their symptoms as being unpleasant, but they believe that with enough willpower, they can still quit. Usually heroin withdrawal is not life-threatening, but it is possible for symptoms to become fatal.

When people typically think of opioid withdrawal syndrome, they think of flu-like symptoms that can be severe, but are generally mild. But vomiting and diarrhea can turn excessive, and these two complications can lead to death for a few reasons.

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If left untreated, persistent diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration and an increase in the person’s blood sodium level. Both of these can lead to heart failure. Also, if a person vomits while they are asleep, the risk of aspiration is very high, and that can be fatal as well.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are never cut and dry. Even when a person is considered to be low risk for any complications, they can still occur. This is also true even when that individual has quit this drug on their own in the past. Every new quit attempt is different.

The Detox Process for the Heroin User

Detox is the process of removing a particular substance from the body. It is generally not a process that happens without withdrawal symptoms, and these definitely vary depending on the type of substance that is being detoxed from.

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In regards to heroin, users will usually experience severe withdrawal symptoms that can be alleviated in several different ways to make the process easier. There are several different methods that can be implemented for heroin detox, and these include:

  • Holistic Detox - During this process, patients are not given medications to aid in the detoxification process. Instead, they are "prescribed" a diet that's rich in nutrients, along with plenty of physical activity to allow the body to release and remove toxins through its own natural processes.
  • Outpatient Detox - During outpatient detox, patients are prescribed specific medications to aid in helping to relieve their withdrawal symptoms while the toxins from heroin leave their bodies. Frequent clinical check-ins are a must during outpatient detox for patient safety.
  • Rapid Detox - During rapid detox, patients are administered medications that are known as opioid antagonists, which serve to block the actions of heroin in the body. This process carries many risks, such as heart complications or pulmonary edema.
  • Rapid Detox with Anesthesia - This type of rapid detox carries many more risks because of the fact that patients are asleep during the process. Also, toxins are flushed from the body very quickly, which can lead to heart attack or other medical complications. Some patients have even died, which is why this method is generally not recommended in most cases.
  • Medical Detox - This process refers to the medical supervision of patients who are undergoing a detox procedure. Symptoms can be managed appropriately, and medical detox may include the use of prescription medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
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Medical Detox

Not all drugs require a medical detox in order to stop using them safely. However, some drugs do require it, and some types of drug users find that going through a medical detox makes their withdrawal symptoms much more manageable, and it also makes the experience of stopping drugs more comfortable for them. Heroin users certainly can benefit from medical detox when it is stopped.

Most people who are addicted to heroin will be recommended to go through medical detox as the beginning step in their recovery journeys. It is important to note that detox is not recovery in and of itself; rather it is the first step. It involves a stay in a medical facility that is equipped with highly trained medical staff for each patient's detoxification process.

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Having the right medical care during detox can eliminate many of the discomforts associated with stopping the use of heroin, and there are even patients who claim that they were able to find relief from most of their withdrawal symptoms by opting for medical detox.

Nursing care is available around the clock in the detoxification center, and patients are usually offered medications that help the body to process toxins faster. In addition, there are other medications that can be given to patients for the purpose of alleviating their withdrawal symptoms.

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There are some experts in the addiction treatment field who are against using medications to aid in detox for heroin users. Others claim that the use of medications is necessary to help with comfort during the detox process, and to aid in the removal of toxins. In every case, patients should be assessed according to their specific needs during detox and recovery. Not all patients will be appropriate for heroin detox that includes the use of prescription medications, but medical supervision is always recommended, regardless of the method that is used.

When detoxification centers offer medical detox, they generally lean toward medication assisted treatment for heroin addicts. There are many requirements that need to be met in order for a physician to qualify to provide this type of care for their patients. But once they meet them, they offer life-saving medications that can change the course of a person’s life.

Medication assisted treatment, or MAT, refers to the use of FDA approved medications to treat substance abuse disorders. These medications need to be prescribed in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies. This allows for a “whole-patient” approach that has proven to be very effective.

People who receive MAT for opioid use disorder may be placed on any number of medications. Some of them include:

  • Suboxone
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone
  • Subutex

Alternatively, Vivitrol is a medication that has shown to be quite effective at treating heroin addiction. It is a medication that is given once a month, and it works by helping to control withdrawal symptoms. The benefit of this drug is that it is non-addictive, and unlike many of the other medications on the above list, it is not an opioid.

There are certain substances that absolutely require medical detox because trying to stop using them without it can cause serious medical complications or even death. Heroin is not one of those drugs, so while detoxing at a medical facility is highly recommended, it is not always necessary. Even so, any drug detox facility should carefully go over each patient's medical history with them to determine whether or not they should consider going through medical detox for heroin, based on their past.

Every patient is different. Detoxing from heroin without medical support is very difficult, and although it can be done, it's much easier and safer in the long run to be surrounded by medical professionals in a setting that will ensure that the proper help is always available.

Can You Detox from Heroin at Home?

Many people do attempt to detox from heroin at home, and while it is not ideal, they often believe it would be better to give it a try and fail before opting to go to a medical facility for heroin detox.

There are certain steps that should always be taken before attempting to detox from heroin at home. First of all, an at-home detox should never be attempted without someone there to provide support. A friend or a relative should be available for at least three days, which is when the worst of the withdrawal symptoms should start to subside.

Experts believe that slowly tapering off heroin might be the best way to begin detoxing if it is attempted at home, rather than stopping the drug cold turkey. Even so, there are many people who find it impossible to self-regulate tapering off this drug because the addiction and the compulsion to use are so strong. More often than not, people end up relapsing before they even get to stop the drug completely.

The risk of dehydration is high during an at-home heroin detox, which is why having enough fluids on hand is a critical part of the process. Water and electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade and Pedialyte are highly recommended for proper hydration. In addition to the risk of dehydration, nausea, diarrhea and aches and pains are common withdrawal symptoms that most people experience. Over the counter medications are available that can help to ease these symptoms, and they should always be available when attempting an at-home heroin detox.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
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Other items that should be on hand during an at-home heroin detox might include:

  • Movies or books to provide distractions
  • Extra sheets for the bed because of excessive sweating
  • A fan or air conditioner to cool down
  • Soft blankets for warmth and comfort
  • Healthy and nutritious food

In addition, it is always wise to consult with a medical doctor before attempting the detox process at home. A physician will be able to offer words of advice, and possibly even prescription medications that can be taken to help ease the discomfort that withdrawal symptoms can bring.

Length of Time it Takes to Detox from Heroin

Detoxing from heroin is a process that is going to be different for everyone, based on a number of factors. If the individual has only been using smaller doses of the drug for a short time, the detox phase should not last very long. However, for those who have been using increasing doses of heroin for years, their detox will take much longer.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually begin between six and twelve hours after the last dose has been taken. At that point, symptoms may be relatively mild, and the user might even be familiar with them if he or she has gone without using heroin for a short period of time in the past.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Mobile 2

Over the next three days, withdrawal symptoms will increase in their severity, and newer, more severe symptoms may begin as well. Generally, withdrawal symptoms will begin to peak at about the third day, and then they will begin to subside over the next week or so.

Unfortunately, withdrawal from heroin is rarely as cut and dry as most recovering individuals would hope it to be. For anyone recovering from a heroin addiction, once detox has been completed, there is always the risk of developing post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS as it is often called. This refers to withdrawal symptoms that may persist for a long time after a drug has been discontinued. PAWS is very common among those who have detoxed from heroin, and it can result in lasting or even new symptoms that can persist for weeks, months or even years past the date that the individual expected to be finished going through withdrawal.

The risk of experiencing post-acute withdrawal syndrome relies on a number of different factors that can all play a key role in whether or not it is experienced. These factors include:

  • Individual patient's biology
  • Whether the drug was tapered or stopped cold-turkey
  • How much heroin was used at a time
  • How often heroin was used
  • How long the individual was addicted to heroin

Detoxing from heroin is difficult, but it is certainly not impossible. Many people go through the detoxification process and leave their heroin addictions behind for good because they were able to obtain the proper type of support to help them. Heroin is a very dangerous addiction, and it is important to get professional help to overcome it as soon as possible.

Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey
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Treatment Methods Used During Rehab for Heroin Addiction

Heroin rehab programs are different for everyone because people need different approaches to treatment. Even though a person may share the same type of addiction with someone else, their treatment may differ. Every patient should receive his or her own treatment plan. This is a plan that has been designed specifically for them, because of what they need.

Because treatment plans are personalized, any of the following might be recommended for someone with a heroin addiction.

Suboxone is a drug that contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid medication. Naloxone blocks the effects of opioid medication. It works by reducing withdrawal symptoms. It is actually a popular drug to use during heroin detox. It also curbs cravings for opioid drugs. In this way, it tricks the brain into thinking that the person has used heroin.

Suboxone is very effective, but it is often used for too long. When this occurs, it is possible to become re-addicted to Suboxone. This can result in people needing to go through detox a second time during recovery.

Methadone works by blocking the high that is caused by heroin and other opiates. It reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings. When it is taken once a day, it can reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms for up to 36 hours. For this reason, it is a popular drug for recovering heroin addicts. It is very effective, and it decreases an individual's chance of having a relapse.

However, this drug is not without its faults. When Methadone is taken in higher doses, it can produce a high of its own. Sometimes, heroin abusers will abuse this drug as well. It can lead to a secondary addiction. Also, in order for it to be effective, heroin addicts often need to take it for several years.

Group therapy has been shown to be very effective for those in heroin addiction treatment. It is incredibly helpful to sit among other addicts and have a discussion and not feel alone. Many patients come from places where they are the only ones they know with addictions. This can cause them to feel isolated and lonely. Group therapy provides peer support, encouragement and even counseling.

Group therapy sessions may cover a number of different topics, based on patients' needs. Many heroin treatment centers offer a 12 Step approach to recovery, which involves group therapy. Patients are given the chance to share with each other, and get feedback for their own views.

Family therapy sessions are also a vital part of the recovery process. Many heroin addicts come from families that have been torn apart because of their addictions. For the addicts, they need their families in order to get support during this important time.

Family therapy helps by working to improve these critical relationships. Families are able to learn more about their loved ones' addictions. They are able to talk with each other and work through issues they may have been suppressing for years. It is a time of incredible healing for the families and for the addicts.

Individual therapy sessions are often thought of as the cornerstone of heroin treatment centers. Many addicts are unaware of how addiction works. It is important for them to understand this in detail. Once they learn how it works, they learn why it happened to them.

Therapists use a number of different types of therapies during these sessions. These are all very detailed, according to what the patient needs. Patients may experience Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Experiential Therapy, or a number of other methods of treatment. Sessions are personalized to each patient. They are also centered on the goal of discovering why the patient became addicted to heroin. There could be a number of reasons for this. Determining why allows the therapist to help the patient heal and recover.

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Rehab for Heroin Addicts with Co-Occurring Disorders

More often than not, heroin addiction coincides with a number of different co-occurring disorders. These are mental health conditions that can be the cause behind the addiction. However, there are cases in which the heroin addiction causes the co-occurring disorder. Again, every patient's experience is different. In order for recovery to take place, these conditions must be discovered and treated.

There are many types of co-occurring disorders that are typical among heroin addicts. These include:

Depression is a condition that causes extreme sadness that does not go away. It can be both physically and emotionally painful. Eventually, people who are depressed start not caring about anything in their lives. They lose all motivation to live. Depression can even lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Chronic feelings of sadness or crying
  • Being unable to keep up with your responsibilities
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Unexplained physical pain
  • Changes in appetite

As a drug, heroin is a depressant, but it can lift these symptoms temporarily. That is one reason why people might gravitate toward this drug if they are depressed.

Anxiety can be a crippling condition. It has physical components that are quite troubling. People with anxiety often feel dizzy, or they have racing heart rates. Someone with anxiety may worry constantly. They may also suffer from panic attacks that do not seem to have any real cause.

Symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Having irrational fears
  • Having intrusive memories, flashbacks or nightmares
  • A pounding heart
  • Being unable to focus or concentrate
  • Experiencing tremors or shaking
  • Engaging in compulsive rituals, such as hand-washing

Heroin's depressant qualities can seem to soothe anxiety for some time. This is why so many people with anxiety use it. However, its soothing properties rarely last for very long. Eventually, a lot of people find out that their anxiety only gets worse over time.

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This condition often occurs when someone has experienced a trauma in their past. It can be a debilitating condition. It is common for veterans of the military, but it can happen to anyone.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Problems with close relationships
  • Memory lapses
  • Having flashbacks or nightmares
  • Experiencing memories of a traumatic event
  • Feeling emotionally numb or unavailable

Heroin may help with these symptoms temporarily. However, the effects of the drug are always short-lived. Eventually, with continued use, symptoms may become worse.

It is not surprising that so many people with eating disorders turn to heroin. An eating disorder is characterized by an unhealthy relationship with food. People with eating disorders often feel as though they are overweight, even when they are not. There are different types of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

Symptoms of an eating disorder include:

  • Having a low body weight, but still feeling overweight
  • Misusing laxatives or diuretics
  • Refusing to eat certain foods
  • Only eating in secret, and never among other people
  • Having an intense fear of gaining weight

Heroin is an attractive choice for many people with eating disorders. It can successfully suppress the appetite and slow down metabolism levels. Because eating disorders are often fatal unless they are treated, adding in a heroin addiction is even more dangerous.

It is so important for therapists to understand when there are co-occurring disorders present. Unless these conditions are treated, heroin recovery is not likely to last.

What is Recommended
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Finding a Quality Heroin Rehab Center

There are heroin rehab centers can help with recovery. However, it is so important to know what to look for when it comes to treatment. A quick Internet search will result in many names of many programs. Still, that does not mean they are all the same. Different rehabs have different approaches to treatment. People should search for one that offers:

  • An individual treatment plan that has been designed specifically for them. This will ensure that their needs are being met during their treatment.
  • The option to go through heroin detox prior to rehab. There are facilities that offer these services all in one place. This helps by not disrupting the treatment process at all.
  • An accredited facility and treatment program. This will ensure that people are getting the best possible treatment they can find.
  • A heroin treatment center that participates with their health insurance. They should offer to verify their insurance before they begin treatment. This will inform them regarding any copayments they need to make. It will also help to keep the costs of their treatment as low as possible.
  • Nursing care that is available at all times of the day or night. This way, they know they will be safe and immediately cared for in the event of an emergency.
  • A referral to an outpatient treatment program for continued care. This will help them by continuing their treatment, and keeping their mind on recovering.
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The Drug Treatment Program at Northpoint Recovery

When a patient comes to Northpoint Recovery with a heroin addiction, they generally follow a certain protocol. There are a few different types of treatment that we recommend for them.

Opioid Detox – As we mentioned earlier, this type of treatment addresses withdrawal symptoms. It helps people cope with their symptoms, but it can also result in ones that are less severe. Some people find that with the right treatment, they are even able to avoid many of the most common withdrawals. Most importantly, detoxing helps people feel better faster. Our typical heroin detox program usually lasts for about seven days; although this can vary based on the individual.

Inpatient Heroin Rehab – There are many goals to accomplish during rehab. People will be able to learn what it was that led to their addictions in the first place. This might be an existing mental health issue, transitioning from painkillers to heroin, or any number of reasons. During rehab, people learn how to manage their cravings and identify triggers that might lead to them. They also have the opportunity to create a relapse prevention plan. Most of all, they learn that living their lives without being dependent on drugs is possible, and they find out how to do it successfully.

Recommendation for Aftercare – Many experts believe that aftercare is the most important aspect of recovering. It involves transitioning out of an inpatient program and into an outpatient program. This will look different for everyone, and we will cover it in more detail in just a moment.

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The Importance of Aftercare

As we mentioned previously, aftercare is an essential part of the recovery process. People are often discouraged to find out that going to detox and rehab will not cure them of their addictions. We wish that were possible, but like we said earlier, a heroin addiction is a disease. Just like other diseases, it needs to be treated in specific ways, and that generally means ongoing treatment.

The good news is that it is not required for people to remain in inpatient care for the rest of their lives. Once they have completed their inpatient program, they will be given a recommendation for follow-up care. This might mean a couple of different scenarios, such as:

  • Attending an intensive outpatient program, which would include three to five sessions of individual and group therapy per week. These programs are very good, and serve as an excellent way to transition out of an inpatient program.
  • Working directly with a therapist in outpatient rehab, which offers a lot of flexibility. Some therapists also offer support groups as a part of their practices.
  • Attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings, which are weekly 12-Step meetings that take place in cities all over the world. NA has been instrumental in the lives of many people, and it provides the group therapy component that is often necessary during recovery.
  • Attending SMART Recovery meetings, which are not 12-Step based, but have been shown to be quite effective. They provide a no-nonsense, self-directed approach to addiction recovery.

People who are recovering from a heroin addiction need to maintain diligence in their efforts. They need to be around others who are working toward the same goals, and they often still need professional guidance to help them through life in general.

Failing to be in compliance with aftercare recommendations is often what causes people to relapse. This addiction can be very difficult, and it can take a long time before an individual needs no type of support whatsoever.

Being Sober or Being Recovered
Being Sober or Being Recovered Mobile

Famous People Who Died from Heroin Addiction

Even with all the money and power in the world, there have been many tragic stories of famous people who died alone via heroin overdose. This drug can take over anyone’s life and it doesn’t take long. From Janis Joplin in the 1970’s to Philip Seymour Hoffman just recently, this drug has long been destroying lives in Hollywood as well as suburban U.S.

Here are some of the famous people showed ‘cause of death’ on their death certificate as heroin overdose.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

This American actor, director, and producer was in countless movies and often played a lowlife. Hoffman started his film career notably in the early 1990’s. He had been sober for 23 years but relapsed in 2012. He was found dead on February 2, 2014.

River Phoenix

He started his career at the young age of 10 but died at aged 23. He was an ‘A’ list actor who was friends with all the big deal Hollywood people at the time. He died in front of the Viper Room which was Johnny Depp’s club. Present the night he died was Joaquin, his sister Rain and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even with so many people around that cared about him, he managed to obtain, take, and overdose on heroin without anyone being able to help him.

John Belushi

This American actor was a great comedian. Best known for being one of the original cast members on Saturday Night Live, he was found dead at a ski resort on March 5, 1982. He was just 33 years old. He injected a combo of heroin and cocaine.

Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin, an American musician, is a part of the 27 club which represents a myriad of famous people that died at age 27. She had struggled with alcohol and drug addiction for many years. In 1970, she died of an overdose.

Jim Morrison

Another member of the 27 club was Jim Morrison, the American musician and singer for the Doors. On July 3, 1971, he died of cardiac arrest from heroin and cocaine use. While no autopsy was ever completed, he was known for indulging in various drugs.

Sid Vicious

Sid Vicious was just 21 when he died of a heroin overdose in 1979. He was the bass guitarist for The Sex Pistols. It was believed he intended to commit suicide. He was charged with murdering his girlfriend Nancy at the time he died.

Cory Monteith

This Canadian actor was well known for his main role in the TV series, “Glee.” In 2013, he died from abusing both alcohol and heroin at the same time. He had a problem with addiction since he was a teenager and died at age 31.

Heroin Relapse Rates

The Risk of Overdosing on Heroin

There is a very high risk of overdosing on heroin once a person has relapsed. But most people do not realize how serious that risk truly is.

When people relapse, they usually go back to using the same amount of their drug of choice as they used previously. What they do not understand is that their tolerance levels have changed for that drug. That means that it takes less of the drug for them to feel its effects than it would have previously. Tolerance levels start to change very quickly after a person’s last dose.

When people do not realize how quickly tolerance levels can change, they often end up inadvertently overdosing. This is a medical emergency, and it needs to be treated as soon as possible. When it is not, the person can die as a result.

Relapses are a part of the recovery process, and people will often relapse many times before they are finally successful at quitting. But that does not mean that they cannot be prevented. It is important to understand the way that they occur.

A relapse can take place for a number of reasons. For example, people can suffer from them if they:

  • Do not get professional addiction recovery treatment and support.
  • Do not put identify potential triggers and put together a quality relapse prevention plan.
  • Begin spending time with the people they spent time with prior to rehab.
  • Do not make the necessary changes to their lives.
  • Begin using other drugs instead of heroin because they are deemed safer.

Sometimes people relapse on heroin because they start going through PAWS and they are not equipped to handle the way it makes them feel. Regardless of the reason, it is considered a normal part of recovery.

There are certain steps that should be taken in the event that a person relapses. They should get in touch with a professional right away and explain what happened that is the best way to get help. They should not simply go back to using because they think that relapsing means there is no hope for them. That is not true at all.

In some cases, people who relapse may need to return to inpatient care, or they may need to consider long-term rehab. But those cases are few and far between. Quite often, outpatient treatment providers can offer guidance to help them get back on track.

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At What Point Should Families Consider an Intervention?

Unfortunately, when a person is addicted to heroin, there is usually an entire family beside them that bears the weight of their addiction. Family members and loved ones often have a difficult time coping when someone they love is using this drug. They may beg and plead for the person to stop, but nothing they say seems to make any difference.

It is at that point that they are right to consider having an intervention. This is something that should only be done with a qualified professional guiding it. Interventions require specialized training and an approach that only comes with years of experience.

An intervention is a meeting that takes place between the addict, their loved ones and an interventionist who leads it. The meeting itself is a surprise, so the addicted person does not realize what is happening until they arrive. This is essential because if they knew, they probably would not attend.

Prior to the meeting, the interventionist should always meet with the family to discuss the addict and their concerns. He or she will offer information about how to avoid enabling the addicted individual, and the family can learn a lot from their expertise. After that first meeting, the family is instructed to write letters to the addict asking them to get help.

During the intervention itself, participants read their letters out loud. The final letter should be the most compelling, and after it is read, the addict is given the option to agree to treatment. Most of the time, they do agree. Families usually make arrangements for detox and rehab to begin right away. In many cases, the interventionist accompanies the addict to the treatment center and they leave right after the meeting concludes.

Even when interventions are not effective at that moment, they often plant seeds that grow later on. When an addict does not agree to get help, that should never be viewed as a failed intervention. Eventually, they may, and their family will have played a big part in that.

Help for a Heroin Addiction

For a heroin addict, one of the hardest decisions they ever make will be to get treatment. It can be so difficult to reach out for help because this drug has become a substantial part of their life. They cannot imagine being without it, and that typically serves as a real roadblock for them.

At Northpoint Recovery, we want to encourage you to reach out to get the help you need to recover from heroin addiction. Right now, it has a grip on your life, and you cannot see yourself as surviving unless you are using. Please know that it is possible to recover. You can get your life back, but you will need professional treatment in order to accomplish that goal.

Do you need to learn more about heroin addiction? Are you interested in talking with someone about your own drug use history so you can find out if you need detox and rehab? We are here to help. Please contact us