What is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug that reaches the brain very fast once it’s consumed, for this reason, it is very easy for a person to develop heroin addiction even from one or a few uses. Before we get to the main topic, let’s learn about what heroin is. According to the scientific piece ‘Heroin’, published by The National Library of Medicine, “Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo.
It’s an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance in the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. Heroin can also be smoked or snorted up the nose. All of these ways of taking heroin send it to the brain very quickly. This makes it very addictive.
Regular use of heroin can lead to tolerance. This means users need more and more drugs to have the same effect. At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If dependent users stop the drug, they have heroin withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps. That is why a medical heroin detox process is very needed.
Signs of Heroin Overdose
There are many signs of a heroin overdose, which occurs when a person ingests too much heroin. The primary indication of an overdose is reduced or stopped breathing. Opioid drugs depress breathing rates, especially in large quantities. Depressed breathing looks like this:
- Very pale skin
- Blue tint to the lips and fingertips
- Shallow breaths
- Gasping for air
Other symptoms of a heroin overdose can include:
- Pinpoint pupils
- Discolored tongue
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Disorientation, delirium, or a changed mental state
- Spasms or seizures
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme drowsiness or an inability to stay awake
Because overdose can be life-threatening, it is extremely important to get medical attention as soon as any of these symptoms appear. Symptoms of an overdose from injected heroin will typically begin about 10 minutes after the individual has taken the dose.
Heroin Overdose Statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), since 2000, the number of drug overdose deaths has increased 137%, with opioid drugs leading to a dramatic rise. There has been a 200% increase in opioid overdose deaths due to the increase in both opioid medication and heroin addiction and abuse.
Over 10,500 people died from a heroin overdose in 2014 alone, with non-Hispanic white individuals between the ages of 18 and 44 experiencing the highest rates of heroin overdose death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Historically, men have been the primary victims of a heroin overdose; however, since 2011, rates of women abusing heroin and overdosing from it have risen substantially.
Nonfatal heroin overdoses are more common than fatal overdoses, according to the World Health Organization. The international medical association noted that some groups of people who struggle with addiction to heroin are at a higher risk of suffering a heroin overdose.
Although many people who struggle with heroin addiction are single, WHO notes that heroin overdoses tend to happen in front of at least one witness, like a family member or friend. It is very important, regardless of the situation, for people who witness a person suffering from a heroin overdose (or prescription opioid painkillers) to call 911 and get emergency medical help immediately. Doing so can literally save a person’s life.
- Individuals who have reduced their tolerance to heroin, such as those who went through medical detox or rehabilitation, then relapsed
- People who inject opioids like heroin, instead of using other methods of ingestion
- People who take high doses of opioids, especially when transitioning from prescription painkiller addiction to heroin abuse
- Those suffering medical conditions that affect the liver, such as people with hepatitis B or C, or HIV (People who inject heroin are at a higher risk of developing these infections.)
- Individuals who suffer from depression
- Those who use heroin in combination with other drugs, whether prescription or illegal, especially alcohol or other depressants
Heroin Overdose Treatment
The most important step in getting help for someone suffering from a heroin overdose is calling 911. Many states have Good Samaritan laws in place that protect those who call for help from arrest and prosecution.
Emergency medical providers will provide emergency care to the individual who experienced the overdose on the scene and then likely take the person to the emergency room for more extensive care. The individual may then be in the hospital for a few days to recover from the physical trauma.
Naloxone Treatment for Overdose
Although naloxone has been in use for many years, the drug was recently approved by many states for emergency responders to use outside of the emergency room. In some cases, individuals who take care of people on strong prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, can receive training in how to use naloxone as well.
Naloxone binds to the same receptors as opioid drugs, temporarily displacing drugs like heroin in the person’s brain, which can stop an overdose. However, naloxone’s half-life is shorter than opioid drugs like heroin, so it will not stay in the person’s body for very long, so it cannot completely stop an overdose. Instead, it will halt the overdose long enough for the person to get further emergency medical treatment. Naloxone should never be used in place of emergency medical help in the event of a heroin overdose.
Once the patient reaches the hospital, medical professionals will use naloxone and other methods, such as induced vomiting or IV fluids, to stabilize the individual. Treatment of a heroin overdose should never be conducted at home because the overdose can become deadly very quickly, especially if the person stops breathing.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. The longer someone uses heroin, how it was abused, and how much was taken each time will all be factored in how dependent the brain and body are on the substance. Therefore, the severity and duration of withdrawal will differ as well. Someone with a history of mental illness or prior opioid withdrawal may have a more intense withdrawal experience.
Heroin is an opiate drug that suppresses some of the functions of the central nervous system, like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and temperature regulation. It also binds to opioid receptors, increasing chemicals in the brain that are responsible for feelings of pleasure. When heroin is abused, a rush of pleasure also occurs. During withdrawal, the effects are the opposite of the intoxicating effects. For example, instead of euphoria, reduced heart rate, and sedation, the individual may experience low mood, anxiety, and rapid heart rate, among other symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms range in severity following the level of dependence and duration of abuse. For someone who didn’t abuse heroin in massive doses for months or years, withdrawal may be more tempered and not last as long.
Mild withdrawal symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Yawning a lot
- Muscle and bone aches
Moderate withdrawal symptoms:
- Trouble concentrating
- Goose bumps
Severe withdrawal symptoms:
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle spasms
- Impaired respiration
- Difficulty feeling pleasure
- Drug cravings
Withdrawal from heroin isn’t generally considered life-threatening on its own; however, some of the medical and psychological symptoms may have complications that may be life-threatening.
Depression may lead someone to consider suicide, for example. Heroin should never be stopped suddenly without the support of medical and/or mental health professionals who can employ multiple methods for managing the side effects of withdrawal and keep individuals safe.
How Do You Treat Heroin Addiction?
Once detox is complete, it is time for treatment to start. Heroin addiction treatment generally involves therapy to reveal and address the underlying causes of substance use. Therapy methods vary depending on the rehabilitation center for drug addicts and their philosophy, patient preferences, and any present dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.
The most common therapies involve behavioral counseling therapies, which address the user’s reason for starting and continuing using drugs. These therapies often take place in individual (one-on-one) therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Therapy also addresses cravings throughout and following treatment.
Counseling is an integral component in heroin addiction treatment since addiction is more than just physical dependence. Once the user has successfully detoxed, thereby eliminating the physical dependence, they are still at risk of relapsing. Psychological and social factors such as stress, social networks, and environmental cues are often powerful stimuli for heroin relapse and can cause ongoing cravings.
Counseling therapy helps manage cravings and develop healthier coping mechanisms to handle life stresses without the use of heroin. With so many counseling therapies available, there is not one exact method that is more beneficial than others. Likewise, a single approach does not apply to every person, which is why it is crucial to create a customized treatment plan to address each individual’s unique requirements.
Individual, Group and Family Counselling Therapy
Counseling is available at individual, group, and family levels. Individual counseling is a one-on-one form of therapy that focuses on stopping heroin use, committing to a treatment plan, education, and skill-building. Group counseling complements individual counseling by offering social support from peers who are going through a similar experience while family counseling is ideal for educating all members of the family and overcoming issues that stem from addiction.
Types of Counseling that are Beneficial for Heroin Addiction
Counselors provide numerous services to people in heroin addiction treatment such as evaluation, treatment planning, and counseling, along with therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), contingency management, 12 Step programs, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps those in recovery learn to recognize and stop negative behaviors and thinking patterns. It can help a person become aware of the situations, stressors, and feelings that lead to heroin use so that they can develop a different response or avoid them entirely. Additionally, CBT teaches essential coping skills that can be used in many situations.
This form of therapy reinforces positive behaviors, such as staying sober, by using incentives. It is a method that involves the use of vouchers, which allow the person to collect points for different situations, like showing up clean on a drug test. These points can then be used to acquire items that encourage healthy living.
12 Step Programmes
12 Step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) involve peer support groups that help by offering support and guidance. Unlike group therapy, a trained psychologist does not lead 12 Step programs.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
MET increases motivation and encourages recovering addicts to commit to their plan to be actively involved in treatment and recovery. MET is generally used during the early stages of treatment to get people involved in treatment.
Reclaim Your Life From Heroin Overdose
There are many signs of a heroin overdose, which occurs when a person ingests too much heroin. The primary indication of an overdose is reduced or stopped breathing. Heroin addiction is a condition that can cause major health, social and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up Washington treatment center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from addiction with professional and safe heroin detox. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 MedlinePlus. Heroin Overdose.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose Death Rates.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Heroin.
 National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
 CDC – Today’s Heroin Epidemic