Heroin is a highly addictive illegal drug that is made from morphine, which is a substance that is naturally found in the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Many people who are addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers will transition from using prescription drugs to using heroin because it is cheaper, provides a stronger high, and is easier to obtain.
Heroin acts as a depressant, initially causing a rush of euphoria which is then followed by a slowing of overall body functioning. During this time, breathing and heart rate are decreased, mental cognition is impaired, and arms and legs often feel heavy.
Heroin is most often produced in powder form and sold as a white or brown powder, but it can also be a black sticky substance, known as black tar heroin. To use it, people typically inject, snort, sniff, or smoke it. Some people also mix heroin with crack cocaine, which is called speedballing.
- Big H
- Hell dust
- Brown sugar
The effects of heroin use are typically felt very quickly, and users will experience relief from emotional pain and anxiety almost immediately. In fact, many people begin abusing heroin to relieve feelings of anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions and one study even found that 75 percents of heroin users also had mental health problems. Of course, many people also turn to heroin after being introduced to prescription painkillers.
Heroin is often used with alcohol or other drugs, which is especially dangerous and further increases the risk of overdose.
According to Medical News Today, the number of heroin users in America increased exponentially from 90,000 in 2006 to 669,000 in 2012. Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health concluded that the number of heroin users had increased since then, reaching a total of 948,000 users in 2016.
The physical effects of heroin abuse are devastating and can cause a number of serious medical conditions over time.
Immediate short-term effects of heroin abuse include:
- Extreme itching
- Impaired mental functioning
- Flushed, warm skin
- Heavy feeling in arms and legs
- Slowed breathing
- Slowed heart rate
Long-term effects of heroin abuse include:
- Collapsed veins
- Damaged nasal tissues
- Infection in the lining and valves of the heart
- Stomach cramping
- Skin infections
- Lung disease
- Mental illness
- Increased risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis
Heroin is a highly addictive drug and a person may become addicted after just one use. Although heroin addiction can affect anyone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies several clear risk factors.
A person may be more likely to develop a heroin addiction if they:
- Are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers
- Are addicted to cocaine
- Do not have insurance or are enrolled in Medicaid
- Are a non-Hispanic white
- Are male
- Are addicted to marijuana and alcohol
- Live in a large metropolitan area
- Are 18 to 25 years old
If a person is addicted to heroin, he or she will most likely display all or some of the following symptoms:
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of heroin wear off.
- Being unable to control heroin usage.
- Neglecting obligations like school or work to use heroin.
- Experiencing severe cravings for heroin.
- Continuing heroin use despite the negative physical, emotional, and social effects.
- Requiring more heroin to achieve the desired effect. (Developing a tolerance)
- Getting into dangerous situations while under the influence of heroin.
Heroin addiction may result in overdose or death if it is not addressed appropriately and in a timely manner. Treatment for an opioid addiction, such as heroin, should always begin with a medically assisted heroin detox program.
Heroin detox can be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous, so it is best if an addicted individual completes this process in a safe, comfortable, and clinical environment with 24/7 medical assistance. Medically assisted heroin detox programs provide individualized programming with consistent medical care to ensure the safety and comfort of the client at all times.
Although heroin withdrawal can be uncomfortable, medical staff at a detox center will be able to treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal to help clients comfortably reach a state of sobriety. Some common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Bone pain
- Muscle pain
- Muscle spasms
- Strong heroin cravings
6-12 hours after the last dose: Mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms may begin to appear, including abdominal cramps, sweating, chills, tremors, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle and bone aches. More severe withdrawal symptoms may include insomnia, depression, impaired breathing, and extreme cravings.
1-3 days after the last dose: Withdrawal symptoms usually peak during this time but the severity of symptoms will vary based on how much heroin was taken each time, how long heroin was abused, and how it was used.
5-7 days after the last dose: Withdrawal symptoms typically subside but some may persist for weeks or months if left untreated.
Long-term rehab of 90 days or more is necessary to achieve lasting sobriety and relief from heroin addiction. While there are many different options for addiction treatment, 30 and 60-day programs simply do not provide the time needed to fully overcome heroin addiction.
Unfortunately, many individuals may return to a harmful living environment after detox, severely compromising their newfound sobriety. Long-term drug and alcohol rehab is designed to provide a safe, supportive place to be sober for an extended period of time after completing a heroin detox program.
During drug and alcohol rehab, individuals in recovery work with clinical counselors, therapists, sober coaches, and their peers in recovery to learn and practice essential coping techniques they will need to maintain their sobriety. Therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy, family behavior therapy, contingency management, and 12-step facilitation therapy are all used in conjunction with other specialized therapies and evidence-based treatment methods to help individuals overcome addiction for good.
Long-term inpatient rehab usually takes place at a comfortable addiction treatment center where clients are required to stay on a daily basis. Outside interaction with family and friends is encouraged but must be scheduled in advance and monitored by the client’s treatment team. Conversely, outpatient drug and alcohol rehab gives the client more flexibility to attend to other obligations such as school or work while still completing an addiction rehab program. Outpatient meetings are typically held in a drug treatment center and are facilitated three or more times per week.
With drug and alcohol rehab, whether it be inpatient or outpatient, the overall goal is to address the underlying causes of the person’s addiction, modify negative behaviors that contribute to the addiction and apply coping strategies to prevent future relapse and heroin use.
The cost for drug and alcohol will vary, depending on the program and the rehab center. Most addiction treatment centers will accept medical insurance to help offset the cost of treatment. Other payment options may include third-party loans or out-of-pocket payments. Many employers also provide their employees with Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which may help reduce the cost of drug rehab.
After detox and long-term rehab, a person may choose to continue with their addiction treatment by enrolling in a sober living program and/or an aftercare program for alumni.
Sober Living Programs
A sober living program is a program that is designed to bridge the gap between inpatient rehab and independent sober living. Transitional living programs like these provide individuals with a safe, clean, and group sober home in which they can live for an extended period of time while they learn to live sober on their own.
A transitional housing program can also be combined with other recovery support services such as personal monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, employment and education assistance, and peer-guided support groups to enhance the program’s overall benefits.
During their time living in a sober home, individuals will learn to manage their finances, prepare their own meals, cope with cravings and high-risk situations, establish a peer support community, and gain confidence in their own abilities to maintain their sobriety. While enrolled in a transitional housing program, individuals must also adhere to the community policies of their sober living home.
The cost for sober living programs will vary based on the type of residence, the location, and the additional recovery support services offered. Payment for the program is typically collected on a monthly basis, similar to rent.
An individual in recovery may also choose to enroll in an aftercare program for alumni after completing drug and alcohol rehab for their heroin addiction. These aftercare programs are usually facilitated once a week and are designed to assist people in recovery as they face the everyday challenges of sobriety while living independently. Each group meeting serves as a sobriety check-in and is facilitated by a licensed counselor.
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