In the context of substances that are abused and the social level that they are associated with, heroin is popularly believed to be the drug of choice for the lower-income groups of society, because it is a common street drug and, compared to other illicit substances, it is cheaper. Anyone who has ever talked to a person in rehab at a heroin addiction treatment center, however, will know this is not true.
Heroin is known to be used by anyone looking for the particular type of high produced by opioids, regardless of the social or income class that they belong to. Heroin is arguably the most preferred recreational drug due to the euphoria that comes with the high. This substance also has a higher rate of dependence development compared to other opioids.
Unlike other opioids, however, heroin is currently not accepted as being medically useful in the US. It is, however, used in other countries in situations where potent pain medication is needed. Several European countries even use heroin to treat opioid addiction. But, here at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery, we understand the seriousness and dangers of heroin abuse. This is why we offer professional treatment services.
How Prevalent is Heroin Use in the US?
A report submitted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health states that heroin use in the US has always been steadily growing. This growth reached a peak of 5.1 million Americans in 2015, and then leveled off a bit as efforts to crack down on its distribution and sale were stepped up by the US government.
Through the years, data gathered from rehabilitation centers has shown that heroin use has alternatively increased and decreased, although it has not reached a level where it could be safely said that heroin is no longer a major concern as an abused substance. Statistics on heroin addiction indicate that:
- Roughly 0.3% of American adults are heroin users
- There are over 100,000 new heroin users each year
- In 2019, at least 28% of all opioid overdose fatalities were linked to heroin
- In 2020 alone, at least 902,000 people reported using heroin in the past 12 months
- In 2020, approximately 13,165 people died from a heroin-related overdose, a rate of more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans
- Heroin-related overdose deaths were almost seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999
Compared to other abused substances, there are no major variations in the year-on-year statistics relevant to heroin use. While the numbers might decrease somewhat from time to time, the alarming fact about heroin statistics is that they are on a slow uptick, as more people get hooked on heroin, whether it be due to the low cost of the substance or greater availability.
How Does Heroin Affect The Brain and Body?
The human body has a unique way of dealing with pain. It can naturally produce opioid chemicals as a response to the sensation of pain. These opioid chemicals help with regulating the pain, hormone release to deal with whatever injury or trauma caused the pain, and also chemicals that give a sense of well-being or euphoria. The effects of these opioid chemicals, however, don’t last that long. The shortened effect is primarily the reason for the creation of the opioids used to deal with pain today.
The problem with taking opioids, however, is that it creates a chemical imbalance in the body. The body will detect the presence of the opioids taken and will therefore no longer release the ones that are produced by the body. This process is believed to be what causes the addiction to opioids. Add to that the fact that the sensations produced by opioids can now be felt even without having to incur injury or trauma, particularly the euphoria, and it really is no wonder so many are addicted to the high received from substances like heroin.
Perhaps the bigger problem with heroin use is that it has been clinically proven to actually cause brain damage. This brain damage occurs in a number of ways:
The body will typically detect the presence of specific chemicals that are present in the body at any given time. These include both beneficial chemicals and even toxic ones. As such, for chemicals that are used to deal with pain like opioids, the body and brain will detect their presence in the body and, as such, will no longer produce the safer, albeit shorter-acting opioid naturally produced by the body. As such, the body becomes more dependent on the opioids not produced by the body, and this is how addiction is created.
Oxygen is a vital necessity for the human body to live. Not having any oxygen in the blood, even for a very short time, is already enough to cause damage. Heroin is also known to affect the breathing process, depressing it to the point where the body no longer receives sufficient oxygen. Low oxygen intake also leads to brain damage as the brain requires constant oxygenated blood. This condition is known as hypoxia, where the level of oxygen in the blood is lower than what is required for proper function.
There are studies done on the effects of heroin, and one of the more disturbing findings is that heroin could cause low-grade inflammation in the brain. This is believed to cause people to manifest symptoms associated with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The most pronounced manifestation of this condition as induced by heroin addiction is impairment or even loss of memory, as well as impairment of some cognitive functions, such as the inability to recognize people, places, and some concepts.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction?
It is important to remember that heroin, like many other opioids, directly affects the central nervous system. As such, it could practically affect most systems and processes of the body as well. This is why heroin addiction is quite hard to hide, as the manifestations of use come in physical and mental forms.
- Falling asleep suddenly
- Slowed breathing
- Dry mouth
- Flushed skin
- Tendency to sleep frequently
- Changes in appetite
- Dramatic weight loss
- Constant runny nose
- Itches in various places in the body
- Marked physical deterioration
- Unusual body odor
- Tremors and twitches
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Significantly impaired cognitive function
- Inability to think clearly
- Impaired decision-making skills
- Decrease or lack of self-control
- Inability to concentrate
- Inability to pay attention
- Impairment of short-term memory
- Sudden personality changes
- Sudden mood swings
- Angry outbursts
- Lack of motivation
Perhaps the most notable symptom of heroin addiction that people should pay more attention to is the fact that it leads to death via overdose. Heroin is one substance where crossing the line into overdose territory is quite easy as the person taking heroin will not have any sense of when to stop, and of how much they have already taken.
- Cold, clammy skin
- Cyanosis (bluish coloring to the lips and fingernails)
- Stomach spasms
- Severe constipation
- Pinpoint pupils
- Discoloration of tongue
- Severe disorientation
- Severe drowsiness
- Persistent muscle spasms
- Extreme hypotension (weak pulse)
- Slow, shallow, or labored breathing
- Inability to breathe
In many cases, what follows the coma is death by organ failure, as the body slowly shuts down from the severe damage done by heroin.
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What are the Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin Addiction?
There are many cases of extreme difficulty when detoxing a person heavily addicted to heroin because of severely compromised cognitive function. Some people don’t simply understand what is happening anymore, and all they could ever think of or want is to find heroin. Even as cognitive function slowly returns, the intense urges and realization of not being able to use heroin often lead to confrontations, outbursts, and violent reactions.
- Intense cravings and urges
- Profuse sweating
- Severe muscle aches and pains
- Extreme pain in muscles and bones
- Cold sweats
- Runny nose
- Tachycardia (elevated heart rate)
- Elevated body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Disruption of sleep patterns
- Persistent feelings of fatigue
- Dysphoria (state of generalized unhappiness, restlessness, dissatisfaction, or frustration)
- Impaired memory
- Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
It is also worth mentioning that death is also a possibility when one or more of the withdrawal symptoms happen to cause a complication in the person.
What Treatment is used for Heroin Addiction?
The nature of heroin addiction necessitates the use of chemicals to quell the intense urges to take heroin once more, as these urges are often too much for the person to handle. These urges are also known to linger well into the late phases of rehabilitation, which would require a good amount of therapy and support even after the completion of the typical rehabilitation period.
Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are often used to help curb the massive urges a person will experience during detox and even into rehab. These medications alternatively work by either dampening the high that people feel when taking heroin or by blocking the effects of heroin in the body, thus eliminating the ability of a person to feel high when using heroin.
The intense cravings felt by people who are in heroin withdrawal, coupled with some debilitating symptoms often require medical care. This is why inpatient rehab is always a part of the treatment of someone who is trying to kick a heroin habit. In some cases, patients undergoing heroin rehab need monitoring as they might develop complications due to a co-occurring medical condition.
Heroin is known to induce sudden and massive personality and behavioral changes. These changes could require a more intensive and comprehensive approach to correct, as most of these changes are centered around an environment of drug use.
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Past mistakes should never define a person’s present or future. This is something we firmly believe in here at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery. We have helped countless people overcome their substance dependency and rise above the stigma of their past mistakes, in order to find a better life, with a clearer purpose. We believe in recovery, and we believe that everyone deserves it. Talk to us now.
Kendall Maloof is the clinical director at Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has held multiple leadership roles before settling here at Eagle Creek. Kendall received her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2016. Her career in mental and behavioral health began in 2014 when she took up internships in both the nonprofit and for profit sectors. She interned at multiple reputable companies, such as The Living Success Center and 449 Recovery in California.
In 2019, Kendall became the clinical director of Sunsets Recovery for Woman, a dual diagnosis program in southern California. Kendall is a natural leader. She has an incredible ability to problem solve and stay calm in any situation. Kendall never fails to show up when she is needed, and her calm demeanor makes her team and clients feel at ease. Eagle Creek Ranch Recovery is proud to have Kendall as our clinical director.