What is Heroin?
Heroin is an extremely addictive illegal street drug derived from morphine, which comes from the opium poppy plant. It was originally sold as a painkiller until it became apparent that heroin is highly addictive. It is sold on the street as either a brown or white powder or black tar heroin that users smoke, inject, or snort. More than 2000 people die each year from heroin use.
Why is Heroin So Addictive?
Because of the way that heroin affects the brain, it is extremely addictive. Once heroin enters the body, it is converted to morphine, which quickly attaches to opioid receptors in the brain. Activating these receptors blocks the production of the brain chemical GABA, which regulates dopamine production. Dopamine then floods the brain, producing feelings of pleasure and euphoria. The rush is relatively short-lived, lasting 15-30 minutes, but feels so good that users crave it and will use heroin again and again to reproduce that high.
Over time, the body builds up a tolerance to heroin, requiring more frequent or higher doses to achieve that high. Without heroin, the user will go into withdrawal, which includes unpleasant symptoms such as:
- Severe muscle and bone pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Uncontrollable leg movements
- Cold flashes
- Racing heartbeat
Statistics on Heroin Addiction
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) estimates that 4.8 million Americans have used heroin, including 681,000 in 2014. Nearly 80% of heroin abusers began by abusing prescription painkillers. In recent years, heroin abuse has been on the rise, resulting in a more than six-fold increase in deaths from an overdose from 2002 to 2015, when more than 14,000 people died.
Can You Recover from Heroin?
Yes! While these numbers are daunting, and withdrawal from heroin is a challenge, heroin addiction can be overcome. The relapse rate for heroin addicts is high, estimated as high as 80%, but that does not mean it is impossible to recover from heroin addiction. Depending on the approach, the heroin addiction recovery rate ranges from 35-65%.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
The first step in kicking heroin addiction is detoxification to remove heroin from the body. This process causes withdrawal, which can be so uncomfortable that the addict may be tempted to use heroin again, just to curb the symptoms. A supportive recovery environment is important at this time when the risk of relapse is so high. Treatment can be inpatient or outpatient. A combination of counseling and medication-assisted treatment improves rates of recovery.
Medication-assisted treatment uses medicines to ease the discomfort of withdrawal. There are a few options available. Methadone binds to the same receptors as heroin, easing withdrawal symptoms and preventing the euphoric high heroin produces. It must be prescribed by a doctor and taken in a supervised clinic. Buprenorphine works similarly to methadone but can be prescribed by a doctor to be taken at home. Because methadone and buprenorphine bind to opioid receptors, there is potential for abuse. Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors so that if a person uses heroin, it will have no effect. Because it blocks the receptors instead of binding to them, naltrexone has no potential for abuse. Naloxone also blocks opioid receptors. It can be used on its own to prevent overdose, or in combination with buprenorphine to prevent buprenorphine abuse during treatment for heroin addiction.
While medications may help with withdrawal and the risk of relapse, counseling and support help the user deal with the problems behind their addiction and prepare for a sober future. Recovery is possible. Call 1-844-288-8037 for more information.