Heroin has been around since the 19th century and its precursors (e.g. opium) trace back even further into history. Users describe heroin’s effects as a feeling of extreme happiness or a trance-like state. Ridding the body of heroin, known as detoxification or “detox,” is considered an important first step on the road to recovery. Years of study on heroin addiction and treatment options have provided the basis for the medical detox process. In this article, we will review some of the major issues related to heroin addiction and how recovery can be started by removing traces of heroin in the body and getting past the symptoms of withdrawal.
Why Is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin is derived from opium which comes from the poppy plant, the same plant used to create morphine. Technically, opium is first made into morphine and, from there, heroin is derived. The process to create heroin increases the intensity of opium’s narcotic power and makes its effects felt by the brain faster. These increases in intensity and speed of effect are among the reasons why heroin use can lead to dependency.
With chronic usage, people abusing heroin develop a tolerance for the drug. This, in turn, leads a long-time user to use more heroin to achieve the same “high” as he or she experienced at the beginning of usage. The use of greater and greater amounts of heroin puts a person at risk for overdose. Even aside from overdose, there are a variety of health problems that accompany long-term heroin use (see “Health Problems of Continued Heroin Use” section below).
What Happens in Heroin Detox?
Detoxification is the removal of heroin from the body. You may begin the process by calling our facility at the number at the top of the web page. During this call, you can discuss your addiction confidentially with our staff and begin the intake process. Intake covers issues such as your insurance coverage and how soon you are able to visit the facility for a medical exam. The medical exam is critical for identifying health issues that staff should be aware of during your detox. The physical exam will be complemented by questions about your health history, the frequency and quantity of your heroin usage, and other matters such as the use of other drugs. With the exam completed, the medical staff at our facility will structure your detoxification process.
Treatment is delivered at our facilities as an in-patient. In other words, you will be there 24 hours a day until the process is finished and you are discharged. Treatment typically takes multiple days so you will need to pack clothes and toiletries for your time here. Heroin detox will likely involve the prescription of one or more medications to address drug cravings. The government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse has stated, “Scientific research has established that pharmacological treatment of opioid use disorder increases retention in treatment programs and decreases drug use, infectious disease transmission, and criminal activity.” Medication candidates for use in heroin detox include lofexidine, buprenorphine, and methadone. Upon discharge, you may be prescribed naltrexone, which interferes with heroin’s ability to provide a “high.” Consequently, if there is a relapse in heroin use it will not produce the same satisfaction. With respect to the other medications used during heroin detox, their functions are as follows:
- Lofexidine – This medication used to treat withdrawal symptoms that include, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “aches and pains, muscle spasms/twitching, stomach cramps, muscular tension, heart pounding, insomnia/problems sleeping, feelings of coldness, runny eyes, yawning, and feeling sick”
- Buprenorphine – This medication is intended to reduce dependency on, and cravings for, heroin and other opioids
- Methadone – This medication can lessen the discomfort associated with heroin withdrawal
Detox is intended to rid the body of heroin and get the patient past the most uncomfortable stages of drug withdrawal. Upon discharge, patients are directed to continue their work on recovery through assistance such as counseling, rehab, and group meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous.
Health Problems of Continued Heroin Use
While there are a variety of psychological and professional reasons to stop using heroin, the health reasons for cessation are among the most compelling. The use of a needle to deliver heroin carries many risks. If the needle is not clean, it may introduce bacteria into the bloodstream. This bacteria can, in turn, create an inflammation inside the heart’s inner lining (endocarditis). Over time, this condition can damage the heart’s valves and affect the heart’s performance. Needle sharing also brings the possibility of infection from other diseases. When people using heroin share needles, they may transmit diseases like hepatitis or HIV to one another.
As an illegal drug, heroin also may vary significantly in potency. These variations can lead to accidental overdose if a user encounters a much purer strain of the drug than he or she normally uses. Heroin may also be cut with other substances, which include other illegal drugs but are not limited to them. These substances may lead to damage of the blood vessels.
The list of health problems stemming from heroin use is long and beyond the scope of this article. However, a general knowledge of these health threats should help motivate the addicted to seek treatment and begin recovery.