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heroin abuse and addiction.

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what is heroin?

Heroin is classified as an opioid drug made from morphine and is naturally taken from poppy plants grown in Mexico, Columbia, Southwest and Southeast Asia. It can be a white or brown powder or even as a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

Heroin can be injected, sniffed, snorted, or smoked. Effects, other than the initial rush or euphoric feeling, are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flush of skin
  • Heavy feeling in arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded mental function
  • Drifting between conscious and semi-conscious

signs of heroin addiction

Heroin works by entering the brain and binding to the opioid receptors associated with pain, pleasure, controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Long-term users of the drug may experience:

  • Insomnia
  • Abscesses
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged nasal tissue (from sniffing or snorting)
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual dysfunction (men)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles (women)

risky behavior

In addition to physical consequences, heroin addiction severely impairs decision-making.

While high, people often do not count the cost of sharing drug paraphernalia, which greatly increases their risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis. Both of these diseases are transmitted through contact with bodily fluids or blood - a frequent occurrence when heroin users share needles.

Hepatitis is the most common blood-borne infection in the U.S. Drug use can also lead to unprotected sex, which also spreads HIV.

polysubstance abuse

Mixing heroin with crack cocaine is known as speedballing. Drug users will sometimes combine substances to achieve a longer-lasting and/or more intense high. This practice is extremely dangerous, significantly increasing the changes of an overdose.

Additionally, drug dealers will “cut” (mix) heroin with sugar, starch, or powdered milk in order to increase profits. Though none of these are an illicit substance, they are dangerous as they can clog blood vessels and cause permanent damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or the brain.

prescription misuse

OxyContin and Vicodin, which are prescription opioid medications, have similar effects as heroin. Furthermore, research indicates that if someone misuses these drugs, they may be more likely to use heroin later.

About 75 percent of people who reported using heroin said they used a prescription opioid first. However, less than four percent of people revealed in a national survey that they began using heroin within five years of abusing prescription pain medication. While prescription opioid abuse is one factor, it does not appear to be the most-prominent reason for heroin use.

heroin withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal varies from person to person, but the most intense symptoms last about one week.

Chronic users may have effects that last as long as three or four weeks. Withdrawal can begin as early as four hours after the last dose, depending on how dependent the user is and how long they have been using heroin.

If someone is addicted to heroin and stops using the drug abruptly, they may have severe withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Severe muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Severe cravings

During the early phase of withdrawal - between one and three days, typically - symptoms can be moderately uncomfortable or even extremely painful. This is usually the period when a person is most prone to relapse. In this initial phase, someone detoxing might experience effects such as:

  • Aggression
  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks

After this first wave other effects like stomach cramping, muscle aches, shivers, and fatigue tend to occur in the following few days. A recovery program that incorporates exercise and a healthy diet can make a significant difference in easing the severity of these symptoms.

The long-term effects of heroin and opioid addiction continue to be examined, but some studies have already shown that some loss of white brain matter is associated with heroin abuse. This loss may affect behavior control, response to stressful situations, and decision-making.

heroin addiction treatment

During the initial detoxification phase of recovery, a medically supervised drug dosage may be administered to help make the process less painful and to ease some of the discomfort.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Several types of this medication-assisted treatment (MAT) exists, including:

Methadone: An opioid medicine that is used for severe pain as well as addressing addiction. It can be taken as a tablet, liquid, or injection.

Buprenorphine: Also known as Suboxone or Subutex, this and methadone are two of the most common drugs used in treating withdrawal and addiction management.

Naltrexone: Naltrexone is FDA-approved as non-habit-forming. It helps prevent patient relapse by decreasing cravings and blocking the ability for them to get high if they do take more heroin again. It can only be used after someone has gone through detox, so the patient must have stopped using heroin for several weeks or completed a medically-assisted detox.

Naloxone: known as “Narcan”, Naloxone is not a treatment for addiction but can temporarily stop the effects of use. It is most often applied by first responders and law enforcement to patients exhibiting signs of an opioid overdose.

A medically-supervised detox at a rehab facility like ours is the safest way to start the road to recovery. Withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, and lead to things like lung infection, choking on vomit, dehydration and even seizures from additional complications.

Holistic Therapy Treatment

Because every patient is different and has unique needs, our recovery programs cover a wide range of options based on individual assessment. Along with medicine, patients may benefit from inpatient rehab services where they receive cognitive behavior therapy, group sessions and support, exercise options and healthy lifestyle choices.

Addiction can influence your whole life - but so can recovery.

Contact us today so we can show you how our Arizona staff can help you live the life you are meant to have, addiction-free.

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Our treatment philosphy.

At Northern Arizona Center for Addiction, we believe that healing of the body, mind and spirit are all necessary to overcome substance abuse. We offer a wide range of rehab options in order to facilitate your personal recovery. Our clients can go through drug and alcohol rehabilitation in a safe, comfortable environment, with holistic plans customized to their needs.

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