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Heroin

No matter how heroin enters a life, recovery is possible

Heroin has touched people from all walks of life. Across ages, across income levels, and across the nation, heroin does not discriminate. Many new heroin users turn to heroin after opioid painkillers become too expensive or too difficult to get. Some people are looking for another way to escape pain or seek pleasure. No matter how heroin enters a life, recovery is possible.

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Risk factors

Heroin is a highly addictive drug: 23 percent of people who use heroin become dependent on it. But some people are more likely than others to develop problems with heroin — or problems with drugs in general. The following factors can elevate the risk for developing a heroin addiction:

  • Addiction to opioid painkillers. People who are addicted to opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely than others to become addicted to heroin.
  • Other addictions:
    • People who are addicted to cocaine are 15 times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
    • People who are addicted to marijuana are three times more likely to become addicted to heroin.
    • People who are addicted to alcohol are twice as likely to become addicted to heroin.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms

The difference between heroin use and heroin addiction can be tricky to navigate. But the following symptoms may indicate that a user is experiencing addiction:

  • Withdrawal when not using. Withdrawal from heroin can be very painful and include nausea and anxiety.
  • Tolerance to heroin. When users find they need more and more heroin to feel the same rush, they may be developing tolerance.
  • Lack of control. Losing control over heroin use may mean using more than the user intended to or acting out of character to get access to heroin.

Problems with heroin can extend beyond addiction alone. When heroin interferes with a user’s ability to manage everyday life, it may be time to consider making a change. Heroin can interfere with:

  • Education and career goals
  • Relationships
  • Physical well-being

If you’re concerned about your heroin use or use by a loved one, there are a variety of treatment options to help users take control. Find local support to start your recovery. If you’re looking for rehab in Florida, compare accredited centers in Fort MyersJacksonville, MiamiNorth FloridaOrlandoTampa, and West Palm Beach.

 

Signs of heroin use

Worrying about someone in your life using heroin can be scary. You may feel that they have distanced themselves from you, and you’re uncomfortable asking about their drug use outright. They may have said they are not using, but you feel something is off. If someone you know is exhibiting any of the following signs, it could signal heroin use:

  • Small pupils
  • Needle marks in arms
  • Sleepiness
  • Slow breathing
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Behavior changes
  • Mood swings
  • Missing medications, spoons, shoe laces, or belts

If you’re worried about someone you know, you can learn about how to encourage a heroin user to seek treatment. Remember that recovery is a process, but heroin treatment has been effective for many people.

 

Withdrawal cycle

Heroin addiction is not about willpower. People who use heroin often report feeling sick when they’re not using — and they may feel like they need heroin to feel normal. But what feels like sickness may be symptoms of withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal symptoms follow a general timeline, lasting about five to 10 days after the last dose, but symptoms will be most acute around day three. People in withdrawal may feel:

  • Aches and pains
  • A runny nose and watery eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Intense emotions like anxiety, confusion, or tension
  • Cold flashes with goose bumps
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Cramping and diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and vomiting

These symptoms can range from uncomfortable to acute, and many people find it very difficult to get through the withdrawal cycle without a medical professional guiding them through. The pain and emotions may be intense enough to make people act out of character or put them at risk of suicide or self-harm  but nobody needs to go through it alone.

Many people find it difficult to escape the cycle of using heroin to get rid of withdrawal symptoms. But various types of treatment can help people cope with these symptoms — and start the recovery journey.

Treatment

Every day, people find the support they need to quit using heroin. Taking that first step is the most important part of a journey toward taking control of heroin use.

First appointment: what to expect

A health care provider can help a heroin user figure out what combination of treatments will be most effective, based on the patient’s lifestyle, medical history, and current use. Different types of facilities — such as hospitals, detox facilities, rehabilitation centers, and doctors’ offices — may have different procedures for the first appointment. But in all initial appointments, it’s important for patients to talk openly about their heroin use so the clinician has the information needed to recommend a path for treatment and recovery.

The first appointment will likely include:

  • A physical exam
  • A blood, saliva, or urine test
  • An interview or discussion of the patient’s medical history and drug use

The health care provider may request additional tests to better understand the patient's physical health and explore any concerns related to a treatment plan.

Finally, the patient and doctor will work together to build a treatment plan based on the patient's goals and lifestyle. Some patients may be asked to sign an agreement to adhere to the treatment plan. 

Managing withdrawal and cravings

The first few heroin-free days can be the most difficult part of the recovery process. But working with a therapist and medical health professional can ease some of the mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal from heroin. While some providers may include detoxification as part of their program, others may partner with other facilities for this stage of the recovery process.

Medication

Several medications can help manage heroin cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Called "medication-assisted treatment” (or MAT), the use of any medication to manage heroin cravings or withdrawal must be supervised by a medical professional. A doctor or therapist may prescribe:

  • Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is available in several forms, including a film that adheres to the inside of the cheek and a tablet that dissolves under the tongue. The medication can help decrease cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Methadone. Methadone is available as a liquid, wafer, or pill and must be administered by a physician until a patient is approved to use it at home. It reduces the effects of heroin and symptoms of withdrawal, but it can be addictive when not administered effectively.
  • Naltrexone. Naltrexone can be taken as a pill or an injection to help prevent relapse by blocking the effects of heroin.

While medication can help manage cravings, a combination of medication, therapy, and support networks have been most successful in supporting patients on their journey to recovery.

Therapy

Behavioral therapy for problems with heroin comes in many forms, including individual and group therapy. Different types of therapy work better for different people, so take a look at general drug treatment to review a full list of therapy types.

Making treatment work for you

Heroin treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Recovery is a lifelong process, and making sure that treatment fits with a patient’s lifestyle and expectations can lay the foundation for success. Some people have found that building the following activities into their lives can help them on the road to recovery:

Community groups

People in recovery may find it helpful to connect with a group of people who can relate to their experience and help them manage challenges in the recovery process. Joining a free group like SMART Recovery or Narcotics Anonymous can provide a space to vent about concerns, find inspiration to keep going, and use the recovery experience to help others.

Healthy habits

Staying physically fit can keep people who are in recovery mentally prepared for the ups and downs of life without heroin. Some studies suggest that exercise can even reduce the body’s physical dependence on drugs like heroin. Joining an activity that helps maintain fitness or learning to cook healthy foods can increase a sense of well-being, building new goals and priorities into a recovering patient’s lifestyle.

Continued individual therapy

Stopping heroin use is a great first step, but it’s part of a longer journey. Continuing individual therapy can help people work through long-term mental health issues, manage emotions, and process the ups and downs of a drug-free life. Continued treatment may include medication-assisted treatment (MAT), mental health counseling, and learning coping strategies like behavioral therapy and contingency management.

Learn more about different therapy options here. 

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