Treating Heroin Addiction

Heroin has a long history as a medication and was hailed as a wonder drug when it was first introduced. It was developed in Germany in the 1870’s and originally marketed as a “safe, non-addictive substitute for morphine”.

At that time there was a huge morphine addiction problem in the United States stemming from the drug’s use as a pain killer during the Civil War. It didn’t take long to discover that heroin was, itself, also highly addictive and heroin addiction became a problem in its own right.

In those days heroin, like morphine and laudanum (opium in an alcohol base) were sold over the counter with no prescription needed and drug companies marketed them as treatments for all kinds of problems; alcohol withdrawal, cancer, depression, coughs, sluggishness, coughs, colds, tuberculosis, etc.

These drugs were all unregulated until 1920 when Congress enacted the Dangerous Drug Act, which mandated that selling these drugs over the counter was illegal and that their distribution needed to be federally regulated. Then, in the 1920’s, there were approximately 200,000 heroin addicts in the country and while the drug was illegal, addiction was not understood well enough to provide beneficial treatment.

Today it is estimated there are 1,500,000 heroin addicts in the United States and that heroin addiction has reached epidemic levels.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Process

Many heroin addicts don’t start out using heroin or even using drugs illegally. So many of the opiate based drugs prescribed for pain such as oxycodone are so highly addictive that once the patient can no longer get the drug prescribed they will switch to the cheaper, more readily available street equivalent; heroin.

Heroin addiction treatment is also exploding in the U.S. to keep up with the demand. Because of the nature of this type of addiction treatment is a long-term commitment through various stages, or levels, of care.

Treatment typically starts with detoxification in a residential or dedicated detox center, unless there is a need for more medical supervision, in which case detox is done in a hospital. At this stage it goal is to get the drug out of the patient’s system and to monitor and, if possible, reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, chills, aches and pain, sleeplessness, etc.

The detox doctor may also prescribe one or drugs to help with these symptoms and to decrease the cravings for heroin, such as buprenorphine, naltrexone, suboxone, and methadone.

Ideal Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Following detox the patient normally “steps down” to a residential treatment center, more popularly called a rehab.

There is also the psychological side of treatment for heroin addiction, for which many therapies can be used in this setting. In some cases there may be a co-occurring disorder, such as an earlier trauma (parental divorce, or abuse, an accident, etc.). These traumas may be part of the cause for the patient’s use of heroin and need to be addressed.

Therapies will include individual sessions with a therapist, group sessions, possible some form of written or art therapy, equine therapy in some higher end treatment centers, and more. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) are both also widely used, as well as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Following residential treatment, which is normally 30 days, patients step down to a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) for treatment, which takes place in an office five days a week, followed by an Intensive Outpatient Program (PHP) which also takes place in an office but is only three days a week.

If you’re dealing with a heroin addiction, please call Recovery Channel now for advice and to see if your insurance will cover treatment.

Heroin Basics

Heroin is a synthetic opioid drug made from morphine, a substance extracted from the seed pod of Asian opium poppy plants.

It is estimated that over 4 million Americans have used heroin at least once in their lifetimes and that 23 percent of the people who use heroin become dependent on it. It can be injected, inhaled or smoked, all of which allow the heroin to rapidly affect the brain.

Heroin addiction is a chronic relapsing condition cause by changes in the brain. Once addicted, the addict’s brain “classifies” heroin as necessary to sustain life, along with air, water, food and sex. Because of this, heroin addicts have an uncontrollable need to acquire and use the drug no matter what the consequences.

The Road to Heroin Addiction

Not everyone who uses heroin will become addicted, but heroin addiction affects a large enough percentage of people to think twice before trying it.

For people with other mental health issues, such as low self-esteem or PTSD, heroin can seem to offer comfort, which in many cases stimulates the repeated use that leads to addiction. For some people, addiction to heroin also offers a peer group of like-minded individuals and a sense of belonging that is attractive.

Many people become just as addicted to the culture and sense of community associated with their addiction. It is a “lifestyle”. They love the ritual involved in procuring and using the drug.

To some people it may seem fashionable to be a heroin addict. There is even a style referred to as “heroin chic”. One of the difficulties in overcoming heroin addiction is that the addict begins to see addiction as a part of his, or her, identity.

Addiction to Heroin

The problem for many people is that their addiction to heroin will never satisfy them. While they enjoyed the high initially, when they first started using the drug, that high becomes more and more elusive. Their bodies develop a tolerance to the drug and they require more and more of it to have that same effect.

At some point, they cease to experience the high at all and simply need the drug just to maintain their normal state. The cravings at that stage are so strong they are irresistible. They require more of the drug more often, and procuring it begins to require more and more of their attention. It is at this stage many addicts begin to lose jobs, strain relationships with family and even turn to crime to get the money to buy the drug.

Eventually, if the addiction to heroin goes untreated, it is inevitable that the addict will die, which is why it’s so important to get heroin addiction treatment as soon as possible.

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