What are the Treatments for Heroin Use?


Heroin use is a rising concern throughout the country. Heroin is an opioid drug that is illegally manufactured from some natural substances from opium poppy plants as well as other synthetic substances. Opium poppy plants are grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Columbia. Heroin is a substance that comes in different forms and colors such as white or brown powder or black sticky tar. People use heroin through IV, nasal, or smoking. When heroin enters a person’s body it rapidly and immediately binds to opioid receptors in the brain which control feelings of pain and pleasure as well as heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. 

Why is Heroin addictive? 

Heroin is highly addictive for those who use it and the more it is used the more of a tolerance a person will build up. People who use heroin report feeling a “rush” sensation which is a surge of euphoria in the brain. This feeling is something that people who use it get instantly hooked on. Those who use heroin regularly not only become mentally hooked on it but will also become physically hooked as well. Once a person is physically addicted to heroin, stopping the drug abruptly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms.

The set in of withdrawal symptoms makes it hard for someone to seek heroin use treatment. Heroin binds to receptors in the brain that release dopamine which reinforces the drug taker’s behavior. Unfortunately, when the opioid receptors are activated with external opioids such as heroin as opposed to natural chemicals in the body, the heroin user will continue to seek more. 

Effects of Heroin 

Seeking heroin use treatment is so important because of the short-term and long-term effects caused by heroin. Short-term effects can be spotted in heroin users immediately after they use heroin. Some short-term effects of heroin are: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Back and forth state of being conscious (also known as “nodding off”)

Some long-term effects of heroin use are: 

  • Insomnia 
  • Infection of the heart
  • Constipation 
  • Collapsed veins for IV drug users 
  • Damaged tissue in nose for nasal drug users 
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Abscesses
  • Mental health disorder symptoms 
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women 

The biggest side effect that can be caused by heroin use is overdose. Those who are using heroin should seek heroin use treatment immediately because of the high risk of a possible overdose. A heroin overdose causes breathing to slow or stop and once oxygen shortage to the brain occurs a condition called hypoxia can happen. Hypoxia can have short-term or long-term mental effects on the nervous system. People who overdose and survive could end up in a coma or with severe brain damage. The scary fact is that even if people survive overdose and enter heroin use treatment there is no guarantee of long-term abstinence. Heroin is one of the hardest drugs to quit and has one of the largest relapse rates. 

How does treatment for heroin use work? 

Different medical and behavioral therapies and interventions can be used to treat someone who is using heroin. When medication is used for those struggling with opioid use disorder it is called medication-assisted treatment. Medications that are used for people who are using heroin are buprenorphine, Vivitrol, and methadone. They are similar to opioids because they also attach to opioid receptors in the brain. These medications that are used for heroin use treatment also help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Different behavioral therapies are used as well. Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on assisting the drug user in their behaviors, addresses ambivalence, and also helps to effectively manage triggers and stress.

If you or someone you love is using heroin, typically the first step in getting treatment is medical detox. Stopping the use of heroin can be physically daunting. Under medical supervision, a person can find some relief from various medications while they are being treated for the physical symptoms that come from heroin withdrawal. Next, a person may enter residential treatment or a partial hospitalization program. Here a person will begin to focus on group and individual therapy to begin the recovery and healing process.

Next, a person should continue with outpatient services. Outpatient services look different for everyone. Sometimes that may be a few group therapy sessions a week or continuing with individual therapy. Lastly, it is important to remember that heroin use treatment is a lifelong process. Battling a heroin addiction gets easier over time, but it is a daily reprieve to continue to journey of long-term abstinence and recovery.