Heroin is a derivative of opium which affects the reward centers in the brain initially producing a rush of euphoria and providing pain relief. Those effects are short lived however, and as a tolerance to the drug develops, people take it again and again in greater and greater doses hoping to find the same effect. Continued of heroin and a user can expect a host of health issues including, high risk for hepatitis C and HIV, dental problems, chronic respiratory illness, sexual impotence, skin issues, and depression.
Heroin use is also associated with higher risks of being incarcerated, being the victim of a violent crime, and early death. The powerfully addictive nature of heroin makes an addicted person carry on using the drug despite these effects and consequences. It’s important to understand that this addiction also becomes a medical condition by changing the wiring of the brain. However, help is available.
The first thing that must happen is detoxification. This can mean completely stopping all opiates or taking decreasing dosages of long-acting prescriptions to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. Medically-supervised detox is more effective, as well as less uncomfortable, than going it alone. Doctors can prescribe medicines to help ease the discomfort associated with withdrawal from both heroin and other substances often taken by heroin users. This is usually done on an inpatient basis.
Ongoing medical maintenance is an to approach to staying off heroin. Since the 1960s, countless people have taken advantage of methadone programs. Methadone activates opioid receptors in the brain but has a milder longer-acting effect. This enables people to avoid withdrawal symptoms from heroin, which can be excruciating. Due to the potential for abuse, methadone is only available by visiting a specialized clinic but newer medications, which are formulated to reduce abuse potential, are now available. Suboxone is a medication that not only reduces withdrawal symptoms but also blocks the effects of injected opioids. Another is Vivitrol, which is given once a month by injection, is non-addictive, non-sedating and blocks the effects of opioids, thus making heroin ineffective and unappealing.
Medical therapies alone are rarely enough however. The best approach includes behavioral treatment to address underlying emotional and psychological issues that may have led to heroin use in the first place. Issues that have developed due to heroin use such as trauma and medical problems need also be addressed. A support system of recovering people, treatment professionals, family and friends are also essential to a lasting, gratifying recovery.