It starts with an opium poppy and the gum that grows on the plant’s bud. A worker harvests a few grams of the gum from each flower. Later the gum harvested by many workers is combined and cooked in a process that produces heroin.
People generally consume heroin by snorting or injecting it. Some still smoke it. All three methods produce a heady euphoria, but injecting it is the most powerful. When heroin enters the body, it goes immediately to the brain. A chemical process converts it to morphine, which boosts the presence of pleasurable dopamine and triggers a pleasurable rush. It also blocks pain receptors—and not just physical pain receptors. Heroin also preempts emotional pain. Heroin overdose deaths now exceed 16,000 per year in the United States.
The Heroin Detox Experience
Evaluation is the first step. Doctors, nurses and therapists ask questions about the patient’s medical history with an emphasis on their substance abuse experiences. Understanding a person’s history helps medical professionals optimize their treatment plan.
Heroin detox is the next step. It usually lasts 24-48 hours and consists of waiting for the body to process and flush all of the heroin from the tissues. This is when the side-effects arrive. Heroin detox is work. The mind that is now hardwired to function with boosts from heroin must make radical changes to the way it operates. While every experience is a little different, the first two or three days are the most challenging. But, the patient is not alone. When appropriate, there are medications like Suboxone that can help with the symptoms of withdrawal.
The first signs of withdrawal usually show up about six to nine hours into the process. Many people start to feel anxiety coming on along with sweating. Sometimes the body responds with a fever, abdominal cramps and other flu-like symptoms. Sleep is a challenge. And, all of this is going on while the patient is feeling heroin lust.
After three or four days, the symptoms start to lessen, and patients can now progress. The remaining days of inpatient drug rehab will include ample group and individual therapy. There will be classes to help heal the range of emotions and dynamics that are so intertwined with addiction. Medications will be a regular and helpful part of the day. The newly detoxed patient will work with therapists on many of those dual diagnosis issues that arise. Cognitive behavioral therapy will be a most efficacious tool for healthily managing perceptions. During this time patients acquire the lifesaving skill of learning to identify triggers. After a few weeks, the patient will be ready to go back out into the world and continue their sober life.
Inpatient Drug Rehab Often Best For Heroin Addiction
Because of the magnitude of the challenge, most people who live with heroin addiction need a residential inpatient addiction treatment program. These programs typically last 60 to 90 days. They involve detoxing and rehabilitating within a community of people who are also recovering. Participants benefit from the support of other patients. The inpatient environment also allows residents to insulate themselves from the temptations and other preoccupations of the outside world.
Maintaining Sobriety and Freedom from Heroin
So how can a recovered heroin user retain sobriety once they leave rehab? They must keep taking their medications. The medication will help reduce the cravings and help them deal with the underlying psychological conditions. Healthy and vibrant relationships are critical. Keeping an environment as clear of triggers and temptations as possible can be hard. It may never be perfect, but people in recovery can exercise a lot of influence on their surroundings.
However, the most significant responsibility people in recovery have to themselves is learning to harness their history, feelings, and attitudes. While people may not be able to alter their genetics or physical makeup, they can win control of their emotions. They cannot change their history, but they can choose how they perceive the past and cope with it. They cannot choose who to forget, but they can decide who to work on forgiving. They can also select the boundaries they set with people. Instead of coping with the real and poignant difficulties by escaping with heroin, they’ll have the privilege of learning new strategies for navigating life’s challenges and disappointments.
Most Heroin Users Started With Prescription Pain DrugsFew people get their first opiate rushes from heroin. Most get them from prescription pain medications such as OxyContin, Lortab, Vicodin, or Percocet that were prescribed by a doctor and purchased at a pharmacy. Too many heroin users started out as patients who needed an opiate medication to manage severe pain. They graduated to heroin when their body’s tolerance for the prescription-based medicines outstripped the utility of the drug. More than 80 percent of today’s heroin users start out by using one of the prescription opioids.
Rescuing a Person In Heroin Overdose
When a heroin user overdoses, it slows their heart rate and breathing. The insufficient circulation and supply of oxygen to the brain can put the victim into a coma or cause them to stop breathing and die. But, if a person experiencing an overdose emergency can get a dose of naloxone, it is very likely to save their lives. Many first responders are equipped with naloxone, a drug that can reverse the action of heroin. There are also versions of naloxone injectors and nasal sprays for people without medical training. The United States surgeon general has urged more Americans to carry a naloxone rescue device.
The Rewards of Sobriety
There is a tradeoff when a person elects the crucible of detox, the road of rehabilitation, and a future of sobriety. After all, the heroin rush is gone. The experience that still cannot be accurately described with the most eloquent and descriptive language is gone. So, in heroin’s place, there has to be a reasonable list of rewards for kissing that euphoria goodbye. Yes, there are the health reasons such as reducing their risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis. They’ll probably avoid some infections and enjoy healthier skin. Improved kidney and liver health sounds reasonably beneficial to the average person. But, they may not have a frame of reference. What makes it all worth it is relationships. The ability to keep promises to your family, employer, neighbors and God. It’s not a euphoric rush, but it is a deep and abiding satisfaction.