Addiction is a serious condition that affects millions of Americans. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 4 million people in the United States reported abusing heroin, specifically, at some point in their lives. Heroin is a drug that is derived from opium. The effects of this drug include a euphoria that can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, depending upon how the drug is ingested. Because it affects the central nervous system, heroin overdose can be fatal. If you suspect that someone in your life is abusing heroin, it is important to understand how the drug works, the harmful effects that can result from abuse, as well as how to recognize the signs and symptoms that someone is using heroin.
The Effects of Heroin on the Body and Brain
The human brain is made up of cells. These brain cells, known as neurons, are responsible for all of the communication that takes place inside of the human brain to control various aspects of what makes us human. Each neuron contains several elements, including transporters and receptors. When the brain cell releases a chemical – a “messenger” known as a neurotransmitter – the neighboring neuron will pick up the message through the receptor. If too much of the chemical exists in between the two cells, the transporter on the originating cell will absorb the excess, creating balance. Heroin specifically affects the chemical messengers that are responsible for how many breaths we take in a minute, how many times our heart beats, or whether we feel joy, pain and other emotions.
How to Recognize When Someone Is Abusing Heroin
While it isn’t possible to determine how many times an individual’s heart beats simply from observing them, it is possible to observe whether they appear to be incoherent. Known as being “on the nod,” someone who has abused heroin may be unable to stay awake or asleep for a consistent period of time as the drug works through their system.
Drug abuse, in general, has a variety of symptoms that change from person to person. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – a book used by professional psychologists and psychiatrists to provide consistency in the diagnosis of a variety of mental health issues – there are four distinct criteria that may indicate an individual is abusing drugs.
These criteria include:
- The use of drugs has created a failure to meet one’s a obligations in the form of school, work, or one’s home and family.
- An individual has found himself or herself in dangerous situations due to repeated drug abuse, including driving while intoxicated or other dangerous behaviors.
- An individual has experienced legal problems, up to and including arrest, because of drug use.
- Despite the fact that an individual has had repeated social or family-related negative impacts due to their drug use, they continue to use drugs.
It is important to note that an individual does not have to exhibit all four of these symptoms in order to meet the diagnostic criteria. In fact, the presence of only one of these circumstances within a single year could indicate that there is a significant problem. On the other hand, a person who is abusing heroin may exhibit some or all of these symptoms.
Heroin can be taken in three different ways. Some individuals inject heroin directly into the blood stream with the use of a hypodermic needle. Others may sniff – a practice known as snorting – a powder form of the drug. Still others may smoke the fumes created by heating the drug. Depending upon the manner in which the drugs are ingested, there may be needle marks visible on the surface of the skin.
How to Get Help for Someone Who Is Abusing Heroin
Have you ever heard the phrase “rock bottom?” For many, this phrase indicates the time at which someone who is suffering from addiction suddenly realizes they have lost everything. Their family is gone. They have no access to their children. They have no job and no money. Some believe that the only way an individual who suffers from addiction will make the choice to turn their life around is to hit this proverbial bottom. On the contrary, studies have shown that individuals who receive treatment, regardless of whether that treatment is voluntary, can receive its benefits. For instance, individuals who have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to jail have been forced into receiving treatment as a means of reducing their sentence. When this has occurred, there is no significant difference between the success rates of those who voluntarily went to treatment and those who only did so because they felt they had no other choice.
If someone in your family, or a close friend, is suffering from heroin abuse, it is possible to show them how the drugs are negatively affecting their lives and the people they love. The process, known as an intervention, effectively raises “rock bottom” to meet the addict, rather than the other way around. In a fashion similar to an individual who has been incarcerated, the subject of the intervention is presented with a choice. On the one hand, they have the choice to continue suffering without the assistance of family members who may have been supplementing their income by loaning them money for food or rent, tending their children so they could use and abuse drugs freely, or providing them with shelter in the event they could not obtain their own. On the other hand, they are presented with the availability to undergo effective treatment, including psychological counseling and other therapy methods that will give them the tools they need to succeed in a normal, drug-free lifestyle.
Does Heroin Addiction Treatment Work?
According to the experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are several treatments available for heroin abuse and addiction. One type of treatment involves the use of medication to help alleviate the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin abuse. In some cases, an individual may be abusing drugs continually in an effort to control the withdrawal symptoms, sometimes even more than for the euphoric effects. Methadone is a drug, similar to opiates, which can decrease withdrawal symptoms as well as block the effects that heroin can have under normal circumstances. Because methadone has its own risks of addiction, some medical providers will prescribe another drug, Suboxone, which has less potential for abuse.
Medication is not the only type of treatment available for heroin abuse. Effective treatment may also include a program of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT, is a form of therapy that teaches an individual new ways to think and act. When an individual can come to terms with the situation in which they are living and develop better life skills to manage the everyday difficulties that may occur, they can then apply what they have learned to making better decisions. According to the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, this type of therapy is more about education than it is talking endlessly about problems.
A few of the unique elements of CBT are:
- It takes place over a limited series of weeks with specific goals in mind.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches an individual that behaviors are based upon thoughts and interpretations of the world around us, not by the world itself.
- It establishes that our behaviors to date have been learned, and that it is possible to unlearn those behaviors and retrain ourselves to react more appropriately.
- Immersion in the healing process is important, therefore CBT includes homework assignments so the individual will be more likely to create better habits and lifestyles.
- CBT encourages and teaches individuals not to assume that their immediate thoughts and feelings are valid, and to obtain facts in order to make rational decisions.
In addition to individual therapy, someone who is recovering from heroin abuse may find themselves participating in group and family therapy. Family therapy is beneficial not only so family members know and understand the condition from which their loved one is recovering, but it can also address the needs of the family members who have been negatively affected by the drug abuse. Group therapy, generally overseen by a qualified professional, provides a unique dynamic where an individual can gain strength from, and contribute strength to, others who are undergoing similar treatments for drug addiction and abuse. A third type of therapy is the support group, often overseen by another recovering individual, which can create a sense of belonging and resilience for an individual who may be feeling quite alone.
The most important aspect to receiving effective treatment for heroin abuse is to obtain the help as quickly as possible. Because of the overdose risks associated with heroin abuse, each moment of delay can be life-threatening. If you or someone you love may be suffering from heroin addiction or abuse, please contact The Oaks at La Paloma to discuss your immediate options for treatment.