Heroin addiction has been a serious public health issue for years in the United States. An estimated 808,000 people ages 12 and older (or 0.3 percent of the population) reported using heroin in 2018. Inhalants, methamphetamines, hallucinogens, and cocaine each had higher reported rates of use.
The overdose death rates tell a different story, though. 14,996 deaths were caused by a heroin overdose in that same year. The drug claimed over 40 lives every day. Heroin is responsible for the third-highest number despite having one of the lowest rates of use.
It’s clear the heroin and opioid epidemic in the United States are still nowhere near solved. These alarming overdose rates make the need for heroin rehab apparent, regardless of the number of people using it. Effective intervention from a treatment program can save a person’s life before heroin can claim it.
More About Heroin
Heroin is an opiate drug made from morphine and known for its powerful fast-acting effects. It usually comes in one of two forms: white or brown powder or a sticky, black substance that resembles tar. The darker the heroin, the more impurities it contains.
Heroin interacts with opioid receptors on the body’s nerve cells that are responsible for feelings of pain. Along with a numbing bodily sense, using the drug causes a rush of weightless, calm, euphoric feelings that people find pleasurable.
The combination of physical and psychological relaxation and release makes heroin an incredibly addictive drug. Users chase after that calm and carefree yet elusive headspace of the heroin high. And people can find themselves trapped in that cycle of use and abuse even after only trying it a few times.
Regular heroin use causes people to develop a tolerance for the drug. This means they need to use more of the drug or use it more often to achieve the effects they’re searching for. As tolerance grows, heroin addiction begins to set in. It becomes harder to stop using the drug and people often find that they can’t go without it after a certain point.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Once heroin addiction takes hold it often takes over every aspect of a person’s life. Their family and friends notice something is different. Employment or education usually takes a back seat role. Every day centers around chasing the high, whether it’s using the drug itself or getting money to buy more.
If you’re concerned someone you know is struggling, there are some signs and symptoms of heroin addiction that you can look for.
- Sudden changes in behavior or lifestyle
- Asking to borrow money that they don’t repay
- A drastic decline in their physical or mental health
- Lack of attention to personal appearance or hygiene
- Heroin paraphernalia, including needles, pipes, foil, spoons, or lighters
- “Track marks,” the small sores, scabs, or scars resulting from intravenous use
- “Nodding out,” meaning shifting between consciousness and semi-conscious sleep
Symptoms of heroin addiction might be difficult to identify at first. The deeper someone gets into their addiction, though, the easier it is to notice they have a problem. When you notice signs that someone might be struggling, try to talk with them about what’s going on. You may need to find a treatment facility to intervene as their use progresses.
The Difficulties of Heroin Withdrawal
Once someone becomes physically dependent on heroin, withdrawal symptoms are usually what keeps them there. These physical and psychological responses happen when their body depends on the drug to function. When they don’t have it, their body revolts. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe and even physically dangerous. They include:
- Excessive sweating
- Digestive distress that can range from diarrhea to nausea and vomiting
- Cold flashes and goosebumps
- Elevated heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Mood swings
- Agitation and frustration
- Anxiety and depression
- Uncontrollable rage
- Tremors and uncontrollable shaking
- Uncontrollable arm and leg movements (“kicking”)
- Troubles with sleep or changes to the sleep cycle
- Extreme drug cravings
The severity of a person’s withdrawal symptoms depends on numerous factors. The amount of heroin they use, the frequency with which they use it, and the way they ingest it are the most important. Their age and overall health also play a significant role in the strength of heroin withdrawal symptoms.
The bottom line is that many people who have a hard time getting clean struggle to make it through the withdrawals. This is one of the reasons heroin rehab is such an important step toward getting clean and staying drug-free.
Options for Heroin Rehab
Heroin rehab is not a one-size-fits-all model. It’s important to realize that what works for some people might not work for others. Every individual seeking treatment has a story that got them to where they are. There are numerous steps to treating heroin addiction that people can use.
Detox is usually the first step in heroin rehab for most people. It provides an environment that supports users through the withdrawal process to keep them from going back to using heroin. Medical professionals monitor patients throughout their detox to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings.
Starting with detox also ensures patients are as safe and comfortable as possible during the first few days off of drugs. Since withdrawal symptoms are one of the biggest causes of relapse, going to detox gives people a stronger start. Having support during the difficulties of the withdrawal process makes them more likely to stay off heroin.
Heroin rehab dives into the root causes of addiction, both in general and on an individual level. Individuals work with a case manager, therapist, or both, along with attending group therapy and other treatment-focused activities. They develop necessary coping skills and learn how to adjust to life without substances.
There are two main options for heroin rehab: inpatient treatment or a partial hospitalization program. Both options have benefits but the right choice depends on an individual’s particular circumstances. Inpatient programs offer a residential component while partial hospitalization programs don’t require patients to live at the facility.
In many cases, partial hospitalization programs function as a step down following inpatient residential treatment. Transitioning from an inpatient program into PHP allows people to integrate back into their home or family life while still receiving structured support from treatment professionals and recovery peers regularly.
Some people might not need the inpatient aspect of heroin rehab and transition from detox to a partial hospitalization program instead. They still receive treatment daily Monday through Friday but have more options in terms of living accommodations.
Outpatient Heroin Rehab
Intensive outpatient programs usually follow a higher level of care in heroin rehab, either through inpatient or a PHP. Heroin addiction is a serious condition that typically requires more structure at the beginning of treatment that builds a solid foundation of recovery. IOP typically acts as an aftercare tool as people transition back into life.
Intensive outpatient programs usually meet three days per week for a few hours each day. Decreased treatment hours give patients the ability to either look for a job or return to work. They can start attending to life’s responsibilities while still having a supportive treatment environment to lean on when things are difficult.
Additionally, some prescriptions used in medication-assisted treatment programs are available on an outpatient basis. Medications like Suboxone or Vivitrol keep cravings at bay as individuals in these programs make their way back into everyday life.
Treatment Approaches in Heroin Rehab
Most options for heroin rehab incorporate two main treatment approaches: therapy and medication-assisted treatment. Therapeutic approaches, from individual to group therapy, are the main focus of treatment. Medication-assisted treatment supplements the therapeutic approaches and helps patients better focus on their program.
Some facilities also incorporate outside programs like 12-step recovery or other recovery support groups. These groups are unaffiliated with the facility and provide a space for newly-recovering individuals to find support. Participating in these programs while in treatment increases the likelihood of continued attendance after finishing treatment.
Therapies Used During Heroin Rehab
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most popular type of therapy used in heroin rehab programs. It focuses on the relationship between a person’s thoughts and the behaviors that result. By changing an individual’s thought processes, CBT aims to shift them away from harmful behaviors.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another common therapy approach used in heroin addiction treatment. It’s similar to CBT but focuses more on correcting self-destructive behaviors specifically, rather than behavior as a whole.
Individual facilities also utilize alternative types of therapy depending on location. Some provide animal-assisted therapy or art therapy. Others incorporate the healing approach of yoga therapy or the challenging aspects of adventure therapy.
Therapy takes place on both an individual and a group level. Individual therapy sessions provide a space for patients to dive into specific instances and situations that challenge them. Group therapy allows patients to process through situations and instances with input and support from their peers.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Rehab
Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is a common part of heroin rehab. MAT uses medications to relieve withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and maintain a level state of being. It helps patients focus more on their treatment program and less on the distraction of wanting to use.
Not all programs provide the support medication-assisted treatment but it’s helpful for people trying to quit heroin. Because heroin is such a difficult substance to stop using, MAT functions as another tool to help them learn to live a drug-free life.
When is Heroin Rehab Necessary?
Sometimes it’s hard to tell when rehab is necessary for certain types of substances. It isn’t so difficult when trying to determine when heroin rehab is necessary. Heroin addiction is an intense and destructive condition that brings users to their knees.
While someone might be able to maintain and seemingly control their use for a time, addiction usually takes over at some point. Some people can quit using and stay drug-free on their own but others need the support of heroin rehab to get started.
Heroin addiction isn’t as simple as a bad habit; after a while, it becomes a way of life. People can’t “just quit using” or switch off their addiction with some positive thinking and a dose of willpower. Recovering from heroin addiction requires a complete adjustment to thinking and behavior that is next to impossible for many to achieve on their own.
Seeking professional help is a critical step in the right direction for people struggling with heroin addiction. Heroin rehab provides necessary support to overcome the physical and psychological grasp of the drug. Rather than fighting an uphill battle on their own, people find themselves surrounded by supportive and understanding peers.
Why is Heroin Rehab So Important?
Drug addiction is similar to conditions like cancer or heart disease. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, it requires intensive and professional medical intervention. Nor can the condition usually be treated at home. Just like there is no shame in seeking medical assistance for conditions like diabetes, there is no shame in asking for help from a heroin rehab facility.
Addiction is also similar in that it needs ongoing attention and work to avoid relapse. People need to build a strong foundation to achieve lifelong sobriety. Heroin rehab is the first step toward laying out the groundwork and establishing this foundation.
Aftercare, such as an IOP program or outside meetings, plays just as critical of a role. In the same way, people don’t stop taking their medications for heart disease, people shouldn’t stop pursuing support for their recovery.