Alarming Statistics on Heroin Addiction
In the years between 2001 and 2014, the number of people using heroin in the US tripled – and the number of heroin related deaths increased by 439 percent. In response to the current “epidemic” of heroin addiction, new treatment approaches that combine therapy and medication offer hope for successful recovery.
Why is Heroin So Addictive?
Heroin is a derivative of morphine, a potent painkiller made from the resin of Asian opium poppy plants. These opiate drugs along with synthetic pain relievers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, make up a class of drugs known as opioids. These powerful central nervous system depressants bind to natural opioid receptors in the body that are linked to suppressing pain and promoting pleasure. In all forms, opioids are highly addictive – so much so that by 2014, 61 percent of all drug overdoses in the US were related to opioid use.
Heroin and prescription opioid drug abuse are strongly linked. Many heroin users also abuse, or have abused other kinds of opioid drugs. Some turn to heroin when prescription opioids become too expensive or too hard to get.
As addiction to heroin and addiction to other opioid drugs became intertwined, addiction treatment efforts have focused on helping people manage withdrawal symptoms and manage addiction triggers in their lives.
Whether it’s injected, snorted or smoked, heroin binds to the body’s natural opioid receptors, causing intense feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Over time, the artificial “high” of heroin overwhelms the body’s own pain-reducing systems, and users need more and more of the drug to achieve the same results.
Abusing heroin can affect all parts of the body and the brain. Long-term heroin use can even change neural pathways or may create new ones. That’s why long term heroin addiction can cause damage to the brain and other organs. This is also why withdrawing from heroin often causes a range of distressing and sometimes life-threatening, whole-body symptoms such as nausea and chills. These symptoms can appear within hours of stopping heroin and last for several days, and avoiding withdrawal is one factor that keeps users addicted to the drug.
Withdrawal – an Obstacle To Recovery
Because heroin affects opioid receptors everywhere in the body, and because this kind of drug can be so severely addictive, withdrawing from the drug can be uncomfortable, painful and even life threatening for longtime users. Fear of withdrawal contributes both to continued addiction and to repeated relapses. But support for detox and withdrawal is a key element of a comprehensive treatment plan for heroin addiction.
To help with the physical symptoms of withdrawal and the cravings that can persist long after stopping heroin, both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs can offer medically supervised detox and withdrawal treatment that usually includes medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, which mimic some of the effects of heroin without the accompanying “high.” Over time, these medications can often be tapered down gradually while a user works on recovery through counseling and other therapeutic activities.
Medical Maintenance- Ongoing Support
Many inpatient and outpatient rehab programs offer services for relatively short periods – typically thirty to sixty days for residential treatment and around twelve weeks for intensive outpatient or standard outpatient programs. But recovery from heroin addiction can take much longer than that.
Medical maintenance can help prevent relapses and let users focus on recovery over extended periods. Medications such as methadone and buprenorphine are prescribed by a physician and monitored by treatment programs and clinics. These drugs can be taken for months or even years – and some users continue taking them indefinitely to prevent relapsing while they resolve the issues that trigger their addictions.
In 2015, the number of heroin related deaths in the US surpassed the rate of gun-related homicides for the first time, and the abuse of heroin and other opioids continues to rise. But new addiction treatments can provide long-term support for recovery – and a drug-free future.