Heroin is the most popular and most widely abused drug in the opiate family. Although all opiate drugs are highly addictive, none are more potent than heroin, it is a good idea to get heroin addiction detox. Nearly identical to morphine in chemical structure, the only differentiating factor is the addition of an extra acetyl molecule, which gives heroin an odor resembling vinegar and allows it to cross the brain blood barrier almost immediately. This eradicates the time-release characteristic of other opiates and causes an intense rush of euphoria exclusive to heroin. Intravenous injection further increases this rush, raising the risk of overdose to unparalleled proportions.
Facts of Heroin
Heroin is a schedule 1 narcotic, meaning it has the highest potential for abuse, no medical purpose and is illegal to possess in any amount. It is commonly found in white powder form or as a sticky brown substance known as “black tar.” Both are equally dangerous. Heroin can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected intravenously. Common side effects include shallow breathing, lowered heart rate, nausea, itching, constipation, urinary retention, pupil dilation and dry mouth. More serious common occurrences include respiratory arrest, seizure, coma and death. Intravenous injection highly raises the risks of these occurrences. Heroin overdose is second only to motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
Heroin’s Effect on the Body
Due to heroin’s high potency, an individual may become physically dependent on heroin after only a few days of use. Heroin saturates nerve receptors in the brain to suppress pain, reduce anxiety and produce euphoria. After any period of continual use, these nerve receptors will adapt and begin to resist the drug, increasing tolerance and creating the need for higher doses to produce the same effect. Furthermore, once the brain has adapted to the presence of the drug, an individual will experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug leaves the body, as nerve receptors must re-adapt to its absence.
These symptoms include agitation, anxiety, tremors, muscle aches, hot and cold flashes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Many will avoid these symptoms at all costs. They will engage in illegal activity, isolate themselves from family and friends, face financial ruin and risk contraction of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. Many will continue to live with heroin and its consequences for years despite an earnest desire to quit in an attempt to avoid heroin withdrawal.
For those who wish to recover from a heroin addiction, our programs allow for a safe, comfortable and painless detoxification. Since the 1970s, methadone has been a popular alternative for those looking to get off heroin. Methadone is a full opiate agonist, meaning that it replaces the opiate supply to the brain to suppress withdrawal symptoms without producing euphoria or intoxication. Methadone users benefit by taking a legal drug that allows them to function more effectively. However, methadone is highly addictive and discontinuing use will cause equally severe withdrawal symptoms. Due to its high potential for abuse, methadone is classified as a schedule 2 narcotic and may only be dispensed in daily doses from a licensed clinic. Those who choose a methadone maintenance program are essentially trading one addiction for another.
A supervised medical detoxification program is typically recommended to achieve full separation from heroin or methadone. The opiate replacement medications Suboxone® or Subutex are the most successful methods of discontinuing heroin use entirely. Detox facilities utilize these medications to suppress withdrawal symptoms for a controlled amount of time and allow an individual to comfortably detox from heroin.
Suboxone® works similarly to methadone in that it replaces the supply of opiates to the brain without creating euphoria. However, Suboxone is a partial opioid agonist whereas methadone is a full opioid agonist. This means that it has a ceiling of effect and, even in large doses, it is less addictive and much harder to abuse. For this reason, Suboxone is classified as a schedule 3 narcotic and may even be prescribed for at-home use. For more information on suboxone or subutex detoxification, please see Suboxone® Detox.
It is important to remember that physical dependency on heroin is only one aspect of heroin addiction. Like alcoholism, heroin addiction is a disease that centers in the mind and users will continue to desire the effects of the drug long after physical withdraw symptoms have passed. Detox is only the beginning of freedom from a heroin addiction. If further help is not sought, relapse is likely. Due to the rising popularity of heroin use, especially among young adults, there are many recovery programs and 12-Step groups designed exclusively to treat heroin and opiate addiction.