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Definitive Guide to Overcoming Heroin Addiction



Life as a heroin addict is in no way pretty. Apart from the health risks such as infections and overdose associated with the addiction, there is also the social and financial risks.

As a person who is on heroin, it will be almost impossible to have a good company of friends. Sometimes, even family can be pushed away by heroin addiction habits.

Moreover, if one is an addict, it’s doubtful that he will be able to work and fend for themselves. In addition to this, the drug is quite expensive to purchase.

Even for a person with means, they can easily find themselves on a path to financial ruin. Despite this, hope should not be lost as it is possible to overcome heroin addiction.

In this article, we will be covering in-depth on how to overcome heroin addiction.

This will include:

  • Heroin addiction recovery insights, i.e., why it’s a physical addiction and heroin addiction recovery timeline
  • Withdrawal and symptoms including how long do the symptoms last and can they be fatal?
  • Safe heroin detoxification approaches including medical treatments, i.e., drugs for heroin addiction
  • Behavioural therapies
  • Long-term recovery after a heroin detox including community support and family support

Heroin addiction recovery insights

A study recently published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicated that more than 4.2 million individuals above the age of 11 tried heroin in 2011. [1].

23 % of these persons ended up becoming addicted to this opiate at one point.

With the cases of heroin addiction rising more than 250 % in Vermont between 2000 and 2014, focusing on addiction recovery is very crucial.

NIDA estimates that in 2013, there were at least 681,000 heroin users all over the United States.

For an individual addicted to heroin to recover, they have to subject their body through the process of getting rid of the addiction.

In all honesty, recovery from heroin is not easy, but it’s doable.

Hundreds of thousands have attempted this and have been successful. Today, most of them live happy, healthy lives with their families.

Most addicts fear to undertake recovery programs due to the resulting withdrawal effects, but you should know that this can be managed.

Why it is a physical addiction

Addiction to heroin or any other opiates is a physical addiction. This is because sometimes after an individual starts abusing this opiate, they no longer just do it to get to enjoy the euphoric high.

Their body becomes dependent on the drug in that it cannot function well without it.

Rather than abusing the opiate for the high, the individual will be doing it to have their body function normally.

At this point, the addict would be experiencing harsh withdrawal symptoms if they do not take heroin.

For them to rid their body of the opiate and start their recovery, they have to engage in heroin detoxification. It’s vital to keep in mind that the process of heroin recovery takes more than just sheer will power.

To combat the withdrawal symptoms, medical interventions and behavioural therapies are implemented. These also help with the addiction recovery process.

Withdrawal and symptoms

For heroin, an addict will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms as early as 4 hours to 24 hours from their last use.

As an individual begins their recovery process, the withdrawal symptoms are the biggest obstacle to their getting better. Some medical experts have described the symptoms as the worst case of flu.

If one decides to enrol in an assisted detoxification program, then the withdrawal symptoms won’t be as bad. In addition to this, the individual is less likely to give in to use heroin to tame the terrible withdrawal symptoms.

This is not the case for those who jump into detoxification on their own. Without the help of medicines and a support system around, it’s doubtful that one can be successful in overcoming heroin.

In most cases, addicts who get into detoxification on their own, end up relapsing.

The symptoms

Here are the withdrawal symptoms for heroin addiction:

  • Severe mood changes fuelled by anxiety and agitation
  • Muscle twitching, shivering and shivering
  • Goosebumps
  • Stomach complications including but not limited to nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and cramping
  • Abnormally high body secretions such as teary eyes, running nose, and sweaty skin

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

How long the symptoms mentioned above will last once an addict starts their detoxification program will depend on how long one has been taking the heroin.

If an individual has been an addict for a long time, it means that the body has established a high dependency for the drugs. As a result of this, the withdrawal symptoms will last longer.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that the withdrawal symptoms are expected to start 6 to 12 hours after the last dose.[2].

The symptoms will peak and be most severe and peak at 2 to 3 days from previous use. The withdrawal symptoms can last for as long as 10 days in cases where the addiction was not in an advanced stage.

For addicts at an advanced stage of addiction, the withdrawal symptoms can last up to 4 weeks.

Can withdrawal symptoms be fatal?

If this can be a reprieve, you should know that the withdrawal symptoms of heroin addiction are less deadly than that of alcohol addiction. Yes, the withdrawal from heroin can be fatal, but this occurs quite rarely.

Vomiting and diarrhea, which result in severe dehydration, is the leading cause of heroin withdrawal deaths. This is usually witnessed in addicts who experience withdrawal in prison.

Additionally, those who decide to do self-detoxification are more prone to fatal withdrawals. This is because once the withdrawal symptoms set in, most such addicts end up overdosing as they try to get them to calm down.

You should also watch out for addicts who undergo depression and anxiety during their detoxification as suicide is also another cause of death during heroin withdrawal.

This is why addicts should undertake a medically assisted detoxification.

Safe heroin detoxification approaches

Pursuing safe heroin detoxification options is the most promising way through which an addict can overcome heroin addiction.

Such options provide a safe environment through which an addict can battle the most challenging part of detoxification, the withdrawal symptoms.

Safe heroin detoxification approaches involve medical treatment and behavioural therapies.

1. Medical treatment

There are numerous drugs available today that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in heroin addiction treatment.

Medications are crucial in detoxification as they can relieve even the most terrible of withdrawal symptoms and make the path to recovery much more comfortable.

Additionally, this approach provides a more gradual and effective recovery by making this opiate less attractive.

Here are the most commonly used drugs for heroin addiction treatment:

a) Methadone

Methadone has been very effective in heroin addiction treatment. This medication is also an opiate though it’s not as potent as heroin. It is used mainly to curb heroin cravings, which are usually brought about by the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

As an opiate, methadone is less addictive and much easier to stop using. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), the dosage of this medication used for heroin addiction treatment will be based on an individual’s tolerance to opiates and also body weight. [3].

This medication is available majorly in oral forms such as powder, liquid, and tablets.

Under the direction of a doctor, the use of methadone for heroin addiction treatment would not only be very effective but have fewer side effects. You should keep in mind that just like any other opiate, methadone is addictive.

It is advised that addicts enlist for the help of medical practitioners if they are looking to include this drug in their heroin detoxification.

b) Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine, as a treatment for heroin addiction, is categorized as a partial opioid antagonist. This medication helps in recovery treatment by blocking opioid receptors.

This action makes the body less demanding for heroin so that it can function optimally.

According to CESAR, Buprenorphine is roughly 30 to 50 times more potent than morphine.

It, therefore, poses a greater danger for addiction if used without the guidance of a qualified doctor. Despite this, it’s easy to stop using than methadone.

c) Naloxone

Naloxone is also an opioid antagonist and is widely used in the treatment of heroin addiction. This medication is extensively used by first responders to save the lives of addicts who overdose on heroin.

It is used in medical detoxification for heroin not only to rid the body of heroin dependence but also to prevent relapse.

2. Behavioural therapies

Medical treatments for heroin addiction work best when bundled with behavioural interventions. The behavioural therapies are essential in helping patients cope through their long-term recovery, therefore, minimizing the chances for a relapse.

The therapy option provides the recovering addict with the knowledge to identify relapse triggers, an incentive for abstinence, and improved life skills to sustain their long-term recovery.

Here are the most prevalent behavioural therapies:

a) Contingency management

This is a type of behavioural therapy in which a recovering addict receives gifts and rewards for reaching specified behavioural goals. Such goals may include verified abstinence and sticking to the therapy program.

Contingency management therapy is favoured for its consistent, reliable, and empirical results. This therapy is beneficial in motivating recovering addicts to stick to their treatment programs.

b) Cognitive behaviour

Cognitive behaviour therapy is very effective in preventing relapse among addicts undergoing heroin addiction treatment. This therapy is based on teaching a recovering addict’s social skills that will help them avoid relapse triggers.

With cognitive behavioural therapy, a recovering addict will be equipped with strategies through which they can avoid dangerous behaviour as they embark on their long-term recovery journey.

c) Motivational therapy

This therapy treatment for heroin addiction is meant to motivate a patient’s commitment to their recovery. Motivational therapy achieves this by laying bare the dangerous outcome that might result if an individual does not overcome heroin.

This therapy involves informing the recovering addict of the health risks that they are exposing themselves to.

Additionally, the emotional burden that they are putting on their family and friends and the financial burden that they have to incur for treatment.

d) 12-step recovery therapy

The 12-step recovery therapy takes advantage of the power of association to aid in the recovery of a heroin addict. In this treatment option, recovering addicts meet with others in a similar situation to motivate each other in their recovery journey.

The support from peers is very useful as it shows a patient that they are not in the fight alone, and it’s possible to overcome heroin.

According to the American Psychological Association, the 12-step recovery therapy involves; admitting there’s a problem, recognizing a higher power, examining past errors, making amends, starting a new life, and helping others as well.[4].

Long-term recovery after heroin detox

Once the withdrawal symptoms and the treatments are done with, long-term recovery is the next goal for any recovering addict. In this case, avoiding relapse is the biggest challenge that an individual will face.

Here are some of the ways through which recovering addicts can achieve long-term recovery.

a) Community support

Most of the time, after addicts are done with their treatment and go back to their communities, they are always shunned. Most of the people who know them will not want to associate with them.

This discrimination can quickly drive a recovering addict to relapse. This is because one would decide to look for a place that they feel they belong, and this may end up being among addicts.

Community support is vital in the long-term recovery of an addict. To be motivated not to relapse, an individual has to see that despite their shaky past, they can still live a healthy life.

Community support involves the inclusion of the recovering addict in social projects of the community and showing them love.

b) Family support

It might seem like a non-issue, but most recovering addicts face rejection from their families. Without the love and affection of family, the path to long-term recovery for an addict would be pretty tough.

With family support, a recovering addict will have something to live for, and this can help them avoid falling for relapse triggers.

You might not be an addict, but as part of the community, you have a vital role to play in the long-term recovery of an addict. Showing support and compassion will go a long way in helping them overcome their heroin addiction.

References

[1] https://americanaddictioncenters.org/heroin-treatment/how-to-help

[2] https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/heroin

[3] http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/methadone.asp

[4] https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Twelve-step_program

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