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About Heroin

How Did This Happen To My Loved One?

Heroin addiction is a serious disease that affects individuals and families and requires professional help to overcome. Many who find themselves addicted to heroin either fail to see the severity of their problem or are too embarrassed to seek help. Family and loved ones must do all they can to get the person to accept help, or ask a rehab center for help talking to the individual or providing intervention services when necessary. The sooner the heroin addict gets help, the better their outcome for recovery will be.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug that is made from the seed pods of the poppy plant. It is extremely addicting, and it comes in several different forms. The powder form of heroin can be either white or black depending on its contents and purity, and it is also found as a black sticky substance called black tar heroin. Heroin is commonly injected, sniffed, snorted, or smoked, and it is often combined with other drugs, such as cocaine and fentanyl. Combining it with other drugs makes heroin even more dangerous, as the combination can cause more severe side effects and the composition of the drug becomes even more uncertain.

How Does Addiction Start?

Experimentation. Addiction, particularly heroin addiction today, can begin in several different ways, but one common way is through experimentation. Some individuals want to try heroin because they are pressured by friends to do so, or they hope the drug will numb pain or anxiety or somehow make them feel better. Experimenting with drugs might seem like a good idea at the time, but it can quickly lead to dependence and addiction. Then the person is left with many more problems than when they started.

Prescribed opiates. Heroin is different from most other abused drugs in that people often transition into heroin addiction after becoming addicted to legal medications. Prescription painkillers are in the same family of substances as heroin, and the drugs have similar effects on the user. These medications are beneficial for many who struggle with pain. Moderate to severe pain and chronic pain can quickly wear a person down and affect all areas of their life. Because they are so effective, prescription opioids are used by millions of patients every year. According to studies, in 2015, roughly 300 million prescriptions were dispensed for narcotic pain medications around the world, and Americans consumed 80 percent of them.

Some people who are prescribed opiates for a legitimate pain or illness become addicted to the painkillers. This can happen either because the person did not take the medications as prescribed, or took them longer than is safe, or because they simply became dependent on them and couldn’t stop. In these cases, if the person doesn’t get help for the dependence, they can spiral out of control and start craving the medications. They soon need to resort to illegal means to get more drugs, including doctor shopping, borrowing or stealing from loved ones and purchasing them on the black market. Prescription painkiller abuse is just as serious and dangerous as heroin abuse and can lead to a life of addiction and even overdose and death.

Because heroin is in the same family of drugs as prescription opiates, it has become a natural next step for those addicted to prescription painkillers. Heroin is in some cases cheaper, easier to obtain, and can provide a better high than prescription painkillers, making it desirable to opiate drug seekers.

The prescription opiate problem is a major epidemic in America today and it is blamed for much of the rise in heroin addiction. Approximately three out of four new heroin users misused prescription opioids prior to using heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Because the prescription opiate problem is so widespread and because heroin is a common offshoot of prescription painkillers, heroin addiction has crept up in communities and families throughout the country that never had a drug problem before. Areas that were typically considered safe from drug abuse are finding that residents they would never expect to struggle with heroin addiction are indeed becoming addicted, all because of the transition from legal prescription opiates to the street drug heroin.

Using other drugs first. A final way individuals get caught up with heroin addiction is transitioning from other illicit drugs. When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they are often willing to make the switch and try something different, usually because they are looking for a better high or something more easily accessible, and many combine drugs or use several different kinds at once. This type of drug abuse is extremely risky and can lead to unexpected complications and death because of drug interactions and increased potency.

Why Do They Continue to Use? 

Those who are addicted to drugs such as heroin continue to use, despite consequences and problems that occur in all areas of their life because of the addiction. More than 400,000 Americans reported past-month heroin use on the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), and nearly 5.1 million people used heroin in 2015. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) indicates that close to 3 million people battled opioid addiction (to either heroin or prescription painkillers) in 2015. 

Physical dependence. One of the most obvious reasons addicts continue to use is the physical dependency that goes along with drug addiction. As the person uses the drug time after time, the mind and body become dependent on it, requiring a larger amount to feel the same effects. The body will adjust to this level of functioning quickly, and the result is a physical dependence. If a heroin addict would stop using suddenly, their body would go through a series of withdrawal symptoms, including flu-like aches and pains, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. These effects of trying to quit heroin are enough to drive the person right back to using.

Being high feels better than being sober. Heroin works on the reward center of the brain, causing a feeling of euphoria while on the drug and a let down afterward. This high feels much better to the user than being sober, especially after being on the drug for any length of time. The heroin addict begins to fear to be sober because they know they will think and function differently and they won’t have that feeling of euphoria they have come to rely on.

Consequences are not great enough. Families struggle with the fact that their loved one continues to use and abuse drugs, especially after loved ones have expressed their concern and tried to get them to quit.  They wonder why the person doesn’t want more for their lives and why they can’t see the problem with their lifestyle. Sometimes the person has not experienced consequences great enough to make them want to quit, and sometimes it is actually the family that enables the person to live with their addiction. Well, meaning loved ones often take away the natural consequences of addiction by providing money, a place to live, excuses that protect the person, or ongoing support to the addict. In essence, this lets them continue to use because they have money to purchase the drugs, they face no rejection from loved ones, and they have been able to avoid legal trouble or problems at work.

Fear of facing reality. It is amazing how quickly a habit can become an addiction, and how easily reality can become distorted. For the heroin addict, life quickly centers around the drug, how to get it, how to use it, how to avoid consequences of using, and how to get the drug again. Regular responsibilities of life, including family, work, entertainment, and other commitments take a back seat to drug use. For many, the thought of going back to real life and resuming normal responsibilities and relationships again is too much to think about. It becomes overwhelming for the heroin addict, so they find ways to remain in their addiction.

Failure, guilt, and the addicted brain. Deep down, though, the heroin addict does feel guilt and fear of failure and this also keeps them from getting the help they need. They don’t want to disappoint loved ones or tarnish their reputation. They don’t want to admit they need help, and they are afraid they will fail at trying to quit. In the addicted brain, these concerns are valid enough to keep the person in the addiction.

How Can I Get My Loved One to Stop Using?

The question all family members want to know the answer to is how to get their addicted loved one to stop. While it is difficult to reason with the addict, especially while they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it is possible to approach the individual in a way that will help them see their need for treatment.

Convince using consequences. An active drug addict will have difficulty recognizing the consequences of their drug abuse. Love ones can help by having an honest conversation with the person about the effects of their addiction. This can include things like the damage the addiction is doing to the person’s relationships with their spouse, friends, loved ones, and especially children if they have them. Other problems include dangers related to a drug overdose, physical effects of drug abuse, and accidents and injury due to impairment. Legal trouble, financial issues, and loss of one’s job are all risks loved ones should confront the addict with in order to help them see that their addiction is hurting many others, not just themselves.

Intervention. At times, families will do all they can to try to convince their loved one to get help for addiction and will fail at the attempt. Other times, loved ones are not confident in their ability to approach the person, and are afraid to even try. In these cases, intervention services are available to help families talk to their loved one in a non-confrontational manner, with expertise from a trained professional that will help the person see their need for treatment and accept help.

Tough love and allowing consequences to occur. It is difficult, but families often need to step back and show the addict tough love. Allowing the consequences of their addiction to occur helps the addict realize the severity of their problem, and makes it much more difficult to continue using at the level they have been. For example, a family that no longer makes excuses for the addict who misses work frequently might feel bad that the person will lose their job, but losing a job, getting kicked out of their living situation, or not having money are all consequences that ideally will steer the addict away from their addiction and toward treatment.

They must be willing to go to treatment. Even when families do all the right things and follow the suggestions given by professionals, some addicts just won’t accept help. The person must ultimately be willing to go to treatment and be receptive to the rehab program in order for it to be successful. In cases where the addict refuses to get help, families need to keep displaying tough love, working with interventionists, and communicating their concern for the addict’s wellbeing in the hopes that they will eventually accept help.

How Does Addiction Affect The Family?

Addiction is indeed a family problem. It often stems from family issues, it is made worse by family codependency, and it leads to dysfunction and long-term relationship struggles. The family is also vital to the rehab process and loved ones can play a supporting role in the addict’s recovery.

Family issues.  Family dynamics and healthy relationships are important to a person’s wellbeing. Family issues can also be major contributors to substance abuse and addiction. Sometimes an individual can point to certain experiences in their past such as abuse, neglect, or trauma that led directly to their substance use. Other times it is the modeling of negative and addictive behaviors from parents or other influential family members that contributed to the person’s addiction. Most often, it is a combination of family issues and other factors that cause a person to begin using substances in the first place.

Codependency. Mental Health America describes codependency as being an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. Also called “relationship addiction,” it is the disorder that occurs when a family member or loved one excessively relies on the dysfunctional relationship with the addict. Codependency is unhealthy for both the addict and their loved one, as it causes the loved one to crave the drama and disorder of the relationship and allows the addict to continue with their lifestyle.

Al-Anon.  There is help available for families and loved ones of addicts. Support groups like Al-Anon or Alateen provide education, encouragement, and emotional and spiritual support to loved ones. Even if the addicted loved one will not accept help, families can still benefit greatly from participating in a support group designed for the challenges loved ones deal with on a daily basis.

The Ridge family program. The Ridge understands the important role families can play in their loved one’s recovery, and we are here to help parents, siblings, children, and other loved ones through the uncertainties and challenges they face. Our Family Therapy program allows loved ones to take part in constructive therapy along with the recovering addict, and we also provide ongoing support to those who need it. The Ridge is a comprehensive treatment program, meaning we help clients and families understand the disease of addiction and all the factors contributing to it, and we provide therapy and support to help them address those factors. Please visit our website to learn more about the role of the family in heroin recovery.

Will it Ever Change? 

Addiction is a dark time in a person’s life. Family and loved ones often feel the weight of it too and need guidance while they are dealing with it. There is good news, however: there is light at the end of the tunnel. With the right kind of help, those addicted to heroin, prescription painkillers, alcohol, and any other substance can turn their lives around and achieve sustained recovery. Sobriety does not just occur suddenly, however, and there are several steps that must be completed along the way. 

The first step is detox when the person cleanses their body from the toxins and influence of drugs and alcohol. Heroin detox feels like a bad case of the flu, and while it is not usually physically dangerous, there can be complications and it is exhausting, so detox at a treatment facility is recommended.

After detox, it is vital that the individual go through professional treatment for heroin addiction. An effective treatment program will incorporate clinically proven therapy models, individual and group sessions, and relapse prevention planning in order to help the person deal with cravings and triggers to use and help them get back on their feet again.

Even though heroin addiction is so controlling and powerful, people are able to quit, and quit for good. The key is for the person to want to quit and to have a positive support system behind them to provide encouragement and guidance. An individual who is willing to actively participate in their rehab program and takes to heart what they learn in treatment will find that they are up to the challenge of recovery and renewal.

About Heroin 

How are Heroin and Prescription Opiates Similar?

Heroin and prescription opiates are from the same family of drugs. They all are derived from the sap of the seed pods of the poppy plant, which starts out as the compound morphine and is processed to make other similar substances. Being from the same family of substances, the effects of heroin and prescription painkillers are similar.

Effects. When opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers enter the brain, they bind to opioid receptors, which are part of the reward center of the brain. This causes the brain to stop feeling pain so sharply and can cause a feeling of euphoria. When large amounts of these substances are used suddenly, the brain becomes overwhelmed, and the effects are amplified. A warm, flush feeling of the skin can occur, as well as dry mouth and heaviness of the person’s limbs. Nausea, vomiting, and itching can also be caused by opioids. After the initial reaction to the substance, the individual will usually feel extreme drowsiness for several hours, during which time the heart slows, respiration decreases, and the mind becomes clouded.

Potency. Heroin is one of the most potent drugs in the opiate family. It is, in general, more addicting and more potent than prescription painkillers, which is why it is so dangerous and hard to stop using. Prescription painkillers are certainly addicting as well, however, and carry with them certain risks. Many people fail to see the danger of overusing or abusing prescription painkillers because they are legal and prescribed by a doctor. When abused, however, they can cause life-altering addiction just like heroin. Certain prescription opioids carry an even larger threat than heroin, such as fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Today’s Heroin User

 Because of the prescription painkiller epidemic, and because heroin has become a replacement drug for those addicted to legal opiates, the heroin user of today is different from several decades ago. Heroin abuse has been around since the mid-1900s, and it experienced a rise in the 70s when heroin addicts were typically found in large cities, strung out on the streets or under bridges where they could be alone with their drug.

Today, things look much different. Heroin addicts come from middle-class families, often live in the suburbs or even rural areas, are educated, and don’t typically fit the mold our society has created for “addict.” But because so many are getting hooked on prescription painkillers they legally took for a legitimate injury, and more painkillers are in circulation for additional people to abuse, there are more who are becoming addicted and looking to try something like heroin. Today it is common to see teens or young adults from solid, middle-class families becoming addicted to heroin, or stay at home moms, doctors, or other professionals.

Why are People Switching to Heroin?

Heroin is cheaper and more powerful than most prescription painkillers. This makes it desirable to those looking for a more convenient high or a better high. It is an easy transition from prescription painkillers to heroin because it means there is no withdrawal when the prescription drugs are stopped, and the person can instead get high on heroin. Heroin is also more deadly than other prescription painkillers, because of its potency and because it is unregulated and can contain various contaminants that are dangerous.

Heroin Detox Methods

Heroin detox is an uncomfortable and at times painful experience. It causes body aches and pains, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, shakes, and headache. This is enough to scare many away from even attempting heroin withdrawal, but there are methods that reduce the severity and duration of detox symptoms.

Non-medical detox. Supervised non-medical detox allows the person to withdraw from heroin without the assistance of medications. While they will feel the physical effects, these only last a few days and the person will be supervised by professionals who will offer supportive care and, more importantly, emotional support and encouragement to continue.

Rapid detox. Rapid detox is the process of sedating the person with general anesthesia and allowing their body to rapidly detox in a matter of hours. This can only be done in a hospital setting and carries risks associated with anesthesia and sudden changes in the body and mind chemistry.

Suboxone assisted detox. Medication-assisted detox enlists the help of pharmaceuticals to help reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms while the individual detoxes. Suboxone is one of the most effective medications used in this type of detox. Suboxone is comprised of the drugs buprenorphine, which replaces the heroin in the brain’s receptors and prevents withdrawal symptoms, and naloxone, which causes rapid detox if taken in large amounts and helps prevent suboxone abuse by the user. With medication-assisted detox, the person in recovery can focus on healing instead of worrying about withdrawal side effects. Over time, the person will gradually wean off of these replacement drugs as they go through therapy so that they can achieve the sobriety they have hoped for.

Residential Heroin Treatment 

An important step after heroin detox is rehab and treatment. Residential treatment for heroin recovery helps the individual understand their addiction and what has caused it and allowed it to continue, and prepares the person for a life of sobriety. Without rehab, an individual who detoxes from heroin will likely go right back to their substance because the cravings to use are still present and they have no foundation for sobriety.

Residential treatment offers the best chance of success to the recovering addict. Caring and compassionate therapists and treatment staff help the person develop strategies for sobriety, help the person learn how to deal with the stress and pressures of life without turning back to heroin, and learn how to incorporate healthy choices in their lifestyle in order to avoid relapse.

There is hope for those struggling with heroin addiction. The Ridge is a residential treatment facility that offers suboxone assisted heroin detox, as well as intensive therapy and counseling and long-term care for relapse prevention. All of these levels of care work together to help individuals and families achieve the sobriety they are searching for. Contact us today to learn more.

Dangers of Untreated Heroin Misuse 

Physical Effects of Heroin Misuse

There are a number of physical side effects of using heroin, both short and long term. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, short-term effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy feeling in the limbs
  • Inability to focus
  • Lapsing in and out of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Heart arrhythmia and palpitations
  • Decreased respiration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Anxiety and depression

The longer heroin is used, the more dangerous and severe the effects may become. Long-term risks of heroin abuse include:

  • Heart disease
  • Circulatory system problems from injecting the drug
  • Lung problems, including increased risk of developing pneumonia
  • Cognitive damage
  • Memory loss
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Liver or kidney disease due to drug toxicity
  • sexual dysfunction for men
  • irregular menstrual cycles for women

Overdose is another risk associated with heroin abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, deaths due to heroin overdose increased more than sixfold between 2002 and 2015. More than 60 percent of the record-high overdose deaths in 2015 involved an opioid drug, and 91 people in the US die from an opioid overdose daily, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

Psychological Effects of Addiction

Not only does addiction physically affect the body, but it can affect the mind as well. Some of the psychological risks of addiction include:

  • Severe depression
  • Severe depression
  • Feeling of hopelessness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Intense craving for more of the substance
  • Loss of sense of responsibility
  • Restlessness
  • Change in priorities

Behavioral Problems Caused by Addiction

Addiction is both a psychological and behavioral problem. Those who struggle with addiction show signs such as:

  • Pushing loved ones away
  • Shame or embarrassment
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Becoming argumentative with family and friends
  • Hostile behavior
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed

Relationship Problems 

Drug addiction destroys relationships. Because the drug user focuses more on getting their drug than the needs of loved

ones, they often push those who care about them away. The drug addict is often caught lying, stealing, or trying to manipulate loved ones. They may become argumentative and struggle with anger, aggression, and violence, causing further barriers to arise between them and those they love.


Legal Problems

Because addiction controls a person’s mind and causes a lapse in judgment, the addict can quickly find themselves facing legal trouble. Citations and fines associated with drug possession, operating a vehicle while under the influence, theft, domestic violence, and disorderly conduct can cause months and years of legal trouble for the addict.


Financial Burdens Caused By Addiction

Financial problems are common among those who abuse drugs and alcohol. Substances can become very costly, and individuals often have to resort to stealing or pleading for help from loved ones to support their habit. In addition, drug addiction often leads to loss of productivity and job loss, which contributes to financial issues. Health care costs, legal costs, and other financial burdens build up over time for the addict until they feel completely helpless to ever get out of the situation.

Spiritual Damage

Finally, spiritual damage is a side effect of drug addiction. As the individual pulls away from family and loved ones, they also pull away from God. They feel ashamed of their lifestyle and embarrassed at their actions, and do not feel worthy to be loved by God or anyone else. This spiritual conflict causes even more anxiety and stress in a person’s life and can lead to increased depression and other mental health issues.

Because of the widespread effects associated with drug addiction, it is important that individuals struggling with addiction get the help that will address their physical, emotional, and spiritual health and wellbeing.

Healing and Recovery


Following Your Recovery Plan

When a recovering addict is admitted into a rehab program, they should go through a full assessment that will evaluate their needs and requirements, as well as establish the best plan for their recovery. As the individual participates in rehab, they should follow their rehab plan as closely as possible, or until it is changed by their treatment team. Most of the time, the person will find that their recovery plan is comprehensive and will effectively help them overcome their addiction. At times, this plan might need to be modified as the individual progresses at a faster or slower rate than was expected, or treatment staff finds out certain therapies are more effective for the person than was initially thought. With an individualized treatment program, those in recovery and their families can be sure the person is getting the treatment that is right for them.


Physical Healing

As the individual goes through detox and rehab, they will experience physical healing right away. Removing the toxins and replacing them with healthy foods, exercise, and healthy behaviors are the best ways to get a person to feel better and more prepared for sobriety. Physical wellbeing carries over to every other part of the individual’s life, and can greatly improve their mental state, spiritual health, and emotional stability. That’s why a nutritious diet of a variety of healthy foods is important during recovery, as well as moderate exercise and recreational activities.


Ongoing Support

Once rehab is over, the person’s recovery is not necessarily complete. In order to prevent relapse and stay on the right path to sustained recovery, individuals who have completed a rehab program need ongoing support. This is often through regular meetings with counselors or therapists, involvement with caring family members, and participation in support group meetings. Support groups are one of the best ways to help a person maintain their sobriety because they provide a means for encouragement, support, and accountability.

To find a support group near you, talk to your treatment team or visit SAMHSA or AA for a listing of support groups in your area.

Detox, Fear, and Misinformation


Fear is one of the most common limiting factors when it comes to getting someone to accept the help they need for a drug or alcohol addiction. While detox can be uncomfortable, it is often not nearly as bad as the stories people tell. Myths about unbearable pain, blackouts, or intense cravings would scare anyone facing this step of recovery. Then there are myths that detoxing at home is the best option, or that if someone goes to detox everyone will know about it, or that detox is all about willpower. Rather than believe the stories circulating around, it is best to consult a professional to learn more about the details of detox and what kind of detox is right for you or your loved one.


Detox Does Not Have to Induce Fear – It can be a start to Hope

Detox is difficult, but it is not impossible. With advances in medicine and different perspectives on the treatment of drug addiction, treatment providers are finding it much more effective to help manage detox symptoms with medication. Suboxone assisted detox is one of the most effective ways to help individuals through heroin detox because it eliminates pain and detox symptoms, which calms anxiety and allows the person to focus on their sobriety.

A good detox program will offer different methods to detox in order to meet the needs of its clients. Medication and supportive care help make the process smoother for the client, and staff members that are present to supervise will ensure safety. Detox should only be conducted at a trusted facility under the care of licensed and experienced staff.

Who Needs Detox and What Comes Next? 

Anyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol needs a detox. Detox is the process of cleansing the body of the substances the user has been taking, and it is the necessary first step in recovery. Detox is only the beginning for the person in recovery, however. It must be followed up with treatment and therapy in order to help the person become established in sober living so they can avoid relapse. Therapy and counseling are important for the management of stress, triggers, and cravings to use, and they help individuals and families rebuild relationships and lay the foundation for a healthier, more stable life.

Heroin addiction is a serious disease and it is one that will continue to progress if left untreated. Families who are concerned about the welfare of their loved one should speak up now and find help. There is hope, and treatment is available that will help the person learn how to live a happy and healthy life again without this substance. The Ridge can help. Contact us today to learn more about our heroin detox and residential treatment program.

Do you still have questions about how to help your addicted loved one?

See our comprehensive family guide: Helping a Loved One or Family Member with Addiction

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