What Causes Heroin Addiction?
Addiction is a mental illness, and some people are more genetically prone to addiction than others. However, increased opioid use has added another risk factor for developing a heroin addiction.
“Nearly 80% of Americans using heroin (including those in treatment) reported misusing prescription opioids first.”
Heroin Treatment Options
Heroin users have two major treatment options. Sometimes a combination of both can be especially helpful, depending on the person. The first option is behavioral therapy. The heroin user can work with a professional therapist who specializes in drug rehabilitation. They can then come up with a plan that will provide the most help, depending on the patient’s personality and reasons for using heroin.
The second option is using medication that can either block or mimic the effects of heroin. Medication can help with withdrawal symptoms, which is especially important during the first stage of treatment.
What to Expect from Heroin Detox
Former heroin users enter a detox phase after quitting the drug. Though the detox phase is helpful and important, it will be unpleasant. Symptoms of heroin detox include:
- Physical Pain
Unfortunately, one cannot prevent or “skip over” the detox phase of quitting heroin. However, a former heroin user can get relief during the detox stage.
Although former heroin users can’t avoid detox itself, they can lessen the pain and difficulties of detox by working through a gradual, permanent recovery as opposed to taking an all-or-nothing approach. Note that this does not mean delaying the quitting process. Heroin is a dangerous, deadly drug, and the best course of action is to quit immediately. However, a doctor can prescribe certain medications to help. These medications fall into three categories:
- Agonists: These medications activate the opioid receptors in the patient’s brain, thereby effectively “replacing” the heroin and satisfying the brain’s cravings.
- Partial Agonists: These medications work like agonists, but they elicit a weaker response.
- Antagonists: These medications are essentially the opposite of agonists and partial agonists. Instead of activating the brain’s opioid receptors, they block them, which means that the brain cannot respond to heroin in the way that it used to respond.
During treatment, a doctor may prescribe one of these medications and then gradually lower the dose until the patient is off the medicine altogether. The gradual approach means that the process of heroin detox comes with fewer, weaker symptoms. It also means that the patient is less likely to relapse. Because heroin detox is so painful on its own, patients tend to relapse during this stage just to get relief from the symptoms. They may then feel hopeless, believing that there is no way out. Opioid detox medications can provide the bridge to recovery.
“A range of treatments including medicine and behavioral therapies are effective in helping people stop heroin use. It’s important to match the best treatment approach to meet the particular needs of each individual patient.”
National Institute on Drug Abuse
After the detox phase, the patient can continue treatment for his or her addiction. He or she might move forward with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or other types of therapy. The patient should continue to receive support from friends, family, and possibly a therapist to avoid the possibility of relapse.
Once the patient has left the detox phase behind, he or she can begin to see the start of a drug-free life. This person will be far less likely to fall into a life of crime, contract an infectious disease, or die from heroin overdose.