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The National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that in 2010, over 140,000 people in this country used heroin for the first time. Heroin is an incredibly addictive drug, which is why intensive programs have been developed for people afflicted by addiction to this substance. Fortunately, if you have concerns about a loved one, or about yourself, help is out there for you.

How Do You Speak to Someone About a Heroin Addiction?

It is quite common to feel anxious about approaching someone with concerns about a heroin addiction. It is likely, however, that the person using heroin wants to stop, but doesn’t know how to. Many also continue to use because they can’t cope with the withdrawal symptoms. In order to achieve sobriety, patients with heroin addiction need support. They need to know that they are loved and that people have their back throughout their journey, even if they were to relapse. Hence, when you raise the issue, you must be supportive, compassionate, and emphatic and avoid accusing or judging them. Those who are addicted to any substance are likely to already feel isolated and bad about themselves, and the last thing they need is someone to further accuse them of the things they already know.

It can be beneficial to ask for professional help. Most rehab facilities have interventionists who can help you, or you could decide to take part in CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) first, which teaches you how to approach the subject and support both yourself and your loved one with an addiction. In a study by Meyers, Smith, & Lash in 2005, 70% of those who had an intervention following CRAFT did go to rehab.

You must also come to terms that by supporting these individuals, you do not enable their drug use. You must set certain boundaries yourself as well. The goal is to support them through treatment, which means that you demonstrate that you trust them to make the best choices for themselves.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Every year, more than 100,000 people seek treatment to fight addiction to heroin. While it is hard, recovery is possible. How this addiction is treated depends on the individual, but methadone has been proven to be particularly successful. Patients seeking this treatment must first be tested for HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and for cardiovascular health. After that, they will enter a period of detox. While methadone is often used for this, helping to reduce withdrawal symptoms, buprenorphine is also very popular. Both these drugs can be addictive as well, which is why they must only be provided in a supportive, medically monitored environment.

After detox, and sometimes during detox, patients will also receive behavioral therapy. Different styles exist, again depending on the individual patient. Treatment options include:

  1. CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), whereby thought patterns are addressed and challenged, and skills to deal with triggers are taught.
  2. Contingency management therapy, whereby incentives and rewards are provided when the recovering addict remains free from drugs.

Therapy is usually provided on an individual, group, and family basis.

Many people with a heroin addiction will also be referred to Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Like Alcoholics Anonymous, this is a nonprofit organization designed to provide guidance and support to patients, often supported by a buddy or sponsor.

Treatment is offered across a range of settings, including:

  • Inpatient or residential treatment, where the recovering patients stay at a facility for a set period of time, immersing themselves in treatment.
  • Outpatient treatment, where the recovering patients return home after their counseling sessions.

Heroin affects the brain in a unique way. This is also what makes it so addictive. Research has shown that, in 2013, at least 5 million people in this country admitted to having tried it once. The substance rapidly enters the blood stream and gets to the brain. This leads to both short and long term effects. Almost immediately after using, people feel an intense euphoria. However, they also:

  • Feel flushed
  • Get a dry mouth
  • Feel nauseous
  • Feel itchy
  • Feel drowsy

In the long term, the body starts to build up a tolerance for the drug and becomes physically dependent. Most people at this point no longer experience any euphoria, simply using the substance to avoid the withdrawal symptoms. Negative side effects at this point include arthritis, bacterial infections, and collapsed veins. Unfortunately, heroin has the potential to be dangerous, with some 3,600 deaths being reported as a result of heroin in 2012 alone. This demonstrates just how important it is for people to seek help.

Recovery Is Possible

Heroin recovery is difficult and knowledge about this hardship that has to be surmounted is a significant barrier to people seeking treatment. Those who have successfully recovered often live the rest of their life in fear of relapsing. At the same time, they see their recovery as a miracle, because it means beating not just the physical cravings, but the mental cravings as well. With the right support, however, it is possible for people to make a recovery from a heroin addiction and live a normal, productive life.

The Signs of Heroin Addiction

Someone who is addicted to heroin will required increasingly frequent or larger doses in order to notice its effects. There are also a number of physical signs to be aware of, including:

  • Having tiny pupils
  • Slowing down of reflexes
  • Speech being slurred
  • Drowsiness
  • Sweating
  • Needle marks and lines in any part of the body
  • Diarrhea

Additionally, those who are addicted to heroin often show mood swings, neglect their appearance and personal hygiene, engage in risky behavior in order to obtain more heroin, and spend money that they don’t have. The biggest sign of having a heroin addiction, however, is experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using. These symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless
  • Being unable to sleep
  • Involuntary leg movements
  • Cold flashes
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle pain
  • Diarrhea

The symptoms are intense, but they are manageable. As such, they should not prevent someone from going into detox and getting the help that is needed. Life after heroin addiction is possible, with the right support.