Heroin Addiction Signs, Intervention and Treatment
The signs of heroin addiction are not always recognizable at first glance. Often family members write off the strange behaviors of their loved ones as a result of stress, fatigue or perhaps a couple of drinks rather than a possible addiction to heroin.
In some cases – even when confronted – your loved one may simply not want to admit there may be a substance abuse problem.
Heroin addiction is among the most common and dangerous adult addictions in the United States. In 2013, there were 8,257 heroin overdose deaths in the U.S.1 Being able to spot a heroin dependency in your loved one may be the very thing that saves his or her life.
Signs of Heroin Dependency
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Perhaps you have noticed rapid mood changes in your loved one. Perhaps you have noticed your loved one becoming very secretive, and then getting angry or agitated when questioned.
You may have noticed that he or she has been socializing with a new crowd or group of friends, or has perhaps begun to isolate from everyone around them.
Personal and legal troubles may be becoming more frequent, as the pull of heroin addiction also drives people to say and do things they might not otherwise.
If your loved one struggles with addiction to heroin, you may notice some of the following signs and symptoms2:
- Mumbled speech.
- Itchy skin; scratching.
- Worsened memory or attention.
- Sexual dysfunctions.
- Mood swings – from joy and elation to apathy to depression.
- Constricted pupils.
- Negligence of responsibilities at school, work or home.
- Accidents or injuries from heroin-associated violence.
- Decreased participation in once-enjoyed recreational or social activities.
The more of these signs you notice, the more it may be possible that your loved one is struggling with an addiction to heroin. Some of the physical signs that may suggest problematic heroin use include:
- Injection marks from shooting heroin.
- An increase in nosebleeds from snorting heroin.
- Frequent respiratory problems from smoking heroin.
One of the best indicators of a heroin addiction are the telltale symptoms of acute heroin withdrawal. When individuals experience withdrawal, it means they’ve used heroin enough times for their body to develop a physical opioid dependence.
Suddenly, when they no longer have access to the drug, they may grow anxious and even sick – at which point there will be relatively few options, short of using more heroin, for you to help alleviate their symptoms.
Withdrawal can be experienced within hours or sometimes days of being without heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, painful and sometimes even dangerous.
Mental withdrawal symptoms may not always be considered when commenting on heroin addiction, but they can be just as difficult to overcome as physical issues.
Emotional withdrawal is typically considered to include cravings you’ll feel for the drug. But it can also manifest itself as:
When you experience depression or anxiety brought on by withdrawal, it can be difficult to avoid the desire to take heroin just to have those feelings go away. When this happens, you put yourself at a high risk for overdose – just as you do when you try to avoid physical withdrawal symptoms.
When you withdraw from heroin, it doesn’t just take a mental toll on you – it also takes a physical toll as well. Physical withdrawal is perhaps what people think of most often when the idea of withdrawal is considered. Physical withdrawal symptoms include3:
- Muscle spasms and joint pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Sweating, runny nose.
- Stomach cramps.
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure.
If you’ve ever attempted to detox from heroin, you’ve undoubtedly experienced some degree of these physical withdrawal symptoms. Many self-detox attempts fail the first time, as some individuals are unable to overcome the discomfort and pain – and instead turn back to heroin. If you’re determined to quit, and are ready for detox, consider doing so in a supervised program.
Safer Withdrawal at Detox Programs
There are a number of addiction treatment options that can help you detox in a safe, regulated way. Detox and rehab programs can also make the withdrawal process much more comfortable than if you were to attempt it by yourself.
Medication is often used in order to help those struggling with heroin addiction ease off of consuming large amounts of heroin. These medications – including buprenorphine and methadone – are opioid receptor agonists, with similar effects to those of heroin and other opioids. These medications are able to mitigate the onset of many of the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms – but without the pronounced addictive potential and overdose dangers of heroin.
Additionally, if you’re admitted to a drug treatment program, you’ll be allowed to detox from heroin under the watchful eyes of medical staff members. They’re there to help you through the harshest withdrawal symptoms by providing medication as well as moral support and addiction counseling.
For individuals whose heroin dependency is very advanced, this option is one of the safest. Through supervised detox, you can safely navigate the withdrawal period – gaining a head start towards successful addiction recovery.
What to Do When Your Loved One Uses Heroin
One of the most difficult aspects of heroin addiction is talking to the person who’s suffering. Those who struggle with addiction often have a number of responses to having their habits exposed or questioned, including:
- Anger at being accused of taking drugs.
- Denial that there is a problem at all.
- Nonchalant acceptance that they are indeed using heroin.
The last reaction is possibly the most difficult to work with – because for many, it can signify a refusal to change.
It can be difficult to speak with people you love about heroin addiction, but preventative interventions can help you find the strength you need to get your loved one the heroin rehab help he or she needs.
Heroin is a highly addictive substance capable of harming both the body and the mind. Individuals addicted to heroin often lose the ability to maintain relationships, keep their jobs and even function in normal, day-to-day activities.
So when a heroin addiction progresses to this point, the user’s family will often wonder what they can do to get their loved one help.
Often people think this means taking their loved one directly to a treatment facility. However, if patients aren’t willing to accept that there is a problem with their habits, there’s a good chance that treatment will not be a success. In many cases, admission to a treatment facility needs to be 100% voluntary.
Met with this reluctance or refusal to accept the need for treatment, family members often consider staging an intervention instead.
Benefits of Staging an Intervention+
Interventions have a number of benefits – both for the family and friends of heroin users – as well as for the users, themselves.
The purpose of an intervention is to bring up the physical and emotional issues that heroin addiction causes – and to help your loved one understand that his or her addiction habits are destructive to themselves and to you. Interventions are open and honest chances to communicate with someone you may be unable to talk to otherwise.
An intervention also allows you to give loved ones the chance to take responsibility for their actions, both in the past and in the future. You can tell them how you’d like them to proceed from there, and ask them if they can accept help. With the help of a mediator, this process can be completed without judgment – and hopefully without anger as well.
How to Stage One+
The first step in staging a heroin addiction intervention is to get in contact with a professional interventionist or counselor who will act as the mediator for the intervention. This person will provide you with a framework for how the intervention will proceed, and can offer support for you during what’s understandably a difficult time. The intervention counselor will also help you locate a treatment program to refer your loved one to at the end of the process.
When it becomes time to hold the actual intervention, it can be difficult to confront the heroin user in your life.
Since heroin is not only a physical addiction – but a mental one as well – it’s important to remember that your loved one could be angry or feel betrayed by the intervention. He or she may also be scared to seek heroin rehab treatment.
If the intervention is successful, however, it could result in motivating your loved one to get help.
Other Things to Consider+
One of the most important parts of the intervention is telling loved ones how you feel about their habits. It’s important not to alienate them, but to get your point across.
Often, the interventionist will provide you with topics to discuss, but you can also come up with your own discussion points. Possible topics can include3:
Your concerns for your loved one’s health. Continued heroin use can put individuals in danger of:
- Contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis viruses.
- Liver disease.
- Breathing problems.
- Kidney damage.
- Heart Infections.
- Overdose and death.
- How you feel about the financial burdens of heroin addiction.
- How the addiction puts relationships with family and friends in jeopardy.
Ultimately, interventions can be very successful when approached in a calm and respectful manner. Your loved one may eventually thank you for giving him or her another chance.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
What you or your loved one will need from heroin rehab will vary, depending on:
- The average dose of heroin being used prior to starting heroin addiction treatment.
- How long heroin has been actively abused before starting treatment.
A low-dose and short-term addiction may sometimes be addressed effectively by either a cold-turkey approach or by an outpatient detox program, depending on the individual. A high-dose and long-term addiction, however, may be better treated with medication-assisted detox and an inpatient or residential rehab program.
Low-Dose, Short-Term Heroin Addiction
If you have only been abusing heroin for a short time and you know it’s time to get help before things spiral completely out of control, you’re on the right track.
You may have a higher chance of experiencing a relatively rapid recovery and a return to a drug-free life compared to those who have abused heroin more heavily. You may benefit from:
- Formal outpatient addiction treatment. Outpatient addiction treatment is non-residential treatment that lets you return to your home after treatment sessions. When you spend a committed length of time attending a range of psychotherapeutic treatment options this way, you can learn how to live your life without heroin while still benefitting from the support of your counselors and peers in recovery.
- Inpatient, medically supervised detox without the use of long-term medications. Inpatient addiction treatment is residential treatment that provides 24/7 care from staff personnel. This approach can help you become free of drugs even within a matter of weeks, in some cases.
High-Dose, Long-Term Heroin Addiction
The longer you use heroin, the more your body and brain become accustomed to the substance. So the comprehensiveness of treatment will need to address the likely intense withdrawal period your body will go through.
Your best option if you have been using high doses of heroin over a long period of time is really to enroll in a residential detox and rehabilitation program.
Inpatient treatment may occur in either a hospital setting or in a non-hospital setting. In either case, staff personnel are available around-the-clock to care for your detox and recovery needs. Hospitals provide ongoing access to healthcare professionals while non-hospital settings may provide intermittent access to healthcare professionals.
Many inpatient addiction treatment centers usually begin with a structured and supervised detox period – often with the aid of short-term medications – followed by a combination of both group and individual therapy.
What Happens After Inpatient Treatment?
Although your time in inpatient rehabilitation will eventually come to an end, the recovery process is still an ongoing process. Many inpatient treatment programs will continue to provide guidance and help for you as you continue your recovery journey outside of their facility walls:
- Long-term medicated detox. Suboxone (buprenorphine + naloxone) and methadone are a couple of the long-term drugs available that have helped certain individuals avoid the worst of heroin withdrawal symptoms and relapse. These drugs have also helped individuals more quickly commence with psychological and behavioral therapies that will ultimately lay the groundwork for lasting heroin recovery.
- Long-term therapy and support groups. You should always have the option of continuing with individual and/or group therapy for as long as it will be helpful for you. Some may also choose to participate in addiction support groups that help provide the fellowship and accountability they need to continue living a sober life.
- Aftercare services. Sober living homes are another option for helping individuals more gradually transition from a rehabilitation facility back into a world full of temptations. These homes provide supportive group housing that is governed by “rules” of abstinence.
Treatment Facility Types
As you start to further explore your heroin addiction treatment options, you’ll discover a few different facility types you’ll be able to choose from, depending on your individual needs and circumstances:
Luxury rehab facilities offer 24/7 residential addiction treatment care alongside a range of higher-end, resort-like amenities designed to make your recovery period more comfortable.
Executive rehab facilities offer many of the same features as luxury programs – only with an added emphasis on providing busy professionals with the resources and program structure that will allow them to maintain an active involvement in their workplace throughout treatment.
Standard rehab programs are offered in both residential (inpatient) and non-residential (outpatient) addiction treatment settings. While they don’t offer the same high-end, comfort amenities offered by luxury and executive programs, they often come at considerably lower prices for those with more limited budgets.
The Time to Seek Help is Now
Heroin’s addictive powers can indeed be strong. Even a single use of heroin places some individuals at risk of developing an addiction to the drug.
Between the years 2004-2013, heroin use was demonstrated to be increasing across most demographic groups across the U.S. And from 2010 to 2013, the number of overdose deaths related to heroin had more than tripled. 4
Learn More and Find a Treatment Program
Ready to learn more about heroin addiction treatment options for either yourself or for your loved one? If you’d like some help discussing your struggles or sorting through what next steps you can take towards recovery, give us a call at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? at any time. We’re here to provide information and to help place you on the best path of recovery to suit your needs and circumstances.
- Compressed mortality file 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER online database. (2014). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5, 5th ed. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
- What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use? National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Heroin Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.