People who have become dependent on opioids for pain relief often become dependent and develop an addiction. When they can no longer afford or gain access to their prescription drugs, they often turn to heroin. Recovering from heroin addiction can be a long and dangerous road, which is why you should consider joining a partial hospitalization program.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at one of the most common questions we hear from the community – what are the symptoms of heroin withdrawal?
What Are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?
Heroin is a powerful derivative of the poppy plant, the source of opium. As an opiate, heroin binds to the brain’s dopamine receptors and induces extremely powerful feelings of euphoria and numbness, and is about three times as powerful as morphine, another opiate with infamous misuse.
In the world of medicine, opiates play an extremely significant role as analgesic and anesthetic tools. These drugs kill pain, making surgery, and other treatments more possible than before the invention of painkillers. However, opiates are almost exclusively useful against acute pain. Their greatest danger lies in chronic use.
So, what are the symptoms of heroin withdrawal?
How Heroin Changes the Brain
Because of the potency for opiates to flood the brain with positive signals, they carry an extreme risk of addiction. Consistent use of heroin or other powerful opiates leads to a desensitization to the overpowering effects that opiates have on dopamine receptors. This creates two major problems: the first is that users are now compelled to ingest or inject more drugs into their system to get the same high. The second is that other, natural forms of producing dopamine (sex, exercise, even creativity) are suppressed, their effects neutered.
Long-term usage of heroin can transform the way the brain works, altering your state of mind drastically, and introducing long-term changes in both brain tissue and basic cognitive function. These changes can be reversed to a degree, although the reversal depends on time, the quality of your recovery, and genetics.
Here are some of the effects that heroin has on the brain and body:
- Poor decision-making
- Inability to effectively regulate behavior
- Poor stress-management
- High chance of bacterial infection
- Reduced immune system
- High chance of hepatitis/HIV through needle-sharing
Drugs injected or ingested enter the bloodstream, make their way through the blood-brain barrier, and seek out different neurotransmitter receptors to hijack to induce a certain experience. This is how most drugs work, with certain unique characteristics between different substances – but heroin is among the most powerful and potent when it comes to addictiveness, alongside other opiates such as:
It is important to understand that the potential for opiates to cut down on acute pain is undoubted. However, the danger lies in using opiates recreationally or to combat chronic pain. Due to the body’s natural inclination to develop rapid tolerance to opiates, their effectiveness as painkillers in the long-term is questionable at best, and negligible/non-existent at worst, especially in the face of various alternatives.
What makes heroin use even harder to quit than the cravings for the drug itself, are the symptoms that hit you when you stop using it. imply cutting opiates out of your system after your brain and body have adjusted to them creates a violent set of symptoms known as a withdrawal, wherein the body must slowly readjust to performing basic physical functions without a constant influx of opiates.
The Effects and Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal is not pleasant, to say the least. A common way to describe it is as a form of “super flu” – an extreme set of flu-like symptoms including cold-flashes, diarrhea, insomnia, fever, nausea, massive headaches, and extreme cravings. These cravings are on the level of severe thirst or hunger and are very difficult to resist. They are also the primary cause of relapses in withdrawal.
Relapsing into heroin use induces further feelings of guilt and self-loathing, pushing one deeper down the addiction rabbit hole. Often, people struggling with heroin will experience a “rock bottom”, where the constant cycle of withdrawal and relapse leads them to consider suicide, and finally, find the opportunity for a long-term reprieve from the drug.
Others don’t get that chance and eventually overdose. A heroin overdose typically ends in death through choking or through a heart attack, caused by a relaxation of respiratory and cardiac tissues from a poisonous quantity of opiates in the bloodstream.
Heroin withdrawal lasts anywhere from a week to ten days, depending on the severity of the addiction, the amount of heroin typically consumed, and the age and constitution of the person going through the withdrawal. If the severity of the addiction is extreme enough, then medicated withdrawal may be necessary.
While withdrawal and detoxification should always be done in the presence of medical professionals if possible, some residential treatment facilities and partial hospitalization programs will see to it that the patient gets proper medical treatment to reduce the chances of relapse and/or death through withdrawal. Heavy heroin users are typically given buprenorphine or methadone to simulate the effects of heroin without explicitly increasing the cravings and addictiveness of the drug. The danger in using such medicines to ensure survival is the possibility of developing a new psychological attachment. To properly recover off heroin using medication, medical professionals must standby always to administer the correct dosage.
Is Heroin Recovery Possible?
Heroin recovery is a life-long process, but it is possible to get clean and stay clean, even for decades. However, that does not mean it ever becomes easy to stay away from heroin. To some people, the urge to use remains as strong as ever.
There are many ways to fight back against heroin, and achieve lasting, long-term sobriety. But the key is finding a way that works for you, and your purposes and circumstances. Some people choose to follow the 12 steps, even going so far as to say that nothing else would do the trick for them.
Others swear on individual therapy, and methods such as CBT and DBT to introduce positive thinking into your mind and take better charge of both feelings and behavior. Others yet got off heroin by competing in a difficult athletic discipline, or by pouring their heart into a creative endeavor; publishing a book or releasing a throng of artworks.
Yes, heroin is one of the most dangerous substances to get hooked on, and getting off for a year doesn’t guarantee life-long sobriety. However, even in the face of a relapse, the chance and opportunity to get clean and stay clean never goes away. It’s always right there, and all you have to do is ask for help to go and reach out for it.