A large proportion of the clients who come to us at Hope Rehab are seeking treatment for heroin addiction. If you, or somebody you care about, is suffering because of this type of substance abuse, we can help. We use an evidence-based approach to promote recovery from opiate abuse. We don’t claim to have any miracle cures, but the transformation many of our clients’ experience could easily be described as miraculous.
What is Heroin?
Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is refined Opium or the latex sap that is collected from the poppy seed pod. First, it is broken down into basic morphine and then further concentrated into, what was branded Heroin one hundred years ago by a German pharmaceutical company. It is a white or brown powder depending on where it is sourced. There are believed to be around 9.5 million heroin users globally.
Neuroscience of Heroin Addiction
Heroin or Morphine works by binding to the brain’s receptors for endorphin, a natural pain response in the brain similar to opiates themselves. They are natural feel-good chemicals when the body is under pain or stress. However, the drug is far more powerful than our natural supply. Endorphin has another quality and in certain doses can excite and produce feelings of euphoria and a high, this is usually lost after long-term use.
Prolonged opiate use may cause the brain to change
In other words: Opioid drugs like heroin trigger a class of neurotransmitters, the brain’s natural opioid-like neurotransmitters, endorphin and encephalin, leading to euphoria and a desire to repeat the experience.
This increases analgesia and decreased alertness, slowing respiration. Prolonged opiate use may cause the brain to change and come to depend on the presence of the drug just to function. Then the opposite of pleasure – anxiety, irritability, and low mood happen in the absence. Immediate negative symptoms start, which are called withdrawal (see futher below).
The Hijacked Brain Theory
Hijacked Brain: the human reward system is designed for survival, but hijacked by the chemical payoffs provided by heroin. The reward circuitry normally bookmarks important things: food, nurturing children, education, work and friendships. However, now it has been corrupted by heroin.
People with addictions are low on dopamine, causing addiction, depression, loss of satisfaction, poor focus and other symptoms. Low dopamine levels cause us to consciously and unconsciously seek out dopamine raising substances or behaviours. All substances stimulate dopamine release or increase its activity and produce the hedonic response “I like that.”
Impulse Control: STOP-GO Systems in the Brain
The dopamine pleasure pathway is the Go system, and the prefrontal cortex is the Stop system. When we anticipate and experience something good like food or sex, alcohol or drugs, our brain experiences a surge in the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
The Effects of Heroin Use
Heroin is either smoked (“chasing the dragon”) or can be sniffed, and many users progress on to injecting. The effects range from relaxing to numbing and euphoric, an escape from reality, an emotional detachment or a safe, warm bubble to hide in. In addition to these rather pleasurable sensations following effects can be experienced: A rush to the brain, drowsiness, pain suppression, slow breathing, nausea and vomiting, skin itchiness, vein collapse, blood born diseases, constricted or pinned pupils, loss of appetite.
Why heroin is highly addictive – physically & psychologically
The drug produces a profound sense of satisfaction for most users and is highly physically and psychologically addictive. This is because Heroin changes the brain circuitry when it is consistently used over time. However when use is stopped suddenly neural transmitters that have been suppressed start pumping brain chemistry again, and this is very uncomfortable for the addict.
Why stopping heroin use is the addict’s worst fear
Stopping is often an addict’s worst fear, this is because every addict has experienced the time when they could not get their dose and suffered forced withdrawals (cold turkey) a sense of torture and panic sets in, maybe this can explain why Heroin addicts will do almost anything for the drug.
The Risks of Heroin Use
Death is usually caused by an overdose. The reason: Too much heroin slows down the respiratory system (breathing) so much that it stops with fatal consequences unless an antidote is administered quickly. Blood Bourne Virus is also a risk factor as well as Hep C which is very common amongst injectors with HIV in second place.
Symptoms to look out for
Extreme behaviour change is noticeable by loved ones and family, such as lying and cheating, stealing to buy the drug, changing and losing friends, loss of interest in healthy activities, illegal activities and self-neglect.
Heroin is known by many different street names, such as:
Common Misunderstandings Around to How People End Up as Heroin Addicts
The way heroin is demonised in the media can lead to misunderstandings as to how people end up developing a habit. It isn’t that this drug causes people to become addicted right away that makes it so dangerous – it is the fact that it usually doesn’t. Most first-time users enjoy the pleasurable effects without developing a compulsion to use again, and this gives them the confidence to dabble in the drug as an ‘occasional user’. It is only when they wake up one morning ‘junk sick’ that they realise they have become hooked.
The people who are at the highest risk of becoming addicted to heroin are those who have a need to escape some type of pain in their life. This discomfort may be due to emotional trauma, or it could be due to uncontrolled anxiety or the feeling of having ‘a hole in the soul’. Heroin can feel like the perfect medicine for this pain initially, and it can take a long time before the unacceptably high cost of this relief becomes obvious.
Heroin addiction can be hard to escape, as quitting involves physical and psychological discomfort. Substance abuse also damages your self-esteem, and it can mean you feel powerless to change your life.
In some ways, giving up heroin is the easy bit – it is staying free of this drug that is hard. This is why it is so important that you have the right tools that will allow you to build a good life away from addiction. Therefore, the goal of the program at Hope Rehab is not just to get you to stop using heroin because this only gets you back to square one. There has been a reason for why you desired the pain-relief properties of opiates, and this reason is still likely to be there when you stop. Even if you do manage to stay clean, your mental discomfort could push you towards new maladaptive behaviours such as alcoholism.
The Hope program is designed to get to the root or your addiction problem
Our treatment program is designed to get to the root or your addiction problem. During therapy, you can begin to gain insights into the distorted thought patterns that have been holding you back in life. You can then use tools from CBT to help you regain control over your thinking. Our mindfulness program provides a path towards the mental serenity you were yearning for when you began abusing heroin. You will also learn how to use the 12 steps to build a better life free from addiction.