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Accepting heroin addiction and the road to recovery

First and foremost, let’s define heroin as a drug.

Heroin is made from morphine, which is extracted from the opium poppy. When made into heroin to be used as a medicine, the morphine extraction becomes known as diamorphine.

Abusers often use heroin to help achieve a state of extreme relaxation, and often administer the drug by injecting, sniffing, snorting or smoking.

The number of heroin-related deaths recorded in England and Wales more than doubled from 579 in 2012 to 1,209 in 2016, the single highest drug-related death figure – proving exactly how dangerous heroin addiction is.

People can become addicted to heroin extremely quickly, sometimes after the very first dose.

Understanding heroin addiction

It is essential to understand what heroin addicts go through in the early stages. The speed in which heroin enters the brain is what makes it so addictive. So much so, in fact, that users can become hooked after a single dose.

In the short-term, users can experience a feeling of euphoria, reduced anxiety and clouded thinking followed by drowsiness. However, heroin also depresses breathing muscles, which can make overdosing fatal.

So why do people try heroin in the first place? Often times, it begins as a curiosity with those who are looking for a new high. It is unlikely that someone who has never used drugs before will start off with heroin. Drugs like marijuana and cocaine are gateway drugs to heroin use. However, people can turn to heroin as a way of relieving body aches and pains in a matter of seconds. In addition, that very pain is replaced with a feeling of euphoria.

As is the case with most things in life – if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. In a heart-breaking account of a real-life struggle with heroin abuse, read this mother’s account of losing her son to heroin.

Heroin is one of the most difficult addictions to recover from because it is both physically and psychologically addicting, which makes withdrawal particularly intense. But remember, recovery is possible.

Heroin addiction symptoms and side effects

While previous drug abusers may be able to conceal symptoms at first, those closest to them will likely soon spot the below signs associated with drug use:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Constricted pupils
  • Changes in behaviour (mood swings, anger, non-attentive)
  • Dry mouth
  • Disorientation

Regular users can develop a dangerous tolerance to heroin. This in turn leads to an increase in the frequency and quantity of consumption, which can result in the below heroin abuse symptoms becoming more prominent:

  • Needle track marks on arms
  • Cuts, bruises or scabs from skin picking
  • Weight loss
  • Sunken eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Infections or abscesses at injection site

The wide-ranging benefits of drug counselling cannot be understated, given the speed in which people can become addicted to heroin.

If you don’t feel you’re quite ready to speak with one of our trained advisers, you take advantage of Port of Call’s Live Chat facility. It’s free and completely confidential, and we’re on hand 24/7 to talk.

Treatment for heroin addiction

Withdrawal symptoms for heroin can be severe, as your body and mind will intensely crave the drug. So strong, that it may take several attempts to reach detox and recovery, making it all the more important to address the issue immediately.

As is the case with all addictions, the best treatment programme depends on the person in question. We would absolutely recommend inpatient treatment for heroin, since it is believed to be the most addictive drug of all time. The brain is designed to respond to the exact chemicals contained within heroin, hence the highly addictive nature of the drug – more so than most substances.

Given the nature of the relationship between an abuser and heroin, a medically assisted detox programme tends to be the recommended initial route into rehabilitation.

Such rehab plans are designed to safely guide the patient through the initial withdrawal period as the brain and body acclimatise to life without heroin.

The detox incorporates specific drugs designed to copy the effects of heroin, without reaching the associated high. This initial detox period tends to last between five and ten days, with the addict being gradually tapered off the substitute drugs while the body clears itself of all residues of heroin.

In general, it is this initial period that proves to be the hardest part of the recovery process, as the withdrawal symptoms are at their highest.

It is for this very reason that we stress the importance of trying to admit an addict into a treatment centre as soon as possible, whether that be yourself or someone close to you. Take a read of the signs and symptoms of drug abuse to further understand and have a better chance of spotting the early red flags.

Port of Call are advocates of combining support groups and therapy with detoxification, in order to stand the best chance of a complete recovery.

Recovery from heroin addiction

We are keen to reiterate that, even given the dangerously addictive and habit-forming drug that heroin is, recovery IS possible.

Heroin addiction and recovery

Let’s define exactly what we mean by recovery from heroin addiction.

“Recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives and strive to reach their full potential”.

A cure for addiction doesn’t exist. It is the job of Port of Call and other addiction treatment specialists to help an individual to embark on a lifelong focus outside of substance abuse.

Not dissimilar to other addicts, most heroin abusers don’t have a problem with quitting. It is the staying quit that proves to be problematic.

You can expect highs and lows, and the early stages can prove to be extremely difficult. Regular meetings with support groups, sponsors and those closest to you can act as a means to cope with the inevitable lows. It is always better to talk than to keep issues bottled up.

In reality, a person in treatment for heroin addiction is more likely to suffer a relapse than not, given the higher rates of addictiveness than with other substances. Please bear the following in mind – relapse is not failure. It sometimes is part of the recovery process.

The road to recovery from heroin addiction isn’t easy, but with the correct support programme and treatment in place, a life away from heroin abuse can be achieved. One thing is for certain. You are much more likely to achieve a life of sobriety with the help of the dedicated and understanding professionals at Port of Call

With that in mind, we strongly urge you to get in touch with Port of Call on 0800 002 9010 if you hold concerns about an addiction to heroin – whether it be yours or that of a loved one.

About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is our admissions team leader. Over the last 5 years he has spoken with more than 10,000 people via our helpline and has organised over 1,000 detox and rehabilitation placements.

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