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Heroin Withdrawals

Heroin Withdrawals

heroin withdrawals

Heroin Withdrawal

The U.S. is facing a major opioid crisis, and heroin is one of the most common opioids sold on the street. While many people want to stop using heroin, withdrawal from the drug can be extremely uncomfortable. That’s why heroin detox should always be done under the supervision of a qualified, experienced medical professional.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a form of opioid sold as a street drug. It typically comes as a white or brown powder and is often “cut” (mixed) with flour, baby powder, or something else of a similar texture. It can also come as a sticky or hard black substance known as black tar heroin. Heroin is commonly used by snorting, smoking, or injecting it. While it is typically snorted in its powder form, in order to be smoked, it is heated up and vaporized, or, as is the case with injecting, liquified. This is often done by heating the substance and melting it in something small, like a spoon or a bottle cap, just before using it. Other heroin tools may include:

  • Lighters used to heat up the substance
  • Material to restrict blood flow in the arm, like a band, belt, or tightly tied piece of fabric
  • Needles for injecting heroin into the bloodstream
  • Hollowed out pens used for snorting
  • Straws used for snorting
  • Rolled up dollar bills used for snorting
  • A pipe for smoking
  • Small baggies used for storage
  • Small balloons used for storage
  • Little pieces of tin foil used for storage

Different methods of using heroin can lead to different long-term health side effects. However, withdrawal symptoms are the same for all opioids, including heroin, regardless of what method is used to consume the drug.

The Opioid Crisis

The beginnings of the opioid crisis in the United States date back to the early 1990s, when American drug companies assured the government and the general public that patients would not become addicted to opioid-based painkillers, and doctors increasingly prescribed said painkillers to patients. Ultimately, this led to greater use and misuse of prescription opioids. However, most people who become addicted to heroin never use prescription opioids, and only about 3% of people who are prescribed opioids actually become addicted. Despite this, both misused prescription opioids and heroin have become increasingly large problems throughout the country, to the point that the Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in 2017. Part of declaring a public health emergency was publishing a five-point plan for dealing with the opioid crisis. That plan includes:

  • Getting more data on opioid use in the U.S.
  • Improving pain management in the U.S. and relying less on opioids.
  • Improving access to opioid addiction prevention and recovery services in the U.S.
  • Making opioid overdose emergency treatment drugs like naloxone (Narcan) more readily available.
  • Encouraging the federal government to invest in research on the topic.

The Department of Health and Human Services has some of the most recent findings on heroin use in the U.S., including:

  • In 2019, 50,000 people in the U.S. tried heroin for the first time.
  • That same year, 745,000 people in the U.S. used heroin.
  • Between June 2019 and June 2020, 14,480 people in the U.S. died of a heroin overdose.

Texas has also felt the impact of the opioid crisis. In a report from the National Institute of Health, it was found that a total of 1,402 Texans lost their life to preventable opioid overdose in 2018. One of the reasons the opioid epidemic has gotten as bad as it has is because of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Going through opioid withdrawal often causes flu-like symptoms to occur, so many people continue to take the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Early Withdrawal Symptoms

Early stages of heroin withdrawal typically begin about three to five hours after the last dose. Early withdrawal symptoms typically include:

  • Anxiety or unreasonable fear
  • Irritation or becoming easily annoyed
  • Constantly thinking about getting opioids
  • Beginning to experience physical withdrawal symptoms (listed below)

Peak Withdrawal Symptoms

Peak symptoms typically start within a day of the last dose, but sometimes they do not start for as long as 30 to 70 hours. These symptoms can include:

  • Intense mood swings (like strong feelings of worthlessness, despair, etc.)
  • Strong physical cravings for the drug
  • Convincing yourself or others that you don’t just want the drug, you need it
  • Digestive issues, including vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation
  • A high heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Intense sweating
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Extreme changes in body temperature like going from hot to cold
  • Fever
  • Other flu-like symptoms

Late-Stage Withdrawal Symptoms

Peak opioid withdrawal symptoms can last as long as a week. After about a week, those symptoms will begin to lessen and gradually become more mild. Eventually, they will go away entirely. While opioid withdrawal itself is not usually deadly, the results of symptoms, like dehydration, fever, stomach, and heart issues, can all be seriously dangerous. Opioid detox should only be done under the supervision of an experienced medical professional.

Short-Term Side Effects of Heroin

Heroin is not just dangerous because of the symptoms of withdrawal but also because of the side effects people have while they are intoxicated. Heroin can also make a person dangerous to be around as they are often not thinking clearly. Noticeable side effects of heroin may include:

  • Cottonmouth (a lack of saliva in the mouth)
  • Flushed skin
  • Nodding, or drifting in and out of consciousness
  • Unusually small pupils (the black centers of the eyes)
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Difficulty having complete thoughts
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An inability to feel pain
  • Intense itching throughout the body
  • Slower than normal breathing
  • Slower than normal heart rate

Overdosing is extremely dangerous and can be deadly if not treated properly and quickly. You need to call 911 if someone is experiencing things like:

  • Excessive constipation
  • A lot of vomiting
  • Making gurgling noises or choking in their sleep
  • Low blood pressure
  • Skin that looks grey or bluish-purple, depending on their skin
  • No obvious or visible signs of breathing
  • Unusual or uneven breathing
  • Skin and face that is cold or clammy
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • No detectable heartbeat
  • Unresponsive to things like loud noises or being shaken
  • Appear to be aware of their surroundings but cannot respond

If you believe a person is overdosing on heroin, they need immediate medical attention. Naloxone (Narcan) can be used to treat emergency heroin overdoses. Naloxone can be privately bought in the form of a nasal spray for emergencies, but a severe overdose may require more than one dose of naloxone. Because of this, it is extremely important that a person experiencing a heroin overdose receive professional medical attention as quickly as possible. [inline_cta_six]

Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin Use

Heroin has many effects on the body and can have many undesirable, long-term side effects. Long-term side effects of heroin can include:

  • Worsening constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Brain damage, which can result in a lack of impulse control or the ability to handle stressful situations
  • Damage to the nasal cavity, blood vessels, or lungs depending on the way the drug is used
  • Increased tolerance for the drug
  • Addiction/Increased physical dependence on the drug

Long-term side effects of regular heroin use often lead to severe and even deadly health problems. These health problems often include:

  • Brain damage
  • Skin damage and infections, including pimples and warts
  • Kidney disease, or an inability of the kidneys to filter toxins from the blood
  • Damage to the veins at points of injection
  • Pneumonia or other issues with the lungs
  • Damage to the heart and valves
  • An inability to perform sexually resulting from hormonal imbalances in the body
  • Coma
  • Death

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT, is a relatively new way to treat opioid addiction. Medications are used in combination with behavioral therapy treatments, as well as counseling, to treat opioid use disorder. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are all commonly prescribed to treat opioid addiction. They function by getting rid of the physical cravings and withdrawal symptoms of opioid detox without the euphoria (intense, overwhelming joy) brought on by taking opioids, or any of the other negative effects common to opioid consumption. MAT is clinically tested and proven as an effective way to treat opioid addiction. Benefits of MAT include:

  • A higher survival rate than for those who do not use this treatment
  • A higher rate of people who remain in behavioral treatment programs than among those who do not use MAT
  • A lower rate of general criminal activity (including illegal opioid use) among those who use MAT than among those who don’t
  • A higher rate of people who can maintain employment than there is among those who do not use MAT
  • Better health of babies born to mothers who are struggling with opioid addiction but on MAT than of babies whose mothers are struggling with addiction but are not on MAT

MAT is one of the tools we use to treat opioid addictions, including heroin addiction, here at Vertava Health Texas.

Recovery at Vertava Health – Texas

Here at Vertava Health Texas, we do not just treat addiction as a physical illness. With our rehab for heroin, we treat opioid addiction as the complex physical, psychological, emotional, and social reality that it is. This means we offer a variety of in-person treatment options to not only help people end their addiction to heroin but also to prepare for what life will be like after they no longer are addicted to heroin. Addiction treatment at Vertava Health Texas is not identical for any two clients. Treatment is always personalized to meet specific clients’ behavioral, physical, psychological, and social needs. Treatment options at Vertava Health Texas include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Mindfulness and stress-management practices
  • Adventure therapy
  • Recreational and art therapies
  • Family therapy and support

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

For many people, addiction is not a stand-alone problem. Often people who struggle with addiction have a co-occurring mental health disorder, and the two can interact with each other and make recovery more difficult. Underlying issues can also make withdrawal more difficult to get through on your own, as drug addictions often start as a way to cope with or self-medicate pre-existing mental illnesses. This makes the chance of relapsing incredibly high. Detoxing from heroin, other opioids, and other illegal drugs should only be done under the supervision of a trained professional. If a dual diagnosis is not treated properly, people who struggle with heroin addiction along with a co-occurring disorder often experience mental health triggers that lead to a return to heroin use. Here at Vertava Health Texas, we use dual diagnosis to treat substance use disorders alongside a multitude of mental health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, anxiety, and others.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is trying to stop taking heroin, or you have noticed withdrawal symptoms, it is time to get help. Contact Vertava Health Texas today at (888) 759-5073 and get the compassionate, informed help you or your loved one deserves.