Heroin Addiction and the Sober World

             Heroin addiction is tough to overcome, no doubt about it.  Heroin has a well deserved reputation as one of the deadliest and most addictive drugs in the world.  Its physical properties alone make heroin incredibly difficult to stop, but the social stigma attached to it make it unnecessarily harder.  Heroin addiction is not a moral issue.  It’s a treatable disease.

For a variety of physiological and psychosocial reasons, heroin abuse brings with it a distinct and insular lifestyle.  Heroin addicts eventually develop a deep mistrust of the sober world.  In some ways this mistrust is understandable, give the harsh treatment of heroin addicts in our culture.  This can be a huge obstacle to recovery, as the addict continues to feel alienated, suspicious, and alone.  Compassionate treatment alone can begin to erode this mistrust.


Heroin and the Withdrawal Cycle

Just like every opiate drug, heroin has tragically addictive qualities.  Heroin can happen quite quickly, sometimes after one or two uses.  Some users become dependent in just a few days, once they experience the grueling withdrawal symptoms heroin entails.  Heroin enters the body via snorting, smoking, or injection.  All forms of ingestion are addictive and possibly deadly, but intravenous face the additional risk of contracting diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

Heroin brings on a state of intense euphoria bodily relaxation.  This state quickly becomes almost impossible to achieve however, and the user needs higher and higher quantities to achieve a similar effect.  Stopping heroin abruptly causes excruciating withdrawal symptoms.  Physical symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, crawling sensation in the skin, intense stomach pain, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Physical withdrawal is agonizing, but for many heroin addicts the mental struggle is just as bad.  The relentless cravings, depression, and extreme agitation can persist for weeks after the physical symptoms disappear.  Heroin addiction treatment must acknowledge and confront the profound changes in brain chemistry that result from long term opiate use.  This altered brain chemistry is one of the main reasons that medication assisted treatments (MAT) like Suboxone and Vivitrol are used more and more often.


Treatment and the Heroin Lifestyle

            Medical detox from heroin use is almost always necessary.  Once physical symptoms have stopped, the treatment process can begin to do its work.  For many, heroin is a deeply engrained way of life.  Addicts are often driven to moral and criminal extremes in order to avoid the horrors of withdrawal.  This is why heroin treatment can seem so daunting, because the drug seeking habits are so entrenched, as is the guilt created by social stigma.

But permanent recovery from heroin addiction is possible.  With advances in the treatment process, it more in reach now than ever before.  Effective treatment must bear in mind the unique qualities of the heroin lifestyle, especially the deep suspicion of the sober world.  Heroin addicts need a solution that carries weight.  They need a treatment program that helps them explore authentic ways to reintegrate themselves into the sober world.