With the increasing accessibility of prescription opioids, many parents are concerned if their teens or adolescents use illicit drugs such as heroin. If you are one of them, do you know how to identify early signs of heroin use? The more informed and educated you become about illicit drugs, the more prepared you are when it actively comes to preventing teen addiction.
Prescription Opioids and Heroin
The opioids epidemic has affected many families and communities. It is now widely known that prescription opioid pain medications can be highly addictive. Among all opioids, heroin is another type of drug that people experiment with because it seems to promise a quick surge of pleasurable sensation.
As an opioid drug, heroin is made from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants. As a rapidly acting drug, heroin quickly enters the brain and binds to receptions in many brain areas, especially in nerve systems that manage pain and pleasure. Along with the surge of pleasure, people who use heroin may feel warm flushing of the skin, mental clouding, and other short-term effects.
With repeated use of heroin, people may develop physical and mental dependence. The withdrawal symptoms can be severe, including:
- Muscle and body aches
- Cold flashes
- Spontaneous leg movements
In the long run, people who use heroin may develop infection of the heart valves, liver disease, kidney disease, pneumonia, and mental disorders.
Heroin Addiction and Changes in the Brain
Like other addictive drugs, heroin attaches to brain molecules that are known as opioid receptors located in many areas of the brain. These areas function your breathing, pain perception, and regulation of pleasure. Because of the heroin-induced brain chemical changes, people may feel drowsy and have a rush of clouded thinking while their heart rate and breathing slow down.
Heroin affects the brain stem, which is in charge of all the body’s major functions, from breathing and movement to digesting food. This drug also impacts the limbic system that controls emotional responses and causes feelings of pleasure. Lastly, heroin use also changes the cerebral cortex, a mushroom-shaped outer part of the brain (the gray matter), which controls our senses and ability to think and make decisions.
Behavioral Patterns of Heroin Addiction
Due to the above-mentioned reasons, people with heroin addiction inevitably demonstrate altered behaviors, including neglect of personal hygiene and other responsibilities, withdrawal from family and friends, problems in interpersonal relationships, need for money, secrecy, and lying. They tend to sleep more and eat less, sometimes with deterioration of appearance and weight loss.
Some cognitive symptoms include decreased problem-solving and decision-making abilities, lack of self-control, memory impairment, and lack of ability to pay attention. Their emotions also show many changes, including sudden outbursts of anger, mood swings, paranoia, fearfulness, and anxiety.
The Dangers of Heroin Overdose
Early intervention is especially key when heroin use is suspected because the risk of overdose is high. Most heroin users will do anything to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms, and they become dependent on higher and higher doses. When you suspect a potential overdose has happened, watch for these signs and symptoms:
- Cold skin
- Pinpoint pupils
- Discoloration of the tongue
- Muscle spasms
- Extreme hypotension
- Weak pulse
- Labored breathing
Heroin intoxication may last around one to three hours. There are medications (e.g., Naloxone) to treat heroin overdose, and they need to be given right away. Sometimes more than one dose may be required to help a person with an overdose start breathing again. This is why people with overdose risks need to be sent to an emergency room immediately. Surviving a heroin overdose may be the opportunity to persuade your loved one to begin treatment.
Heroin Addiction Can Be Treated
Although substance addiction leads to chronic brain disease, it is still treatable. There has been a range of treatments in the medical field, including medically-assisted detoxification, medications, and behavioral therapies that have been proven effective in helping people stop and recover from heroin use. For example, medications like buprenorphine and methadone work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain and reducing withdrawal symptoms.
Because most heroin users suffer from co-occurring mental health problems, they need to begin behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps identify and modify a person’s drug-induced emotional and behavioral patterns. Every recovering individual needs a customized treatment plan and relapse prevention plan. Most likely, they will be in inpatient treatment which offers a monitored environment. With the support of family, friends, and recovery experts, you or your loved one can regain sober control of life.
If you want to support a loved one who is recovering from heroin addiction, you need to work with experienced recovery experts and mental health specialists. We have a strong recovery system to support you. At Capo Canyon Recovery, near Mission Viejo, CA, our licensed health professionals have helped many families care for their loved ones with heroin addiction. We have the knowledge and expertise necessary, and most of all, compassion. Our inpatient residential care and outpatient, long-term care programs offer curated benefits for each client. We provide unmatched comfort during your stay with an in-house chef, luxurious beds, and our organic garden. At Capo Canyon Recovery, you can feel confident that we will help you achieve long-term sobriety. By coaching you on how to best support your loved one, we walk alongside you to face all kinds of challenges. Call us at (800) 804-8714.