What is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine, a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant. People who use heroin often inject, snort, or smoke it. When it enters the brain, heroin is converted back to morphine, which binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. These receptors are involved in the perception of pain and reward, and when activated, they release a flood of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the euphoric rush, or "high," that users experience.
How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?
Opioids, like heroin, affect the brain's reward system, making them prone for abuse and then ultimately highly addictive. With continued use, the brain becomes reliant on the drug to maintain normal levels of dopamine, and the individual craves more heroin to achieve the same "high." This cycle is often referred to as tolerance, a situation in which the person requires higher doses of the drug to achieve the desired effect.
Tolerance can pave the way for dependence, where the body becomes accustomed to the presence of the drug. When a dependent person stops using heroin, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps. These symptoms can be severe and make it very difficult for individuals to stop using it without help from specialists like MATClinics.
The Fentanyl Factor
In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the opioid landscape, with fentanyl largely displacing heroin. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100x more potent than morphine and 25-50x more potent than heroin. It is a prescription drug used for severe pain management, but it has since found its way into the illicit drug market.
Drug dealers and manufacturers are increasingly mixing fentanyl with other drugs, like heroin, to increase potency and profits. As a result, many users who think they are buying heroin are, in fact, getting fentanyl, which can be deadly due to its potency. This situation has led to a significant increase in overdose deaths, making the opioid crisis even more dangerous.
Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder
Recognizing the signs of opioid use disorder and seeking help is crucial for individuals struggling with addiction. Treatment options are available and can be tailored to meet individual needs. There are three main types of treatments for opioid use disorder: medication-assisted treatment (MAT), behavioral therapy, and support groups.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
MAT combines medications with behavioral therapy to treat opioid use disorder. The most common medications used in MAT are methadone, buprenorphine (Subuxone), and naltrexone. These medications work by either activating the opioid receptors in a controlled manner, blocking the effects of opioids, or preventing the euphoric effects of opioids. MAT has been proven to be effective in reducing opioid use, overdose risk, and the spread of infectious diseases.
Behavioral therapy aims to help individuals change their thinking patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM) are two common types of behavioral therapy used in treating opioid use disorder. CBT helps individuals recognize and change negative thought patterns, while CM uses positive reinforcement to encourage drug-free behavior.
Support groups, like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and SMART Recovery, provide a safe space for individuals recovering from addiction to share their experiences and support one another. These groups can help build a strong support network, which is crucial for long-term recovery.
Combining these treatment approaches increases the chances of success in overcoming opioid addiction. It is important for individuals to work with healthcare professionals, like MATClinics, to develop a treatment plan that suits their unique needs and circumstances.
Get Help With Heroin Addiction
The illicit use of heroin in the U.S has had devastating effects on individuals, families, and communities. As a highly addictive opioid, heroin acts on the brain's reward system, leading to tolerance and dependence over time. The emergence of fentanyl in recent years has only intensified the opioid crisis, as users may unknowingly consume this more potent substance. However, there is hope for those struggling with opioid use disorder. By seeking help and engaging in evidence-based treatments like medication-assisted treatment, behavioral therapy, and support groups, individuals can overcome addiction and reclaim their lives.
If you or someone you know is looking for help with their heroin addiction, we can help. Contact us today to speak to a member of our team and get treatment that’s fit for you.