Heroin Use Disorder Definition
Opioid or heroin use disorder is a chronic, lifelong disorder. Heroin use disorder has serious potential consequences, including a history of relapse, disability, and even death. In 2020, over 92,000 Americans died due to drug overdoses.
This was almost a 30% increase from the previous year. While heroin overdose rates have decreased slightly in the years since there was a seven-fold increase in deaths involving heroin from 2002 to 2017. Heroin use disorders remain a significant public health crisis.
What is Long-Term Heroin Use?
Since there are currently no approved medical uses for heroin, any amount or method of use constitutes abuse. But what is the timeframe that we consider short-term heroin abuse, as opposed to long-term heroin abuse, which is more likely to lead to heroin use disorders?
For prescription medications, many experts define short-term use as covering roughly one month. Long-term use may then be anything over one month and averages approximately three months or more.
But again, the rules change when we are talking about an illicit drug rather than a prescription medication. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs available today. And it has become increasingly common for dealers to lace heroin with fentanyl, making it even more dangerous.
Effects of Long-Term Opiate Intake
Long-term opiate ingestion can cause a wide range of side effects. These side effects may be physical, mental, or emotional, with most users experiencing some combination of all three. Individual factors can alter your experience with heroin, including:
- The frequency of heroin abuse.
- The method of heroin abuse.
- Other substances that are present in the body.
- Your overall physical and mental health.
For most, changes in thought patterns, drug cravings, relapses, and withdrawal symptoms are some of the most noticeable early side effects.
Physical Effects of Chronic Heroin Use
Many of the effects of heroin use disorder are more psychological than physical. However, there are still many potential physical side effects of chronic heroin use that users should be aware of. Some of the most common include:
- Depressed respiration
- Pneumonia and other lung complications
- Damaged nasal tissue for those who repeatedly snort heroin
- Collapsed or scarred veins and bacterial infections for those who inject heroin
As we mentioned earlier in the article, your side effects may vary depending on the severity of your addiction and the state of your overall health, among other factors.
Psychological Changes Made by Heroin
Repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain. These changes create long-term imbalances in our hormonal and neuronal systems, and these imbalances are not easy to reverse.
In long-term heroin use, one of the largest psychological concerns is white matter damage in the brain. White matter damage can impair our decision-making skills, behavior regulation abilities, and stress responses.
A lack of control over these emotional processes can leave us feeling trapped and helpless. We can help you end the cycle of abuse and regain control.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Certain opiates, including heroin, produce extreme degrees of tolerance and physical dependence. When our bodies adapt to the presence of a drug, we become physically dependent on it, and withdrawal symptoms occur if we abruptly reduce or stop using it.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms may start in as short as a few hours after the last dose. Some of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Insomnia and restlessness.
- Bone and muscle pain.
- Vomiting and diarrhea.
- Involuntary leg movements.
- Cold flashes and goosebumps.
Through any method, heroin is extremely addictive. And heroin use disorder leads users to prioritize the drug over all else in their life, despite any negative consequences this may cause.
Risks of Fentanyl and Heroin Overdose
With the rate of fatal heroin overdoses landing in the thousands, this opioid remains a pressing concern. And there are several activities or additions that may make a heroin overdose more likely. For now, we will focus on the risks of fentanyl and heroin overdose.
One of the most pressing problems in the heroin crisis is that it is frequently laced with fentanyl without the user’s knowledge. Fentanyl is another addictive and dangerous opioid, which is approximately 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.
We can’t always control what distributors put in the drugs that they sell on the streets. And we can’t always control how our bodies react to these substances. But we can control what we put into our bodies, even when it feels like we have no control at all.
Establishing Recovery That Will Last
Establishing recovery that will last starts with being honest with yourself. Heroin use disorder will not go away on its own. And it will likely not get better without treatment. This is not something that you have to face alone. Our dedicated professionals are here to help.
Heroin can present several overwhelming, uncomfortable, and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms. These severe withdrawal symptoms make it harder to detox at home. So, we recommend starting with medical detox.
Our suboxone and other medication-assisted options will help reduce or eliminate your withdrawal symptoms to aid the early sobriety stage. With these symptoms made more manageable, you become free to focus on your recovery.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care for Heroin Addiction
Long-term drug abuse and addiction may require long-term inpatient care. While many traditional residential programs last an average of 30 days to three months, long-term rehab programs typically last longer than that.
Some stay for six months, while others remain for a year or more. If you start your recovery journey with a long-term program, you will spend your time here working toward a variety of recovery goals, including:
- Altering damaging thought patterns and behaviors
- Re-establishing the social skills lost during addiction
- Building sober social networks and learning from social support groups
- Developing healthy habits and coping mechanisms
- Controlling negative emotions, like stress, anger, and depression, rather than submitting to them or using drugs to quiet them
During your time in long-term rehab, your days are spent with dedicated professionals and others on the same journey. We will evaluate your progress and needs as they change to ensure that you are still in the appropriate program.
Other Program Options for Heroin Addiction
While there are many different paths toward recovery, most start with residential care before transitioning into a more flexible program. Once your condition is more stable and you feel confident in your ability to maintain your sobriety at home, an outpatient program comes next.
Depending on your needs and mental health, this might mean a partial hospitalization program or an intensive outpatient program. We will work with you to determine which will best suit your needs when the time comes.
Overcoming Heroin Use Disorder at a Pathfinders Recovery Center
With conveniently located luxury facilities in both Arizona and Colorado, personalized care programs, and a full staff of dedicated professionals, the Pathfinders approach can make all the difference.
From detox through aftercare, we offer comprehensive programs to meet all of your recovery needs through each stage. Call us today at 866-275-0079 to learn more. Our confidential call line is always open, and our addiction counselors are here to help.