It’s relatively easy for most people to perceive heroin addicts as freaks, fools or victims, without realizing how easy it is to become one or how many otherwise respectable and responsible people have developed this disease.
Hollywood depictions of junkies in abandoned buildings make it even easier for decent people to assume that this could never happen to them. The truth, however, is that the descent into heroin addiction is tragically simple and common. Millions of people from good homes with good education and strong moral character have become hooked on this deadly drug.
How Heroin Works
Heroin is a derivative of the opium poppy flower native to the Middle East and Asia Minor. It is essentially a chemically intensified version of opium that was first developed as a pain medication. Opiates block physical pain by binding to specialized chemical receptors that transmit pain signals through the central nervous system.
In the process, however, these chemicals also block negative emotional responses including the following:
- Self-esteem deficiencies
- Trauma (PTSD)
- Anxiety disorder
- Borderline personality disorders
- Compulsive behaviors
When a person uses heroin all negative thoughts and feelings are dismissed and replaced with peaceful, relaxing, ecstatic relief. The high produced by heroin is not connected with hallucination as some people believe. It is about comfort and the removal of all of life’s problems for a short time.
Of course this relief is artificial and short-lived. As the high wears off the addict begins to feel both physical withdrawal symptoms (pain, nausea, etc) and the return of all of those negative emotions. The brain’s psychological wiring reinforces the drug use that provides the comfort in ways that are far more powerful than conscious thought or will.
Unexpected Doors into Heroin Addiction
While it is certainly true that some heroin addicts started using the drug recreationally at a party or with a group of friends, millions of people have found their way to this relatively inexpensive substance through the unlikely path of legitimately prescribed painkillers.
Drugs like OxyContin, hydrocodone, codeine, Demerol, morphine and buprenorphine are prescribed millions of times each year by doctors for the relief of moderate to severe pain that comes from injury or surgery. These drugs, and all narcotic painkillers, are chemically very similar to heroin. As enforcement efforts designed to curtail the diversion of medications for illicit purposes become more sophisticated, street supplies of prescription opiates are being reduced.
The result is a steadily escalating price that has sent many pill addicts looking for the less expensive heroin. There are many heroin addicts today who never did anything riskier than fill a prescription given to them by their doctor.
Successfully Treating Heroin Addiction
Because opiate addiction is both physical and psychological in nature, a comprehensive and fully integrated approach to recovery is the only method that will work. The best heroin recovery programs develop customized treatment plans for each patient, based on his or her unique needs, but drawing from the following proven techniques:
- Individual counseling
- Support group meetings
- Coping skill development and enhancement
- The formation of new pleasurable experiences and relationships apart from heroin
- Thorough and disciplined treatment of all underlying or co-occurring disorders