Sobriety Home Foundation

Heroin Addiction

Sobriety Home Foundation is a riverside addiction treatment facility found in beautiful rural Canada. Here, individuals struggling with heroin addiction have access to multiple evidence-based treatment options. Our facility provides a comprehensive rehabilitation treatment plan catered towards everyone’s needs and desires. We offer the following treatment services:

  • Detoxification from heroin
  • Treatment for heroin in residential settings
  • Interventions for heroin use
  • Rehabilitation from heroin
  • SMART Recovery

What is Heroin?

This photo depicts a clear, cylindrical needle with a translucent brown substance inside. The needle is laying near multiple piles of a fine, white powder- this is heroin. The brown substance within the needle is a liquified version of the heroin powder.

In the late 19th century, heroin was thought to be a viable substitute of morphine for treating pain in patients. However, it wasn’t long until reports of tolerance and addiction began to surface. Despite that, the American Medical Association approved it for medical use and this coincided with increases in recreational heroin-use and -related morbidities. Thus, leading to its eventual recall from the healthcare setting.

Indeed, this drug is part of the opioid family. Typically, it can be identified as a white, odorless powder when in its pure form. However, like other drugs, it is oftentimes cut with other substances and can be pink, beige or brown. In fact, in North American, most heroin is only 50% pure- other constituents usually include sugar, starch, or poison (e.g., strychnine).

Heroin can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Although, injection is the most common route of administration. This is done by dissolving the drug in water and injecting it intravenously. As it happens, recent reports indicate that roughly 75 000 – 125 000 people inject drugs in Canada (Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, 2018). In Montréal, between 5000 and 15 000 of these incidences contained heroin (Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, 2018).

What is Heroin Addiction?

Like other opioids, addiction to this drug is largely contingent on symptoms of withdrawal and tolerance. Individuals who use heroin are often avoiding the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal associated with the drug (e.g., nausea, depression, shaking, etc.). Generally, the higher the dosage- the worse the symptoms of withdrawal. This is the conundrum of this drug. Individuals build tolerance to the drug with chronic use. Therefore, in the long-term, they require more of the drug to achieve the effects of the drug. In turn, this worsens their withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to physiological influences, contextual-cues play a role in heroin-use. Individuals who use the drug are heavily influenced by environmental or contextual stimuli associated with the drug (e.g., people, places, needles, etc.). The sight of associated stimuli can activate craving pathways within the brain and drive subsequent drug-seeking behavior. Indeed, these feelings of craving are quite powerful. Oftentimes, this may cause individuals who have abstained from usage to relapse.

Short-Term Effects and Risks

Individuals usually notice the effects of heroin within 7 to 8 seconds following injection and then symptoms can last four to five hours. Symptoms can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Feelings of warmth
  • Tranquility (aka: on the node)
  • Emotional self-containment
  • Need for socialization
  • Semi-consciousness (with high dosage)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe itch
  • Possible overdose

Long-Term Effects and Overdose

The long-term effects of this drug vary. Most often, individuals report tolerance to the drug which, like other opioids, drives their addiction. Additionally, individuals who chronically consume this drug are at risk for collapsed veins, infections related to needle injections (e.g., HIV/AIDS), liver disease, complications of the lungs, diarrhea, gooseflesh (i.e., pimply skin), and insomnia.

Symptoms of overdose include difficulty walking, talking, and staying awake. Some individuals’ lips may turn blue, accompanied by dizziness and confusion. Others may report cold, clammy skin and/or choking. Oftentimes, those who overdose are unable to be woken up despite being shaken or shouted at. In the event of an overdose, Naloxone can be administered to temporarily reverse the effects.

Pharmacology – How does it work?

Heroin is lipid soluble. This consequently allows it to pass the blood-brain barrier and act rapidly on its sites of action. In fact, it is faster acting than morphine. Although, once heroin passes the blood-brain barrier, it is hydrolyzed into 6-MAM and morphine. Therefore, most of the effects of the drug are caused by the previously mentioned metabolites rather than heroin itself.

6-MAM and morphine mimic the actions of endorphins at the brain’s mu-opioid-receptors. In turn, this provides relief from pain, and respiratory and cardiovascular depression. In addition, these metabolites interact with the brain’s limbic system- which contains a high density of opioid receptors as well. It is the activation of this region that is credited for feelings of euphoria, calmness, and fearlessness.