Heroin was once considered a fringe drug used by hardcore addicts, but the opioid epidemic has made it more common than ever. As people look for a cheaper, more accessible alternative to prescription painkillers, heroin can now be found in neighborhoods across the country, leaving communities devastated by high rates of addiction and overdose. And compared to other drugs, heroin is particularly hard to kick, with painful withdrawal symptoms that keep users hooked despite the risks.

At the Detox Center of Colorado, we’ve seen the hold that heroin can have on individuals and communities, so we’re committed to providing the highest quality detox and recovery services in the Denver area. By combining an individualized approach with evidence-based programming, our goal is to help clients feel empowered as they dig deep to overcome addiction, achieving a lasting sense of health and wellness that continues to serve them long after rehab.

What is Heroin?

What is Heroin?

heroin-addiction-patient

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid made from the poppy plant, a flowering herb that produces opium and other painkilling alkaloids. These raw materials are processed into drugs like morphine, codeine and heroin, or used in labs to manufacture pharmaceutical-grade narcotics. While all opioids are highly addictive, heroin is a potent, fast-acting drug that produces a euphoric rush when smoked, snorted or injected. With regular use, tolerance and dependence can quickly develop by changing the chemical balance within the brain. Eventually, withdrawal symptoms appear that make heroin addiction hard to overcome without professional help.

Signs of a Heroin Addiction

Signs of a Heroin Addiction

getting outdoors

Signs of a Heroin Addiction

  • Frequent “nodding off” or drowsiness
  • Small, constricted pupils that look like pinpoints
  • Track marks and bruises at injection sites
  • Collapsed veins and scarring
  • Drug paraphernalia (needles, spoons, burnt tinfoil, etc.)
  • Excessive itchiness
  • Sudden financial or legal problems
  • Increased isolation from friends and family
  • Lying, stealing and other suspicious activities
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies and responsibilities
  • Flu-like withdrawal symptoms
  • Other behavioral or psychological changes

Why is Heroin so Addictive?

Heroin binds to opioid receptors within the brain, creating feelings of contentment, pleasure, and relaxation. Heroin also blocks pain signals and releases a flood of dopamine, triggering a sense of well-being and euphoria. This high keeps users coming back for more, but continually activating the opioid receptors throws off the brain’s chemical balance.

Specifically, heroin suppresses the activity of certain neurons to create the familiar effects of drowsiness, slowed breathing and lowered heart rate, and the brain compensates by increasing the production of noradrenaline, a chemical responsible for things like wakefulness, breathing and blood pressure. This allows individuals to feel relatively normal while using opioids, but also makes them dependent on the drug — suddenly stopping or decreasing use will lead to withdrawal as the excess noradrenaline triggers symptoms like anxiety, restlessness, muscle cramps and diarrhea.

It takes some time for noradrenaline levels to return to baseline, but balance is restored if users remain sober long enough for neuron activity to revert to its original state. Unfortunately, this process can take days or weeks to complete, and the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will often trigger a relapse, making heroin an extremely addictive substance with a high degree of physical dependency.

Heroin is also addictive because it activates the brain’s reward system, motivating users to seek out the drug despite the risks or side effects. Once the brain is taught to associate heroin with pleasure, individuals will continue to chase the high and recapture the feelings of euphoria, warmth and relaxation. As tolerance builds, they need more of the drug to achieve the same effects, leading to intense cravings and reduced pleasure from other things like food, sex or a favorite hobby. These effects, combined with a desire to avoid withdrawal, make it easy to see how quickly one can become trapped in a cycle of abuse once heroin begins to exert its influence on their life.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the severity of one’s addiction and how long they’ve used the drug, but typically include the following:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Excessive sweating
  • Constant yawning and tearing (lacrimation)
  • Muscles aches and spasms
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme agitation
  • Feeling restless or anxious
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Intense drug cravings

Heroin is a fast-acting drug with a short half-life, so withdrawal usually begins within hours of the last dose. Symptoms appear in stages and gradually worsen over the next few days, peaking at around 72 hours and subsiding after the first week. Once the initial stage of withdrawal is over, post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can develop, leading to depression, fatigue, cognitive impairment and insomnia that can last for weeks or months. In early recovery, PAWS can greatly increase the risk of relapse, so managing these symptoms is key to ensuring an individual’s health and wellness as they readjust to a sober lifestyle.

Heroin Addiction Treatment at Detox Center of Colorado

The first step to overcoming a heroin addiction starts with detox, which is the process of eliminating drugs or alcohol from the body. Doing this at home can be painful and dangerous, but a professional detox center can help manage the symptoms of heroin withdrawal and ensure that individuals emerge feeling healthy, confident and ready to begin the process of healing and recovery.

The Detox Center of Colorado provides a safe, comfortable place for individuals to detox from the harmful effects of heroin abuse. Our comprehensive detox program ensures that each client receives the attention they need from our experienced staff, with 24/7 access to medical care to make the withdrawal process as smooth as possible. Most individuals spend three to 10 days in detox, but this can vary depending on addiction severity and duration of use, so treatment timelines are flexible to meet the varied needs of our clients.

After detox, the recovery process can truly begin. We help clients figure out their next steps as they prepare to transition into a short or long-term treatment program, providing them with the tools, resources and information they’ll need to make the right choice. We also collaborate with treatment providers to ensure everything is ready by discharge time, so clients feel prepared for the road ahead from start to finish. Our services for those struggling with heroin addiction include the following:

  • Detox program
  • Medical and psychiatric assessments
  • Proven psychotherapies
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Holistic modalities
  • Relapse prevention
  • Post-detox care coordination

We also offer a short-term Transitional Residence Program to help clients navigate the recovery process and ease the transition into treatment after detox. Our goal is to empower each individual to rediscover a life without addiction, building a strong foundation that supports a renewed sense of purpose and reconnects clients with their former passions.