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Heroin Abuse: How to recognize and confront it

The opioid epidemic is a real threat to our society and the crisis continues to gain steam. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, we lose more than 115 people in our country daily to the tragedy of opioid overdose (this includes prescription pain relievers, synthetics such as fentanyl, and heroin). The crisis is not only heartbreaking, it is creating a economic burden that the CDC estimates to be $78.5 billion a year.

The cause for the increase in addictive behaviors has been linked to the increase in prescription pain relievers being recommended at greater rates, under the early misconception that these drugs would not lead patients to addiction. Nothing could be further from the truth. Widespread misuse has continued to rise as have overdoses and deaths. These drugs are typically prescribed to manage severe pain, however, for many people the feeling of emotional well-being and euphoria they feel when on them becomes addictive as it helps to numb past traumas or mask the effects of undiagnosed mental illness.

Opioid abuse frequently leads to heroin abuse (80 percent of heroin addicts first became addicted to prescription opioids) and this can spiral into a habit with devastating outcomes. Many users face job loss, incarceration, failed relationships, domestic and/or child abuse, financial loss, and homelessness. The health consequences are equally serious including organ damage, seizures, memory loss, coma and death.

Add to this the increased danger when fentanyl is added to the mix -- another growing issue but one with exponentially higher risk of addiction and deadly consequences. Users often won’t even realize they’re taking a far more potent fentanyl-laced heroin (which is cheaper to produce, giving dealers a profit incentive). Unintentional overdose is becoming a much more common occurrence.

The bottom line: heroin and opioid addiction is not something that can be ignored.

What are the signs of opioid and heroin abuse?

The single best chance you have for a preventing the heartbreaking effects of a loved one’s addiction is to detect and address it early. If you’re suspicious, do not ignore it. This is an disease that can spiral downhill very quickly.

If you notice someone you care about exhibiting the following behaviors or physical signals, please don’t wait to seek help.

  • Pinpoint or constricted pupils
  • Flushed skin or itchiness
  • Needle marks on the arms or legs
  • Uncharacteristic sudden and dramatic mood swings
  • Anxiety, depression or irritability
  • Excessive sleepiness or falling asleep at unusual or inappropriate times
  • Social withdrawal or abandoning activities they used to enjoy
  • Ignoring responsibilities or decreased performance at work or school
  • Risky behavior such as sexual promiscuity or drinking and driving
  • Impulsive decision making or impetuous actions
  • Lying, stealing or sneaking around
  • “Doctor-hopping” to get additional prescriptions

As a parent or a caregiver, trust your intuition. You know your child better than anyone else. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, and especially if you’re noticing any combination of the signs above, find support and get your loved one help immediately. It truly is a case of life and death.

How to confront a loved when you suspect a problem

Because opioids have very intense withdrawal symptoms that can include seizures, suicidal ideation, spiked fevers and coma, simply taking the drug away or changing the environment to prevent access is not the recommended course of action. It will require medical intervention to be both safe and effective.

Depending on how long your loved one has been abusing drugs, you may find a variety of reactions. Most addicts are so focused on their addiction and seeking the next high that they’re completely unaware of the impact their disease is having on their family and friends. They may be in denial that they even have a problem or they may become defensive or combative as they try to avoid the issue.

We always suggest planning the conversation when the addict is most likely to be sober, often first thing in the morning, right when they wake up. This gives you the best chance of getting through to them and they’re less likely to be irrational and lost in their emotions. Remain calm when talking and present facts - avoid being drawn into anger or arguments.

Give your loved one a chance to express their feelings and truly listen to them. Confronting an addict does take tough love, but they’re more likely to be receptive if they feel heard and like they can trust and confide in you.

The bottom line is this is not an addiction that can be self-treated at home. You and your loved one must seek professional help. Treatment, detox and rehab is a long process and the long-term skills for prevention of relapse need to be learned. It takes the majority of addicts a minimum of three month of treatment to have the best chance of full recovery.

Where can you find help?

Opiate withdrawal can be very intense. Knowing what to expect and understanding the struggle your loved one is facing can help you be more compassionate and patient as they work toward a new future. Opiates change the way the user’s brain chemistry functions so resetting the body’s system can be a long process, with withdrawal symptoms sometimes lasting as long as four weeks.

A quality treatment center can help you assess and determine the right course of action for your loved one. A full recovery is absolutely possible with the right support system and a plan that gives the addict the tools they need to navigate life post-treatment.

If you suspect someone you care about is dealing with a opioid or heroin addiction don’t hesitate to get help now. Call us today at 855-476-1296 to speak with an admissions expert. We’ll be there for you every step of the way.