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How to Support Someone Going Through Heroin Detox

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Going through heroin detox can be a grueling experience. Before the individual enters a heroin detox treatment program, they have already started going through some horrible withdrawal symptoms. By the time they are ready to enter a treatment program, their body has endured a tremendous amount of strain and pain, and their psyche has taken a toil making them very vulnerable to relapse if not cared for appropriately.

Not only is their detox treatment vital; so too is the support from their loved ones, and this can be challenging especially for those who don’t understand what heroin is, what it does, and what heroin detox treatments consist of. If you have a loved one who is fighting for his or her life by trying to get off drugs and enter a heroin detox program, you can best support them by understanding what they are going through. Some basic education will help you be a great support system, and help your loved one get back onto a path of normalcy and healthy living.

What does Heroin do to the Human Body?

The impact heroin has on the human body depends on how much is injected, where the drug binds in the body (or brain), how long it sticks, how strong it is, the rate of speed it takes to bind, and what happens afterward. When heroin is used it clings to certain receptors in the brain called mu-opioids. Once it affixes, it activates these receptors causing a massive sensation of pleasure.

The human brain contains naturally produced chemicals called neurotransmitters that fuse receptors that regulate hormone-release and pain. This all takes place in “the reward center” of the brain, where dopamine is released. When natural dopamine is mixed with external opioids like heroin, that high a person experiences is amplified by massive proportions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the greatest increase in heroin use is seen in young people aged 18-25. Unfortunately, many young adults can see themselves as invincible and don’t consider the various consequences heroin can have on their health, their life, or on their mortality. When a person takes heroin, their breathing and heart rate slows down–in some cases to the point it can be life-threatening.

What Makes Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin is a very addictive opiate because it actually changes the neurochemical activity in the brain which alters the state of one’s sensation and overall feeling while creating profound degrees of physical dependence and tolerance. Opiates cause pleasure by targeting various regions of the brain and nervous system–giving instant pleasure, both physically and emotionally, on tap. An opioid like heroin alters activity in the limbic system–a part of the brain that controls emotion. Pile this on top of the fact it blocks pain signals being delivered through the spinal cord, and one experiences a state of pleasure that becomes instantly addictive.

Your Loved One’s Behavior is Still Obnoxious after Heroin Use

Supporting a loved one going through heroin detox can be challenging, as much of their bad, obnoxious behavior can still be present. Here are some things to keep in mind: repeated use of heroin causes long-term imbalances that are very difficult to reverse because of the brain’s physiology and physical structure changes.

According to a study on white matter impairment in chronic heroin dependence, W. Li and others discovered that the brain’s white matter deteriorates due to heroin use, and that one’s decision-making abilities, the capacity to regulate behavior, and how one responds to stress is affected. Therefore, if your loved one is having massive mood-swings, says inappropriate things, and acts irrationally, know that the aftermath of this drug has simply dug its talons this deep into the user, and now it is up to a heroin detox treatment to gently and lovingly reverse as much damage done as possible by bringing the person back to their normal self.

Give Support by Finding a Heroin Detox Treatment Program

One way you can support your loved one going through heroin detox treatment is to do some research in looking for the best programs available. You simply can’t lock someone in a room and slide food and water through a window, as movies like ‘Trainspotting’ would like you to think. Coming off heroin can be life-threatening and extremely painful, which is why finding the best heroin detox program is vital to your loved one’s ability to have a happy and healthy future.

Heroin detoxification treatment centers use specific drugs to shorten the timespan of opiate withdrawal syndrome. Even with these drugs, patients still experience various degrees of pain, and the road to recovery is still harsh and often hard for loved ones to witness. When looking for various heroin detox treatment centers, here are some questions worth asking:

  • What accreditations does the facility hold?
  • Are medical resources immediately available?
  • Is there a pre-admission evaluation focused on protocol?
  • What are the safety standards and guidelines?
  • Are there multiple detox options to accommodate a variety of patients?
  • How long is the inpatient care program?
  • What is the post-detox recovery care?
  • What procedures are used to make the detox more humane?

By investigating programs and learning more about why they are successful, you can be of tremendous support to your loved one by helping him or her get on the best path to a full recovery.

More Ways to Support Someone through Heroin Detox

Love and ongoing support is crucial to recovery. Here are some ways in which you can show your loving support through their journey to a bright, promising future:

Write a Letter – Writing a letter to someone expressing your love and support is good therapy for you, and it is an ideal thing for the patient to have because they can look at it whenever they need some additional motivation to get them through hard times. If the person has wronged you, avoid being judgemental or calling them out in the letter. There will be a time to confront them, but when they are focused on detoxing is not the ideal moment. Once the detox treatment is complete and the person enters the next phase of recovery, you could write a second letter praising them for making it through the detox, and then confront them on the pain they caused. This way they can deal with the reality of what they did in the next step of their treatment plan which often involves coming to terms with the past.

Build Confidence – Be their cheerleader. Let them know how you have always admired them, acknowledge what they are going through must be very difficult, and let them know you recognize their bravery for undertaking the journey. Saying things like, “I am proud of you for embarking this huge step” and “I respect you for wanting to get clean and be the best version of you” will help empower and drive the person to keep up the good work.

Trophy – A trophy is given to someone to acknowledge and honor them for being victorious. You don’t have to go out and get an actual trophy; instead, create your own “trophy concept” by giving the person a special gift as a way to honor them for being victorious thus far in their recovery. For example, if the person loves to write you could get them a fancy pen with an engraved message on it, and a leather-bound journal. Tell them the pen is their trophy for completing phase one of a very challenging task, and the journal is their platform for writing reflections, celebrating the little victories they experience every day, and writing down their game plan and goals for a fruitful future.

Emphasize Self-Care – In many cases people going through certain phases of heroin detox treatment will be so haunted by the pain they caused loved ones that they don’t focus on themselves. Let your loved one know that self-care is crucial to a full recovery. Let them know that putting themselves first is not at all selfish, but healthy and necessary to their recovery. Let them know you are there to give support, but they need to support themselves at the same time.

Supporting a loved one going through heroin detox treatment means you also need to support yourself. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, eating right, or taking care of your own needs, you won’t be at full strength to be a strong pillar of support. Also, if you are worn down your loved one will likely notice, and enhanced guilt on their part may surface thus slowing down their recovery.

Compassion, forgiveness, and understanding–these are the tenants of supporting a loved one going through heroin withdrawal, and these core components can also be used to help you get through the emotional rollercoaster of watching from the sidelines.

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Dr. Suzanne Grevelink is an independent health care industry analyst & speaker and entrepreneur. She has successfully completed many health care events and in-demand as a speaker, regular contributor.

          
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