A tragic, all-too-common story associated with the opioid epidemic goes like this: a patient who was prescribed opioid medication for a common ailment — think bone fracture, back pain, or tooth extraction — winds up getting hooked.
For many, the story did not end there.
When their prescription opioids became too expensive, or they were not readily available, many turned to heroin. A woman named Lisa, who was profiled by CNN in 2018, was prescribed opioids for tendonitis in her knees and two herniated disks in her back.
When a crackdown ended her access to the prescription opioid, she eventually turned to heroin. “I can’t find pills, I’m in pain, and it’s really cheap,” Lisa said, according to the CNN. “What happened to me is what happened to thousands and thousands of people.”
Why Alternative Pain Remedies are Needed
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that an estimated 80 percent of people who used heroin first began by misusing prescription opioids. It is an addiction that is killing them, either through heroin overdose or exposure to heroin mixed with fentanyl, the powerful synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine.
While fentanyl is reportedly the drug most frequently involved in U.S. drug overdose deaths, heroin is not too far behind.
With heroin use comes the risk of death, not to mention relentless and unyielding addiction.
If you are already in the grips of heroin addiction or are considering using heroin, read on to learn about safer alternatives to this illicit drug.
These substitutes may not be as potent or satisfying as a heroin fix, but they can preserve your life and push you closer to wellness.
What’s more, with treatment from a reputable program, you can kick heroin addiction for good.
Substitutes for Heroin
If you are dealing with chronic pain, then SMART Recovery® suggests these natural pain remedies can treat your condition without opioids:
Everybody should exercise, even folks who deal with chronic pain. According to SMART Recovery®, mild, low-impact exercise can improve your functioning and mobility. Yoga, for example, has been proven to address arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint and chronic back pain, says SMART Recovery®.
Mindfulness and Meditation
These time-tested approaches involve transforming how you respond to pain. According to SMART Recovery®, individuals who use mindfulness or meditation techniques accept their pain rather than worry about it, which reduces the intensity of it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a time-tested talk therapy that addresses the negative thoughts and feelings associated with pain. CBT aims to help patients by providing coping mechanisms for pain management, which ultimately helps them conquer negative feelings and thoughts about pain, says SMART Recovery®.
Massage, Acupuncture, and Chiropractic Care
These safe and natural approaches not only ease pain, but they also release endorphins and improve body function, states SMART Recovery®.
SMART Recovery® Also Lists These Pain Medications As Safe Alternatives To Opioids:
- Over-the-counter acetaminophen (TYLENOL)
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs (aspirin, Motrin, Advil, Aleve)
- Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors or SNRIs (Cymbalta)
Why Heroin is so Dangerous
As The New York Times report points out in this groundbreaking report, heroin sets off a “tidal wave” of dopamine in the brain. This dopamine flood will make a heroin user experience a surge of euphoria.
Heroin accomplishes this by aggressively binding to specific opioid receptors in the brain and impacting its reward center. Dopamine is that “feel-good” chemical that motivates people to do something over and over.
So it follows that after someone experiences a heroin high, they will use it over and over. Heroin hijacks the brain, and you are caught in a constant cycle of abuse that seems inescapable.
When asked by a writer from The New York Times Magazine about whether he was able to stop using heroin, a man responded with this, “Everybody wishes they could stop,” he said. “You’re always in this web. You’re in the web for the rest of your life.”
Heroin Withdrawal 'Hell'
What keeps you locked in that cycle of chronic heroin use are the withdrawal symptoms, which The New York Times described as “having the worst flu of your life, or a like a demon is crawling out of your skin.”
It does not start out that way.
As one man shared with Kaiser Health News, heroin withdrawal can often begin as “minor annoyances” like “a yawn, or perhaps a runny nose, a sore back, sensitive skin or a restless leg.”
According to the writer, those signs can set off a dire panic.
“I’d better get heroin or some sort of opioid into my body as soon as possible, or else I would experience a sickness so terrible I would do almost anything to prevent it…, he said in an account published by Kaiser Health News.
According to MedlinePlus.gov, heroin and opioid withdrawal symptoms occur in an early and late stage.
Early Symptoms Include:
- Increased tearing
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
Late Symptoms Of Withdrawal Are:
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
These are not life-threatening symptoms, but there are enough to cause someone to lapse back into heroin use.
General Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
While heroin withdrawal symptoms can occur differently in people, they generally begin six to 12 hours after your last dose. These symptoms often peak within one to three days and diminish over five to seven days, according to Verywell Mind.
People can also experience lingering psychological withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, and depression for weeks or months, a state known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
Hope in Heroin Addiction Treatment
Withdrawal can seem like an endless hell, but there is hope.
Withdrawal symptoms are your body’s means of achieving homeostasis, which is a steady state where your body functions optimally.
There are substitutes for heroin that will allow you to escape that web of addiction. They come in the form of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved opioid treatment medications like buprenorphine and methadone.
Either of these medicines is available as a form of maintenance therapy.
Both are offered through medication-assisted treatment (MAT). MAT is a treatment approach that has been proven effective in treating heroin addiction. If a mental health disorder accompanies your addiction, a MAT program can provide antidepressants and other medication to treat those conditions.
MAT is available through professional addiction treatment.
How Professional Treatment can Help you
A professional treatment program can provide the necessary treatment medications, therapy, and counseling to address your entire being — not just the addiction itself.
Our program begins with medical detox, a 24-hour cycle of continuous care conducted by doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel. The medical team removes the heroin and other toxins from your body. They also treat those withdrawal symptoms, which allow for a safe and comfortable detox process.
The relentlessness of heroin addiction requires an extensive, well-rounded therapeutic response. That is where residential treatment services come in. Residential treatment offers a comprehensive level of therapy and care.
This program offers evidence-based services that are effective in treating the mental and emotional aspects of your addiction.
Those services include:
- Group therapy
- Group therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)Family therapy
- Motivational interviewing
- Life skills training
Based on the recommendation of your caseworker, you can continue to receive treatment through an outpatient program, which provides comprehensive services on a part-time basis without putting your life on hold.
After your treatment is over, you can get ongoing support through relapse prevention, which provides resources to allow you to navigate the peaks and valleys of recovery.