Buying heroin by legal means is highly unlikely. This isn’t a narcotic that doctors prescribe to patients suffering from acute pain. Usually, heroin is purchased on the street and vendors are often addicts, desperate to fund their own habit. Their chain of command goes up to a single person who controls illegal drug commerce for a part of the city and will ruthlessly protect his trade, not his people. He relies on addiction to make a dishonest living and doesn’t care if addicts want to end the cycle of dependence.

Heroin Dependence

A heroin-dependent individual can’t sleep at night. He is restless; sometimes aggressive and confused. All he thinks about is his next hit. The first time he took heroin, sensations were euphoric. He’s looking to repeat that initial sense of freedom, but there’s nothing like the first dose. Every time he shoots-up he laments that nothing is quite as amazing. Each session is good though, at least for a while, until heroin takes over his natural ability to manage pain and discomfort. He increases his dose every week or every day until nothing covers the pain and confusion he feels and, finally, this addict dies from an overdose.

Why Pain?

Heroin interferes with the brain’s command center which sends and receives messages from the nervous system. This system indicates when a part of the body is inflamed or in pain and sends naturally-produced chemicals to the area.

Much of the time a body fights wars against aggressors without knowing what’s happening whether they tackle the immune system, muscles, joints, or tissue. An attack isn’t strong enough to warrant any outward reaction when a person’s system is functioning.

Heroin replaces natural pain killers in the body until one day this individual is unable to make his own. He feels everything, becoming over-sensitive to even the slightest knock. Disturbance to his entire nervous system and chemical balance also affects mood and energy. That next hit of heroin becomes critical to even the remotest sense of comfort.


Substance abuse is a life-threatening behavior, so it’s important to treat detoxification as an emergency. When someone responds positively to an intervention and is willing to undergo detox, he should be taken directly to an emergency room where nurses and doctors will hook him up to IV fluids and get started right away.

The process is painful. Ridding the body of chemicals which control pain is agonizing. Participants often require sedation and non-addictive treatment for pain. An individual can become aggressive during the worst part, but perhaps the most trying aspect of detox is loneliness. Cleansing the body of a drug usually takes time during which a patient is isolated from other people, unless good friends and family come to be by his side during the long lonely days.

There is a type of detox performed under sedation and hastened with drugs which takes just hours. Proponents believe this method is akin to ripping off a band-aid quickly: not harmful, but quick and simple as long as the person is under sedation. Detractors believe this method is unsafe, so substance abusers and their families must weigh the pros and cons.

Treatment for Heroin Abuse

Rehab specialists want to know why a person decided to take drugs. That’s the first question because the answer informs treatment. What were the circumstances around an initial experiment: grief; emotional strife; stress; physical pain? Was the patient merely curious and, perhaps, goaded by peers to try the drug? Someone who comes from a previously happy existence can potentially return to some semblance of that former life without intensive counseling. Drugs were his problem and temptation remains his biggest threat.

A large number of participants in heroin rehab, however, took the drug when they were desperate to overcome symptoms of serious mental disturbance such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, intense anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Some patients suffer from eating disorders or commit self-harm. In cases where co-existing conditions present themselves, addiction is second to the mental illness. This is what prompted an initial episode of drug use, and unless the illness is treated, a person is highly vulnerable to the lure of drugs in the future.

Rehab Setting

City, state, and federal governments find it difficult to fund a lot of residential rehab facilities. Unless a patient is considered high-risk (has no one to look after him at home, suffers from serious mental illness, or lacks transportation to make it to outpatient services), he will probably undergo treatment as an outpatient. He will be required to visit daily for the first few weeks. Attendance will slowly diminish to several times weekly, then weekly, until only monthly visits are needed to ascertain a client’s true state of mind. Sessions will include group therapy in which participants share personal stories of addiction, their challenges, and their triumphs. Individual therapy will focus on setting up the patient with tools to overcome stress in daily life and deal with emotional problems.

In-patient rehab is rarely funded by a government body. These are usually run by charitable organizations or private companies and often funded by donors from all walks of life. Privately funded facilities are located around the world. Clients are treated like guests at a 5-star hotel where they receive alternative therapies (acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, and even swimming with dolphins). Meals are designed by a nutritionist to refuel a body long lacking in minerals and vitamins. Regular inpatient facilities involve group and individual therapy sessions like those at private and outpatient facilities. It’s common for these centers to accept work as part-payment: often yard work or light labor, gardening, cleaning, and other household chores. A number of these centers are run by churches and participants are expected to attend religious services. They are not expected to profess any kind of belief.

Long-term Recovery

Prognosis is not good where heroin addiction is concerned. Many people leave rehab part-way through or return to the drug within months of leaving rehab. It’s crucial that recovering addicts make their home amidst good role models and leave behind the friends and colleagues who enabled and promoted substance abuse.