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12 Myths About Heroin Addiction

When it comes to dealing with any type of substance use disorder, knowing the facts is always more helpful than relying on myths. Unfortunately for people struggling to heal from heroin addiction, there are many myths to sort out.

In the U.K., heroin is a Class A drug, a classification for substances that Parliament considers to be the most harmful. As such, heroin is an illegal substance but still illicitly used for its euphoric effects. Heroin use is a serious problem in the U.K., which has the highest drug-related death rate in Europe.

12 Heroin Addiction Myths

The more you understand about heroin addiction, the better prepared you will be to help yourself or someone else recover from heroin use disorder. Heroin has long been seen as a drug used by “bad” or dangerous people who use drugs to escape their responsibilities.

The National Institutes of Health emphasises that such stigmas about those with opioid use disorder create more obstacles to getting the mental healthcare they need.

Myth 1: People Don’t Recover From Heroin Addiction

The idea that recovery is impossible may be the most dangerous myth of all. Telling people they have little chance of regaining their health disincentivises them from even trying to get well.

A recent study co-authored by Dr. John Kelly, who heads the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that 22.3 million American adults maintain long-term recovery. An additional study found that 75% of individuals who experience addiction are able to recover.

Healing from heroin addiction is difficult. For most people, it requires comprehensive care and counselling that may be ongoing for years.

Myth 2: Heroin Is Safer When Snorted or Smoked

Those who use heroin may want to believe they can reduce the risks of heroin use by avoiding intravenous use. Using needles to inject heroin does pose health risks. It is possible to contract HIV, hepatitis, and other infections by using dirty needles. However, the drug is equally dangerous no matter how it is ingested.

In addition to overdosing, some of the health risks associated with heroin addiction include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Damage to nose tissues if snorted
  • Lung and respiratory complications, such as pneumonia
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Mental health disorders
  • Clouded mental function
  • Heart damage, including heart infections, heart attacks, and cardiac arrest

There is no “safer” way to use heroin. It is a highly addictive substance associated with many health risks.

Myth 3: Using Suboxone Is Not Real Recovery

Suboxone is a combination of the medications naloxone and buprenorphine. It is used to help people with opioid use disorder safely withdraw from heroin. Suboxone lowers the risk of a fatal overdose by as much as 50%. The medication works by reducing cravings and blunting the euphoric effects of opioid-based drugs.

The theory that Suboxone is just a substitute for heroin is not only false, but it is also one more stigma that people seeking recovery have to deal with. Heroin addiction is a chronic medical condition that responds positively to Suboxone.

People with other chronic health issues, such as hypertension or diabetes, take medications to manage their symptoms. Taking Suboxone to manage the symptoms of opioid use disorder is similar.

Myth 4: Medically Supervised Withdrawal Is Unnecessary

Perhaps it is related to the stigma that people with drug use disorders deserve punishment, but many people still believe those with heroin addiction should suffer the physical and emotional symptoms of detox without medical intervention.

The symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be mild to severe, depending on the duration and severity of an individual’s disorder. Serious and even life-threatening symptoms such as rapid heart rate or seizure are possible.

Medically supervised detox programmes provide basic medical care that keeps clients safe and comfortable as their bodies learn to function without heroin. Not only does supervised detox help ease detox symptoms, but it also addresses other physical and mental health concerns that require treatment.

People with addiction issues often ignore their health needs. Poor nutrition and poor self-care combined with the side effects of heroin can lead to a number of health problems. Addressing all aspects of a person’s health provides a stronger foundation for lasting recovery.

Myth 5: Heroin Addiction Can Happen Instantly

You may have heard people with substance use disorders say things like “I was hooked from the first try.” While it is possible that some individuals enjoy the effects of heroin so much they can’t wait to try it again, addiction doesn’t occur with one use or even a handful of uses.

Addiction happens in stages. The first stage is physical dependence. With continued use, heroin damages the brain’s neurotransmitters and makes the brain dependent on the drug in order to produce endorphins. Once dependence is established, addiction follows.

There are many factors that influence a person’s risk of addiction, including co-occurring mental health concerns and genetic disposition.

Myth 6: If You Can Maintain a Job, You Don’t Have a Heroin Addiction

Living with a substance use disorder looks different for different people. Addiction also has different stages. People with heroin addiction don’t go directly from living responsible lives with a job, home, and family to leading drastically different lives to support their habit.

There are people who manage to pay their bills and keep relationships while using opioids – at least for a while. Addiction disorders know no boundaries. A person’s outer success may be hiding a very painful secret, such as a heroin addiction.

Myth 7: People With Heroin Addiction Must Hit Rock Bottom Before They Can Get Help

The idea that hitting “rock bottom” is necessary is one of the most destructive myths about any type of addiction disorder. While many people do wait until recovery is a life-or-death situation, it is fully possible to succeed in treatment before that juncture.

There are many examples of people being forced into treatment by the court or an employer or being pressured into recovery by family members. Entering treatment even when you don’t fully believe you need it can still result in success.

In fact, the earlier a person seeks treatment, the easier recovery can be. Physical and emotional dependence on heroin grows stronger, and the possibility of complications increases over time. Seeking treatment as soon as you recognise you have a problem may provide the greatest chance of overcoming heroin use disorder.

Myth 8: Relapse Means Treatment Failed

Addiction may be the only chronic disease where treatments are blamed when their symptoms reoccur. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that relapse rates for substance use disorders are comparable to those for hypertension and diabetes.

Relapse is not a sign that treatment isn’t working or the individual failed. Relapse signals the need to readjust treatment to meet the individual’s current needs.

Many experts consider relapse a predictable part of the recovery journey. Relapse prevention programmes are part of most comprehensive treatment programmes. With heroin addiction, relapse can be deadly. Accidental overdoses happen when individuals use the same dosage they were used to before going through detox.

Myth 9: Heroin Addiction Can Only Be Treated With Suboxone for a Short Period

This is another myth that can discourage people from seeking treatment. Some people may only need Suboxone for a few months, but many feel more confident in managing their recovery with the support of Suboxone. Just as people with diabetes may need medication for the rest of their lives, people with heroin use disorder may need medications for the rest of their lives.

Myth 10: There Is Only One Way to Treat Heroin Addiction

People with substance use disorder are individuals. They develop addictions for different reasons and respond to certain treatments differently. The most effective treatment plan is one that is customised to meet an individual’s needs.

Most programmes offer a variety of therapies, including:

  • Medically assisted detox
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Mindfulness therapies
  • Stress management
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Lifestyle recovery
  • Deep transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • Ketamine-assisted healing
  • Experiential therapies
  • Trauma therapy
  • Treatment for co-occurring conditions
  • Relapse prevention
  • Aftercare programme

People who become addicted to heroin and other substances often have a history of trauma, chronic pain, and undiagnosed or untreated mental health disorders. Treatment programmes that take a holistic approach provide the best chance of achieving lasting recovery.

Whether an individual opts for medical treatments alone, psychological treatments alone, or a combination of therapies, the most important thing is that they receive the treatments they need.

Myth 11: Treatment for Heroin Addiction Is Not Affordable

While it is true that some treatment centres are designed for people who can afford fine amenities, there are affordable options for treating a substance use disorder. Many people think of residential programmes when they think of addiction treatment. Residential centres do offer the highest level of supervision and care, but they are not the only effective approach.

Day programmes provide a high level of care with a mix of psychoeducational sessions and integrative programming. Day programme participants attend therapy from licensed professionals for a portion of the day and return home at night. Day programmes allow for flexibility and are less costly because they do not provide housing.

Virtual therapy is another option. With a virtual programme, clients use a telehealth platform to stay connected with therapists and peers in group meetings.

Myth 12: Only Weak People Need Help

There is no shame in getting help for a heroin use disorder. In fact, it takes courage to reach out for help when it is needed. Part of this myth is related to the outdated idea that developing an addiction is a sign of moral failing. “You got yourself into this situation, now get yourself out,” was a common attitude.

Fortunately, attitudes are changing. Current, evidence-based studies that show addiction is a chronic disease that responds positively to treatment are helping to dispel harmful myths like this one.

Recovering from heroin addiction is a difficult process, no matter how much help an individual receives. Changing old habits, healing trauma, learning how to set boundaries with yourself and others, and doing all of the other steps needed to maintain recovery requires great personal strength.

Find Help for Heroin Addiction at APN London

If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, don’t let the myths stop you from receiving the help you deserve. There is hope, no matter how severe your opioid use disorder may be. With individualised treatment from experienced therapists and ongoing support, you can live the healthy, happy life you were meant to have.

You do not have to wait until your health is compromised and your life is falling apart before getting help, and you don’t have to suffer through heroin withdrawal alone. Call APN London at 0203 984 7699 or contact us online for more information.

References

  • “1 in 10 Americans Report Having Resolved a Significant Substance Use Problem.” Recovery Research Institute, 28 Sept. 2020, www.recoveryanswers.org/research-post/1-in-10-americans-report-having-resolved-a-significant-substance-use-problem/.
  • Cheetham, Ali et al. “The Impact of Stigma on People with Opioid Use Disorder, Opioid Treatment, and Policy.” Substance abuse and rehabilitation vol. 13 1-12. 25 Jan. 2022, doi:10.2147/SAR.S304566
  • Jones, Christopher M., et al. “Prevalence and Correlates of Ever Having a Substance Use Problem and Substance Use Recovery Status among Adults in the United States, 2018.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, vol. 214, 2020, p. 108169, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108169. Accessed 16 Mar. 2024.
  • Peter Grinspoon, MD. “5 Myths about Using Suboxone to Treat Opiate Addiction.” Harvard Health, 7 Oct. 2021, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/5-myths-about-using-suboxone-to-treat-opiate-addiction-2018032014496.
  • “Treatment and Recovery.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 25 Sept. 2023, nida.nih.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery.