Heroin Addiction and Abuse in Women
Heroin addiction and abuse in women is widespread in the United States. It has become a serious problem that requires immediate attention.
In fact, heroin is one of the most commonly abused drugs among women.
Heroin Abuse Statistics in the U.S.
The heroin abuse statistics in our country tell the bitter truth. Unfortunately, so many people have fallen prey to this addiction.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine tells us that:
- In 2015, 591,000 people in the United States had a substance abuse problem involving heroin.
- In 2015, there were close to 13,000 heroin overdoses in the United States.
- Four out of five new heroin users first began using prescription painkillers.
- 94% of people say they switched to heroin from prescription drugs because it was less expensive.
- They also stated that heroine, the drug, was much easier to obtain.
For women, the stakes are even higher. Further statistics and facts tell us that:
- Women are much more likely to have chronic pain, therefore;
- Women are much more likely to be prescribed pain relievers to help with their pain.
- Women often take these drugs longer and at higher doses.
- Women may become dependent on prescription drugs faster than men.
- Because of this, women are much more likely to make the switch from these drugs to heroin.
- Heroin overdose deaths among women have tripled between 2010 and 2013.
- The number of women who died because of a heroin overdose went from 4 to 1.2 per 100,000.
It’s no wonder that the heroin problem in our country has been described an epidemic. Heroin is a serious drug that often has devastating consequences.
Unfortunately, so many women are unaware of how hazardous heroin is. With each and every use of the drug, they put themselves at risk.
Heroin, the Drug Explained
Heroin is an opioid drug. It is highly illegal, although it was once legal and believed to be an effective drug to treat pain.
Heroin, the drug, is very addictive. It comes from morphine, which is extracted from poppy plants. Heroin is sold as a white or brown colored powder. It is cut with different items, such as starch or sugar.
Pure heroin has a bitter taste, and it is white in color. It generally comes from South America, and it can be smoked or snorted. Many are familiar with black tar heroin, which is not pure. It is usually produced in Mexico and is used by injecting it.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug that comes from the Asian poppy plant. It is an opioid drug made from morphine from this plant. It comes in powder form, and it can either be white or brown. It can also be formulated into a black, sticky substance. This is known as black tar heroin.
When heroin is used, it enters the brain quickly. As it does, it changes back into morphine. It produces a high because of the way it binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. These opioid receptors are responsible for feeling pain and pleasure. Other opioid receptors are influenced as well. These control breathing, arousal and blood pressure.
How is Heroin Used?
Heroin can be used in a number of different ways. It can be injected, smoked or snorted. Sometimes heroin can be mixed with other types of drugs. For example, people will often mix it with cocaine. When this is done, it is known as a speedball. As you can imagine, if heroin is mixed with other drugs, it becomes much more dangerous.
The Dangers of Heroin
As a drug, heroin wasn’t always illegal, or considered to be dangerous. It was developed in 1898 as a way to treat morphine addiction and tuberculosis. At first, people didn’t believe it was possible to become addicted to heroin. As a result, many doctors prescribed it for their patients. It wasn’t until much later when the ugly truth about heroin was discovered.
One of the most dangerous components of heroin is that it’s a drug that’s purchased on the street. As a result, its purity can never really be for certain. The individual buying it can never be sure about the strength of the drug either. Every time someone uses heroin, they are risking an overdose, for this reason.
Heroin Abuse vs. Heroin Addiction: What’s the Difference?
It’s important to understand the difference between heroin abuse and heroin addiction. These are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they actually mean very different things. Once you know the difference between abuse and addiction, it can help you tremendously. In fact, you might be able to understand more fully where your relationship with heroin lies.
Heroin Abuse Defined
When someone is abusing heroin, that person is probably only using once in a while. He or she may have used the drug once, and never picked it up again. Even one use of heroin is known as abuse. This is because the drug is illegal.
Heroin abusers generally don’t feel a need to keep using the drug. They may use it occasionally when the opportunity arises. They may also turn it down once in a while when given the chance to use. They don’t feel compelled to use it at all. They may or may not like the way it makes them feel. When they stop using heroin, they don’t go through withdrawal.
The problem is that most people assume that they are only abusing heroin. Quite often, they’re mistaking heroin abuse for heroin addiction.
Heroin Addiction Defined
A heroin addiction is defined as feeling the need to use the drug regularly. Someone who is addicted to heroin might not feel right without their regular dosage of the drug. That person will go through withdrawal symptoms once the heroin starts to exit their system.
A heroin addiction is a chronic, relapsing condition. This is what characterizes it as a disease. Someone who is addicted to heroin probably has a very hard time stopping the use of the drug. This is even truer for someone who tries to quit alone, without professional help.
Heroin addiction is also progressive. That means it gets worse, and it does not get better. Heroin addicts will continually use larger doses of the drug to get high. They may mix heroin with other drugs or substances, such as alcohol or cocaine. They’re always chasing after that first high they experienced when they started using.
How do Women Become Addicted to Heroin?
Women may become addicted to heroin in many different ways, and for different reasons. They may be led toward addiction because of any of the following:
- A genetic predisposition to addiction
- A mental health issue such as depression
- Problems coping with stress
- Difficulty connecting with others
- Home environments where drug use is considered normal
Still, heroin is a unique addiction. For many women, it is often caused because of prescription drug addiction first and foremost.
Why Are More Women Using Heroin?
One of the most interesting and disturbing trends of the growing opioid epidemic is that women in particular are becoming more commonly affected than men.
More women are actually using and abusing heroin today than ever before. And while men typically have been the most frequent sufferers from heroin-related overdose deaths, the gap between the genders is quickly shrinking.
So, what kinds of risks does heroin pose to women specifically?
And beyond that, what’s behind this alarming shift and why is the relationship between heroin and women changing now more than ever?
As women become more frequent abusers of heroin, there are a number of gender-specific risks that come with this abuse as well as a few consequences of this growing trend.
First, women heroin addicts are at an increased risk of being exploited or violently assaulted than men. This also includes sexual assault and, in some cases, unplanned and undesired pregnancies.
Impaired judgement can also lead to the transmission of STDs as well as blood-borne pathogens like HIV or hepatitis.
Women are also more likely to develop co-occurring mental disorders like depression when it comes to opioid dependency – at least 10% more likely in fact.
What’s more, opioid dependent women are more likely to suffer legal repercussions such as Child Protective Services involvement than men as well, showing that even the legal system can carry a bit of a stigma when it comes to women drug users.
And finally, all of these risks are further exacerbated by the fact that women are less likely to seek treatment or addiction education.
This is especially problematic since the correlation between using heroin and women is increasingly becoming so strong.
One of the main drivers of the rising rate of heroin abuse among women has to do with the enormous surge in prescription painkiller addiction.
You may be thinking, “Heroin and prescription opioids may belong to the same class of drugs, but they certainly aren’t equivalent.” And you’re right – heroin is 100% illegal, incredibly fast acting, and can be particularly potent as well.
However, when prescription pain pills become substances of abuse, they can actually end up being more dangerous than heroin itself. Drugs like fentanyl, for example, can be as much as 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin.
What’s more, these drugs are also incredibly addictive. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that an astounding one out of four patients who take prescription opioids long-term for non-cancer pain end up struggling with addiction.
Some studies have even found that physical dependency to these drugs can begin in as little as just a few days after starting treatment.
And when you develop an addiction to prescription opioids, it can be incredibly hard to get through the lengthy withdrawals and move towards sobriety.
While prescription painkillers can be an especially addictive substance for anyone taking them, women in particular tend to have a much harder time keeping clean from these drugs specifically.
According to the CDC, there are a number of prescription painkiller trends that are specific to women including:
- Women are more likely to have chronic pain, be prescribed prescription painkillers, be given higher doses, and use them for longer time periods than men.
- Women may become dependent on prescription painkillers more quickly than men.
- Women may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping” (obtaining prescriptions from multiple prescribers).
- For every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, 30 go to the emergency department for painkiller misuse or abuse.
As you can see, women in general appear to be much more vulnerable to prescription painkiller abuse.
While an addiction to prescription opioids is undoubtedly a dangerous condition that disproportionately affects women, the question is: What does this have to do with heroin and women?
The truth is, prescription opioid abuse is highly associated with later heroin use. In fact, studies have shown that as many as 75% of heroin users reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug.
And given that women are disproportionately addicted to prescription pills, it’s obvious that the especially pronounced spike in heroin use among women recently can be traced directly back to opioid painkillers.
The Connection Between Heroin and Prescription Drugs
There are so many prescription drugs that are quite similar to heroin. Oxycodone is one of them, and it’s the one that predominantly leads to heroin addiction. Others, like Vicodin and Percocet, can lead to it as well. Prescription drug addiction often occurs accidentally. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, women are significantly at risk. They state that more than 6,600 women died after overdosing on prescription painkillers in 2010. This is a 400% increase from the year 1999.
This tells us that more women than ever are now using prescription drugs. As far as how this is related to heroin use, there is a close correlation.
Studies have shown that abusing painkillers like OxyContin dramatically increases the risk of developing an addiction to heroin later in life.
In fact, the National Institutes on Drug Abuse found that people who abuse painkillers are an incredible 19 times more likely to start using heroin. Beyond that, 8 out of 10 people who started using heroin ended up abusing painkillers before that.
So, what’s going on here? First of all, prescription opioids are incredibly addictive, as we’ve seen. And when an addicted individual’s treatment ends, and they’re forced to give up their prescription, they often have a hard time returning to an opioid-free life.
Consequently, they may seek out a new prescription from a doctor, other types of pills to abuse, or try to get their hands on illegal versions of the drug.
When women are no longer able to obtain prescription drugs, heroin seems a suitable substitute. It is still very closely related to some prescription pain medications and even usually activates the exact same cellular receptors as heroin.
It can be cheaper, in some cases, and more readily available. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration not only reported that heroin has become substantially more affordable than ever before, but also that the availability countrywide has seen a significant increase since 2009 – by as much as 50% in some areas.
Given these facts, it’s easy to see how these two types of drugs are connected and why prescription opioid abuse can lead to an addiction to heroin.
Am I a Heroin Addict?
After learning more about heroin and how addiction occurs, it’s natural to wonder if you’re a heroin addict. This is a very important question for you to answer for yourself. It is vital for you to understand your own relationship to this dangerous drug. Unless you do, you won’t know how to proceed. If you need heroin treatment, that’s something you need to know right away.
You need to know, am I am a heroin addict? If you are, you should be able to notice these signs of heroin addiction:
- Enjoying the way that heroin makes you feel – happy and satisfied.
- Pin-point pupils in both of your eyes.
- Track marks on your skin from injecting heroin.
- Feeling as though you need to use more heroin to get high.
- Changes in your behavior.
- Lying to others about your drug use.
- Having legal problems related to your heroin use.
- Continuing to use heroin even though there are negative consequences to it.
- Withdrawing or becoming isolated from your friends and family.
- Exhibiting aggressive moods or behaviors.
- Having symptoms of depression.
Heroin is an expensive habit to maintain as time goes on. You may resort to stealing money from others to pay for it. You may also sell valuables (yours or someone else’s) to cover the cost of your drugs. If any of these apply to you, you probably do have an addiction to heroin. If you do, heroin treatment is the best course of action for you.
Some women only intend to use heroin one time. Or, they may only intend to use it for a short period of time. Even so, it can still have a devastating effect within the brain and body. Some of the short-term effects of heroin include:
- Losing your memory
- Losing any motivation to complete important tasks
- Experiencing constipation or other digestion problems
- Problems with motor control
- An upset stomach with nausea or vomiting
- Itchiness of the skin
- Experiencing catatonia
Heroin is a drug that is often injected. This is the most popular way to use the drug because of the body’s fast response. Needles are frequently shared between heroin users. This puts all heroin addicts at risk for contracting diseases, such as HIV.
The short-term effects of heroin are quite dramatic. However, the long-term effects are even more so. Long-term heroin use really damages the brain and body. It can result in:
- A diagnosis of arthritis
- Collapsed veins
- Infections in the heart valves and blood vessels
- A diagnosis of tuberculosis
- Bad teeth and gums
- A damaged and weakened immune system
- A high risk of a coma
- Respiratory illnesses
- Partial paralysis of the muscles
As you can see, none of the above are worth the short-lived high that heroin results in. It is a high that develops quickly, and just as quickly, goes away. This results in continuing use of the drug, and a rapid decline of one’s health and well-being.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug. For this reason, when it is stopped, withdrawal symptoms are likely to result. Many women who are addicted to heroin believe they’ve felt withdrawal, and some have. However, most have never experienced heroin withdrawal to its full extent.
Some of the more common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Experiencing severe cravings for heroin
- Becoming very depressed
- Becoming extremely agitated
- Experiencing abdominal pain
- Becoming very nauseous
- Hot or cold sweats
- Shakiness all over the body
- Feeling nervous
Most heroin addicts may experience cravings when too much time has passed since their last use. They tend to think that this is as hard as it gets when they stop using. Unfortunately, heroin withdrawal can linger on for quite some time. It only gets much worse before it starts to get better.
The Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
After the last dose of heroin, the withdrawal timeline starts ticking away. Between 6 and 12 hours since the last dose, the early withdrawal symptoms begin. This might mean mild cravings for the drug. It could also mean some agitation, and even some depression. When the body doesn’t get “fed” its usual dose of heroin, these symptoms get worse. In addition, other symptoms are added. This will continue until the symptoms hit a peak. This generally occurs somewhere around day 3. Once that peak is reached, the severity of symptoms can begin to diminish.
It usually takes about a week before heroin withdrawal symptoms start to go away completely. However, they can come back again at any time. In fact, it’s not unusual for people to experience a resurgence of heroin withdrawal years later.
The Benefits of Heroin Addiction Treatment for Women
As a woman who is a heroin addict, heroin addiction treatment offers you so many great benefits. These include:
- Having the opportunity to go through heroin detox. This will help you with the physical side of your addiction.
- Being able to get support and help from other heroin addicts, or other types of drug addicts.
- Gaining professional insight into your addiction.
- Learning what living your life without heroin will be like.
- Understanding why you became a heroin addict, and healing from the originating cause.
What are Your Options for Women’s Heroin Rehab?
You have many different options for heroin rehab, as a woman. It’s important for you to choose the one that will be right for you. These options include:
Sober Living for Heroin Addicts
Many women who are addicted to heroin opt for a sober living environment for recovery. It helps them to live in a structured and supportive environment. Sober living provides them with access to helpful staff members. It also puts them in contact with other recovering heroin addicts with the same goals.
Sober living can last for several weeks, or it can stretch on into several months. The programs are detailed according to what each patient needs.
Intensive Outpatient Treatment for Women
This type of program works best when it is combined with sober living services. During intensive outpatient treatment, patients participate with heroin rehab several days a week. These programs generally run for 12 weeks, or so. They can be longer or shorter, based on patients’ needs.
During IOP programs, patients learn about the dangers of their addictions. They work with a counselor who will identify any co-occurring disorders they might have. This is so important. If these conditions are not identified and treated, recovery might not take place.
Inpatient Treatment for Heroin
Many women begin heroin recovery by going through an inpatient treatment program. These programs usually last for about 30 days. They are important because most women need a high level of care during the beginning of recovery. During inpatient treatment, patients participate with group therapy and individual therapy. Other types of treatment may be assigned as a part of the patient’s treatment plan. The goal of inpatient treatment is to stop the use of heroin and begin the healing process.
There are a number of methods used for patients undergoing heroin detox. This is the first form of treatment for many heroin addicts. Suboxone is a drug that is common recommended for heroin addicts. This, along with therapy and other detoxification methods can help aid in the heroin detox process.
Heroin Treatment for Women at Denver Women’s Recovery
Right now, you could be in a state of shock about having a heroin addiction. Most people never think that they’ll become addicted to heroin when they start using it. They assume that they’re stronger than the pull from any drug. Sometimes they even tell themselves that they’ll just stop if they feel in danger of an addiction.
After going over the above information, you now know of the dangers. You’re aware of how heroin can negatively affect your life. You may be feeling scared, but you’re also ready to seek out a heroin treatment program. Here at Denver Women’s Recovery, we can assist you with that.
Our heroin treatment program is completely tailored to our patients’ needs. Because we focus solely on women, you can feel confident that you’ll get the help you desire. A heroin addiction is something that you can overcome. However, you can’t do it on your own. It is a powerful addiction, and having professional expertise will only work in your favor.
Are you interested in talking about your options for women’s heroin treatment? Are you ready to recover from your heroin addiction? If you are, we’re prepared to help you. Please contact us right away for information, or to learn how to get started.
- Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures. Retrieved from: https://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf
- (January 2017). Heroin. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
- (26, July 2013). Prescription Painkillers are Claiming More Women’s Lives. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2013/07/prescription-painkillers-are-claiming-more-womens-lives
- Signs of Heroin Use and Addiction. Retrieved from: https://easyread.drugabuse.gov/content/signs-heroin-use-and-addiction