Heroin Addiction: Treatments, Common Signs, & Withdrawal

Written By: Facility Staff

Published Date:

Edited By: Editorial Team

Last Updated: May 7, 2024

Countless people have become addicted to heroin, because it is often presented as a more accessible and cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers.

If you or a loved one are battling heroin addiction, there is hope. Compassionate help from Hope’s Destiny and other treatment providers can help you and your loved ones overcome heroin abuse and addiction.

Read on to learn more about heroin addiction, how heroin abuse turns into heroin addiction, who is at risk for heroin addiction, and more.

What to Know About Heroin Addiction 

Also known as heroin use disorder, heroin addiction occurs when someone has a strong need to keep using heroin even though it hurts them and others. 

Heroin is a highly addictive and rapidly-acting opioid. It is processed from morphine, a substance found in opium poppy plants grown in Southeast Asia, South America, and Mexico. 

Street names for heroin include Horse, Chiva, Black Tar, Negra, and Smack.

Because heroin is highly addictive, people can quickly get addicted. Regular heroin use leads to heroin tolerance, which requires the person to use more heroin to achieve the same surge of euphoria followed by an in-between state of sleep and wakefulness.

Fortunately, support groups and treatment options provide hope for people struggling with heroin addiction.

Top Facts on Heroin Use Disorder

  • In 2021, 0.4% or 1.1 million people reported using heroin in the past year.
  • As of 2023, over 500,000 in the United States are dependent on heroin.
  • In 2021, over 9,000 people died from an overdose involving heroin.
  • Heroin overdoses can lead to blue lips and fingernails, convulsions, shallow and slow breathing, coma, and death.
  • Repeated heroin use can change the structure of the brain, which can affect decision-making abilities, responses to stressful situations, and the ability to control behavior.
  • Withdrawal can occur within a few hours after heroin use, leading to cold flashes with goosebumps, diarrhea, restlessness, and vomiting.
  • Several heroin recovery options can help people struggling with heroin addiction, such as sober living homes, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and aftercare options.

How Heroin Abuse Turns to Heroin Addiction

Heroin use can be addicting and pleasurable. Accordingly, it’s easy for people to develop heroin use disorder. Here’s a breakdown of how heroin abuse can turn into heroin addiction.

First Heroin Use

Heroin abuse typically starts when someone uses heroin for the first time. When heroin enters the brain, it is turned into morphine and binds to opioid receptors, leading to a pleasurable sensation called a “rush.”

People can get addicted to these effects, leading to continued heroin abuse.

Continued Heroin Abuse

As people continue using heroin, their brain chemistry will morph, and they will start developing a physical dependency that makes the periods in between heroin more uncomfortable and painful.

Heroin Addiction and Dependence

Physical dependence on heroin can keep people using heroin to avoid withdrawal. 

Their uncontrollable cravings will cause them to continue seeking heroin to satisfy their urges, regardless of the consequences and the harm it is causing to others and themselves.

Signs of Heroin Addiction 

There are several signs of heroin addiction. These include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Nausea
  • Constricted pupils
  • Heavy legs, arms, and other extremities
  • Weight loss
  • Deterioration of personal appearance

Other opioids, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, morphine, fentanyl, and codeine, can cause similar effects.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Someone who is physically dependent on heroin will experience withdrawal symptoms within several hours if they use less heroin or stop taking it. 

Withdrawal symptoms can include sweating, nausea, anxiety, chills, stomach cramps, diarrhea, and muscle aches. These symptoms can be severe or mild. 

Causes of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction usually happens when someone develops a tolerance to heroin and needs more of it to feel the same rush. 

Long-term use of an opioid substance gradually changes the functioning and structure of the brain, making it easier for someone to become addicted to heroin. This can affect people who were prescribed opioids for a long time by their doctors.

Who Is at Risk for Heroin Addiction?

Certain groups have a higher chance of developing heroin addiction. These include:

  • People with siblings or parents who struggle with addiction
  • People with a history of sexual or physical abuse
  • Younger people in their teens and early 20s
  • People with serious anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • People who use tobacco heavily
  • People with a history of problems with friends, family, and work
  • People (especially women) with a history of long-term pain who are given opioid medicines.

Ways People Abuse Heroin

People abuse heroin by snorting, smoking, plugging/boofing (taking drugs rectally), or injecting it. 

Many new users start by smoking or snorting heroin since they want to avoid the stigma associated with injection drug use. These people usually believe that smoking or snorting will not lead to addiction.

Eventually, people who smoke or snort heroin may start injecting heroin. Injection is a more efficient way to administer the drug and gives them the intense effects they first experienced when they first began using the drug. 

People may also plug heroin to get intense effects since the rectum has sensitive blood vessels for absorbing drugs quickly.

What Are the Effects of Heroin Abuse?

Heroin abuse can also cause negative short- and long-term effects. 

Short Term Effects of Heroin

Besides causing an intense high, heroin can cause a range of negative short-term effects. 

Short-term side effects of heroin include the following:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Sleepiness
  • Constipation
  • Feeling hot
  • Itching
  • Vomiting and nausea

Long Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin can have dangerous consequences in the long term. Such effects get worse the longer someone abuses heroin.

Long-term health problems associated with use of heroin include:

  • Increased risk of heroin overdose
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Increased risk of viral or bacterial infection from IV and syringe use, such as HIV, hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and other infectious diseases 
  • Insomnia
  • Drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction
  • Abscesses surrounding injection sites
  • Difficulty sleeping

Top Treatments for Heroin Use Disorder

Fortunately, there are several treatments for heroin use disorder. Here’s a breakdown of how these addiction treatments work.

Heroin Detox

Heroin addiction treatment typically starts with a detoxification period where the patient undergoes withdrawal under medical supervision. During this phase, the patient may receive opioid replacement medications. 

Although it is possible to go through detox without professional supervision or help, it is not advisable when quitting heroin.

Residential Heroin Rehab

Residential or inpatient heroin rehab requires patients to stay overnight briefly or for an extended period. Physicians keep these patients at a facility or hospital to monitor them closely.

Heroin addiction is usually severe and serious, so doctors are likely to recommend residential heroin rehab, particularly during the detox phase. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment or MAT uses medications with behavioral therapies and counseling to treat addiction.

There are three Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs for treating heroin and other opioid dependence: methadone (Methadose), buprenorphine (Suboxone), and naltrexone (Vivitrol).

Outpatient Treatment Programs

Outpatient treatment programs typically follow an inpatient treatment program. 

Outpatient treatment refers to an addiction treatment and recovery program where the patient lives at home during treatment. Any rehab program that doesn’t require patients to live at a hospital or facility for over 24 hours may count as an outpatient rehab. 

Outpatient rehab is typically more affordable than inpatient care and is aimed at people with mild addiction. 

For those who want more support, they can join an intensive outpatient program (IOP), which provides a more intensive and structured level of care than most outpatient programs. 

Dual Diagnosis Care

Dual diagnosis care is provided when someone has a mental health disorder along with heroin addiction. Other names for dual diagnosis include co-morbidity and co-occurring disorder.

People with heroin addiction often have mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies treat mental health disorders and addiction by spotting and changing self-destructive and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. 

Examples include contingency management therapies, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavior and skills training therapies, and couples and family treatments.

Continuing Care for Heroin Recovery

After receiving treatments for substance use disorder, patients must get continuing care for heroin recovery. This will decrease the chances of sliding back into habits of use and addiction.

There are several types of continuing care for heroin recovery, including:

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a non-profit fellowship for recovering addicts who regularly meet to help each other stay clean.
  • Sober living houses or sober living environments provide supportive, safe, and structured living conditions for people leaving drug rehabilitation programs. As in NA, residents in sober living homes can hold each other accountable and help each other fight addiction.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a mental health and behavioral health treatment locator and provides many other mental health resources for patients and healthcare providers.
  • Partnership to End Addiction offers a free and confidential helpline for concerned parents and caregivers of someone struggling with heroin addiction.

Find Effective Heroin Treatment at Hope’s Destiny

A heroin addiction can be terrifying. Not only does it have short-term effects, but it can cause long-term effects such as an increased risk of heroin and opioid overdose.

However, it is important to remember that people can and do overcome heroin addiction all the time, especially if they have compassionate help from state-of-the-art treatment facilities such as Hope’s Destiny. 

To learn more about how Hope’s Destiny can help you, contact us. Our friendly staff provides modern amenities and the necessary support to assist you on your journey towards long-term wellness.

Further Reading

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Further Reading

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you break a heroin addiction?

You can break a heroin drug addiction by undergoing top treatments, such as heroin detox, residential heroin rehab, medication-assisted treatment, outpatient treatment programs, dual diagnosis care, and behavioral therapies. Book an appointment with Hope’s Destiny to learn which is best for you.

What is having a heroin addiction like?

A heroin addiction can be difficult. People addicted to the substance aren’t only physically dependent on it and obsessed with obtaining and using heroin. They are also afraid to stop using due to fear of the painful withdrawal symptoms they may have when they stop using. Many heroin users have co-occurring mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression.Additionally, the more heroin someone uses, the more likely they will experience an overdose, which requires medical attention. Heroin overdoses can lead to a slower heart rate (which can lead to insufficient oxygen reaching the brain), disorientation, muscle spasms, low blood pressure, a weak pulse, delirium, shallow breathing, and other symptoms.

Can you cure a heroin addiction?

No, you can’t cure a heroin or opioid drug addiction, as it is a chronic disease. But you can enter recovery by getting treatments and preventing relapses. Residential heroin rehabs are often the first step to recovery from heroin addiction. Talk to Hope’s Destiny to learn more about how we can help.

How many people use heroin?

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 0.4% or 1.1 million people used heroin in the past 12 months.

How to spot signs of a heroin addiction?

Signs of heroin addiction vary among heroin users. However, common signs include:

  • Excessive time spent using or obtaining heroin
  • Heroin use interferes with job or personal obligations
  • Increasing heroin doses and tolerance
  • Withdrawal when heroin dose is decreased
  • Continued dependence on heroin despite the problems it causes

How can you help someone with a heroin addiction?

You can help someone with a heroin addiction by doing the following:

  1. Find a time to talk to them about their problems. Try to avoid bringing up the project when they are under the influence, and remember to be compassionate. Emphasize you’re having this conversation because you’re concerned about them.
  2. Help them find a suitable program, whether that’s heroin detox, residential heroin rehab, or another treatment type.
  3. Avoid judging if they relapse, and remind them that you understand how difficult it can be to overcome heroin dependence. Tell them that you love them no matter what, and that you will support them on their journey to recover from heroin or prescription opioid addiction.
  4. Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if a loved one loses consciousness after taking drugs, has a seizure, is suicidal, or has severe withdrawal symptoms.
  5. If you have it with you, you can use injectable or nasal spray naloxone to help someone suffering from a heroin overdose. Sometimes, more than one dose of naloxone is required. You don’t need medical training to use injectable or nasal spray naloxone.

Resources

Department of Justice/Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Fact Sheet.” Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Heroin-2020.pdf. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Library of Medicine. “Opioid Addiction.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448203/. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/epidemic.html. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?” Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of heroin use?” Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?” Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Library of Medicine. Science & Practice Perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2851054/. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


Mayo Clinic. “How opioid use disorder occurs.” Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prescription-drug-abuse/in-depth/how-opioid-addiction-occurs/art-20360372. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Drug Intelligence Center. “Heroin Fast Facts: Questions and Answers.” Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/archive/ndic/pubs3/3843/3843p.pdf. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


Go Ask Alice! Columbia University. “Rectal administration of medications.” Retrieved from https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/rectal-administration-medications/. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


U.S. Food & Drug Administration. “Information about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT).” Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/information-drug-class/information-about-medication-assisted-treatment-mat. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


Cleveland Clinic. “Dual Diagnosis.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24426-dual-diagnosis. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


National Library of Medicine. HHS Author Manuscripts. “Behavioral Therapies for Drug Use.” Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3633201/. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


Narcotics Anonymous. “What Is the Narcotics Anonymous Program?” Retrieved from https://na.org/admin/include/spaw2/uploads/pdf/litfiles/us_english/misc/What%20Is%20the%20NA%20Program.pdf. Accessed on 1/26/2024.


MedlinePlus. “Heroin.” Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/heroin.html. Accessed on 1/26/2024.

Heroin Addiction: Treatments, Common Signs, & Withdrawal

Written mBy: Written by Placeholder

Published Date: 02/23/24

Last Updated: 02/23/24