Heroin Use & Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Heroin is an opioid drug that’s made from opium poppy plants and morphine, a natural substance from the poppy seed pod. It is illegal and has no approved use in medical settings. Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.1

This page will cover the adverse effects of heroin use, what heroin addiction is, and what heroin addiction treatment entails.
Did you know most health insurance plans cover addiction treatment?
Heroin Effects & Risks

Effects of Heroin

Heroin use can alter how the brain works and have other long-term health consequences.2 Some of the common health risks associated with using heroin can include:2

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Severe itchiness.
  • Clouded mental functioning.
  • Shifting between conscious and semi-conscious states.

When someone uses heroin over the long-term, other health risks might present, including:2

  • Constipation and stomach cramping.
  • Insomnia.
  • Lung problems.
  • Liver and kidney disease.
  • Poor cognition, including problems with decision-making, behavior regulation, and stress response.

Mental health disorders such as depression may develop or worsen, and men may experience sexual disfunction while women might have irregular menstrual cycles.2

People who use heroin can take it by:2

  • Snorting.
  • Injecting.
  • Smoking.

Because heroin is an illicit substance and is not regulated, it often gets cut with other additives that don’t easily dissolve.2

When used intravenously, heroin with these additives may clog a person’s blood vessels and lead to further health complications that can cause permanent damage to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain.2

Those who inject heroin might also experience skin abscesses or boils, collapsed veins, an infection of the heart lining and valves, viruses like HIV or Hepatitis C from sharing needles.2

Those who consume heroin intranasally (i.e., “snorting”) might have damaged tissue in the nose which may even perforate the separation between the nostrils.2

Heroin may also be cut with cheaper and more powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which increases the risk of a deadly overdose.3

Can You Overdose on Heroin?

Yes, you can overdose on heroin. If a person takes too much heroin, their breathing can slow or stop. Short and long-term effects can occur if the amount of oxygen decreases to the brain. Among the worst outcomes are:2

  • Coma.
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Death.

Naloxone can be used to treat an opioid overdose.2

Heroin Use Disorder

What Is Heroin Use Disorder?

Heroin use disorder is the term used for a clinical diagnosis of heroin addiction. Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease marked by the compulsive use of heroin and/or other substances despite negative consequences in a person’s relationships, career, and other aspects of their life.4

For a medical or clinical professional to diagnose a heroin use disorder, a person must exhibit at least 2 of the following signs of heroin addiction in a 12-month period:5

  • Takes more heroin for longer than they intended.
  • Cannot control heroin use even if they want to.
  • Attempts to get, use, or recover from heroin regularly.
  • Constantly wants to use heroin.
  • Doing heroin interrupts their day-to-day life, including work, home, or school duties.
  • Continues to use heroin even though it causes issues with loved ones or colleagues.
  • Avoids activities they used to be passionate about due to heroin use.
  • Uses heroin in situations where it can be physically dangerous.
  • Realizes they are abusing heroin and continues to take it.
  • Tolerates larger quantities of heroin.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping heroin use.

Why Is Heroin Addictive?

Heroin binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, which regulate feelings of pain and pleasure. Taking heroin provides users with a “rush,” or surge of euphoria.2

As someone continues to take heroin, they may need to consume more of the substance to get the same feeling (i.e., tolerance) or experience withdrawal symptoms when they reduce their use or stop taking heroin altogether (i.e., dependence).2

Tolerance and dependence greatly increase the risk of addiction.2

Heroin Detox

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

If someone who has been using heroin regularly stops taking the substance abruptly or reduces their use, they may experience mild to severe heroin withdrawal symptoms. These can include:2

  • Craving heroin.
  • Insomnia.
  • Pain in muscles and bones.
  • Stomach issues, including diarrhea and vomiting.

Attending a medical detox program for the cessation of heroin means the patient could have help managing their uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.


Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Evidence-based treatment, both pharmacological and behavioral, based on years of research and treatment experience make it possible to recover from heroin addiction and lead a sober life. Detoxification, treatment, and a life free from the grip of heroin are all within reach.2

When a person enters an addiction treatment program to curb their heroin use, the likely first step will be detoxification, including medical management of uncomfortable, moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms.2

Doctors may prescribe medication to help manage cravings and alleviate or stave off withdrawal symptoms, including:6

  • Buprenorphine, a weaker opioid that’s long-lasting.7
  • Methadone, which reduces opioid craving and withdrawal and blocks the effects of opioids.8

Naltrexone, which helps stop opioid drugs like heroin from attaching to the opioid receptors in the brain, is also sometimes prescribed to suppress heroin cravings, but it can’t be used until a person completed withdrawal.2

For many, a heroin addiction treatment center has the tools a person will need to for more effective treatment leading to long-term recovery. Inpatient programs offer a sober environment where doctors and behavioral health professionals can monitor the patient, and the patient can relearn how to live life without heroin.2

Inpatient or intensive outpatient programs offer group or one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help a patient shift the way they think about heroin and themselves, as well as teach ways to avoid relapse by managing stress and triggers that may make them want to start using again.2

Heroin Use Treatment in Hollywood, FL

Recovery First Treatment Center—a drug rehab near Miami—offers safe medical detox from heroin and a number of other substances, as well as several other levels of treatment for substance use disorders.

From intensive medical rehab to telehealth addiction treatment, Recovery First can provide you with a customized treatment program to support your recovery and lasting sobriety.

Call to speak with one of our compassionate, knowledgeable admissions navigators. Our caring team is available 24/7 to answer your questions and tell you more about starting the rehab admissions process, how to use health insurance coverage for rehab, and other ways to pay for rehab.

You can also now. Please reach out for help today.

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