Heroin Addiction: One of the World's Deadliest Addictions

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs .

Processed from morphine, heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder. Street names for heroin include "smack," "skag " and "junk." While more dealers are selling purer heroin, most street heroin is mixed with other drugs, certain poisons, or substances such as sugar, starch or powdered milk .

In addition to being extremely addictive, heroin is dangerous because users may not know the purity or impurity of the drug, putting them at increased risk of heroin overdose or death. Heroin abuse also poses a unique concern about the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases as a result of sharing needles .

Find a Heroin Treatment Center now »

Why Is Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin addiction is a serious concern even after just one use. Why is heroin so addictive? Because it enters the brain very quickly and produces a quick and intense high. Soon after smoking or injecting heroin, the drug crosses the blood-brain barrier , is converted to morphine and binds to opioid receptors. T he resulting “rush” is typically accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth and the perception of heavy arms and legs .

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Once the high wears off, drowsiness sets in for several hours. Heroin abusers describe some of the following effects of heroin abuse:

  • Clouded mental function
  • Slowed heart rate and breathing
  • Scarred or collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Arthritis

Developing a Heroin Addiction

The most dangerous of all of these effects may be heroin addiction itself. Once an individual becomes addicted to heroin, the chemical makeup in the brain changes, making the user physically dependent on the drug. Their body adapts to the presence of the drug and may go into withdrawal if heroin use stops abruptly.
Heroin withdrawal may begin within a few hours of use and may last for one week up to a few months. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia or restlessness
  • Muscle aches and bone pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes
  • Unusual leg movements

Over time, heroin abusers spend more time and energy compulsively seeking, obtaining and using the drug. As a result of heroin addiction, an individual may begin to look, act and feel different than the person they used to be. Their primary purpose in life becomes getting high on heroin , to the detriment of their own health and the peace and well-being of everyone around them.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Treatment for heroin addiction requires a comprehensive, individualized approach. In most cases, a combination of medication and therapy will be the most effective option in beating heroin addiction.

Step 1: Heroin Detox
The first step in treating heroin addiction is addressing physical dependence and heroin withdrawal symptoms,  often using medications like methadone or Suboxone for a more comfortable heroin detox. Heroin detoxification programs help addicts achieve safe withdrawal from opiates with minimal pain and less risk of health complications.

Option A: Methadone Treatment
Methadone, a synthetic opiate that blocks the effects of heroin and reduces or eliminates withdrawal symptoms, has been proven effective in scientific studies for people addicted to heroin. Methadone treatment has been used for more than 30 years to effectively and safely treat heroin addiction (and addiction to opiates of all kinds). Used as directed under close medical supervision, methadone is not intoxicating, and its effects do not interfere with working, driving a car or other daily activities.
In methadone detox, patients take the medication orally, once a day, and experience relief from heroin withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours. Methadone relieves the drug cravings associated with heroin addiction, which, left untreated, often lead to relapse. Studies have shown that methadone treatment is safe for both short-term (a few weeks or months) and long-term (10 years or more) use.

Option B: Suboxone Treatment
Suboxone is a newer medication for treating addiction to heroin. It is preferred by some patients because it carries less risk of addiction and overdose, is associated with fewer withdrawal symptoms, and can be prescribed by a doctor.


Step 2: Heroin Rehab
Next, addicts typically attend heroin rehab (inpatient or outpatient), where they learn new coping skills, attend 12-Step meetings and work through any underlying issues in therapy. Relapse prevention is particularly important for heroin addicts since drug cravings and relapse can occur weeks and months after heroin detox .

Treatment for heroin addiction is most effective when a heroin problem is identified early. If you or someone you care about is addicted to heroin, help and hope are available. Reach out to a caring, knowledgeable advisor – free of charge – by calling 866-323-5612. Put heroin addiction in your past and take the first step toward a brighter tomorrow.

Find a Heroin Treatment Center now »