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Heroin and Addiction Treatment

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug that is derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance in certain strains of the poppy plant, which is grown primarily in Mexico, South America, Southwest Asia, and Southeast Asia.1 Heroin is sold illegally and can be found as a powder or as a black, sticky substance called black tar.1
People use heroin by snorting, smoking, or injecting it. When a person uses heroin, the drug quickly induces a euphoric high that people find pleasurable.1
As of 2020, the number of people in the US who use heroin was around 902,000.2 One of the major reasons for heroin use is rooted in the misuse of prescription opioids.3 In a study that examined heroin use, people who misused prescription opioids were 19 times more likely to use heroin than those who never misused prescription opioids.3
It is important to note that in the 1960s, for 80% of people who used heroin, heroin was the first opioid they had ever used.3 However, in the 2000s, 75% of people who used heroin had taken prescription opioids first.3

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is also known as an opioid use disorder (OUD). An OUD, like any substance use disorder, is a chronic condition characterized by the compulsive use of a substance that continues despite experiencing negative consequences from using.4

While only a licensed medical professional can diagnose OUD, there are warning signs to look out for that may indicate a need for help. A few signs to look out for include:5

  • Using heroin in situations where it is physically hazardous like driving a car.
  • Failure to fulfill role obligations at home, work, or school as a result of heroin use.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or control the use of heroin.

Physical warning signs of heroin misuse can also include:6

  • Needle marks.
  • Sweating.
  • Coughing, sniffling, and twitching.
  • Constricted pupils.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Sleeping at odd times.
  • Lacking motivation or seeming unusually tired, or “spaced out.”

Heroin Overdose Risk

Heroin use can not only be addictive but there is a real danger of overdose when people use heroin. Between 1999 and 2020, around 143,000 people died of heroin overdoses.7 When a person overdoses on heroin, they will often experience such symptoms as slowed and shallowed breathing, coma, and death.7

In some cases, when breathing becomes shallow, a person will experience hypoxia, which occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen.9 Hypoxia can lead to brain damage, but there is more research needed to be sure how much brain damage is due to hypoxia resulting from opioid use.9

Heroin Withdrawal

When a person has become physically dependent on heroin and stops using it or suddenly reduces use, they will typically experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Heroin withdrawal typically results in symptoms that can include but are not limited to:9

  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting.
  • Bone and muscle pain.
  • Goosebumps and chills.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Cravings for heroin.

Heroin withdrawal is typically not life threatening; however, if complications arise, it’s important to have medical support. In cases where people have underlying medical conditions like cardiac illness, they may have serious complications. At times, people can develop severe dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea and need IV fluids, or in a few cases, people can have cardiac issues that that may be exacerbated by an opioid withdrawal.10

Treating Heroin Addiction

When a person has a heroin addiction, detox is often the first step in the recovery process.10 Detox is designed to help eliminate a substance out of a person’s body in a comfortable, safe, and supportive environment.10 However, detox alone is not treatment; it is a valuable first step to preparing a person for further treatment.10

Ongoing treatment can help address the underlying issues that may have led to the heroin addiction in the first place.10 When seeking treatment for heroin addiction, treatment options can include:8

  • Inpatient treatment, where you live in the treatment facility. Inpatient treatment offers a supervised setting where you can get around-the-clock support and supervision.
  • Outpatient treatment, which can last from a couple of hours per week to up to 20 hours per week. You will receive the same types of assessments and treatment that you can get in an inpatient program, but you can go home at night and still attend work or school.
  • Behavioral therapy, which will use various types of interventions to help cope with cravings and triggers. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common forms of behavioral therapy.
  • Treatment medications, which can help people with withdrawal symptoms and to reduce cravings during ongoing recovery. Buprenorphine, methadone, and naloxone are common treatment medications for OUD.

Finding Heroin Detox and Rehab Centers Near Me

If you are seeking a heroin detox or rehab program for yourself or a loved one, call the free, confidential detox hotline offered by  American Addiction Centers (AAC) at to speak to one of our caring admissions navigators. They will listen and discuss treatment options at one of our locations across the U.S. and help you check your insurance coverage.

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