Everything You Need to Know About Heroin Addiction and Abuse: The Reality of Drug Addiction and the Hope of Recovery

If you are struggling with heroin addiction, you may feel alone. After all, who can you go to about being a heroin addict? Who can help you move from addiction to recovery?

We are here to help you understand that you do not have to go through this alone. Heroin addiction is (unfortunately) not all that uncommon. As a result, treatment programs and rehab centers for heroin addiction detox and treatment are (fortunately) readily available.



Nearly 1 million Americans use heroin – and this number only continues to rise in the United States.

Heroin addiction can begin innocently enough. Prescription opioid use has risen dramatically in the last couple of decades. As a result, more people are becoming dependent on the effects of the drug. In fact, 8 out of 10 heroin addicts first used prescription opioids in the United States.

If nothing else, this highlights just how dangerous different forms of opiate drugs can be. Once addiction takes a hold of the brain and body, it leaves an individual without any control over their actions.

But here’s the thing: you can learn to regain control over your decisions, your life and your health.

If you learn anything from this information on addiction, abuse and rehab, it should be this: you are not alone, and there is hope for recovery through heroin rehab programs.

Your Major Questions About Heroin Abuse and Opiate Rehab – Answered

This page on heroin addiction and abuse is not exactly exhaustive – but it should be a good starting point.

To get you started on the path from drug addiction to full recovery, we address all of these questions on this page:

  • What is heroin?
  • Why is heroin addictive?
  • What impact does this opiate have on the brain and body?
  • What are the long-term side effects of heroin abuse?
  • What is synthetic heroin – is it more dangerous?
  • How does drug use turn into drug addiction?
  • What is the difference between drug abuse and drug addiction?
  • Is heroin addiction a choice or a mental disease?
  • What are the signs of opiate abuse?
  • I’m hooked on heroin – what can I do to get help?
  • What are the treatment options for heroin addicts?

We are here to help you get the support that you need. If you still have questions about heroin addiction and rehab, do not hesitate to reach out and contact us today!

The Basics: What is Heroin and What Does it Do?

Unfortunately, there seems to be a misunderstanding about what heroin is and what it is not. In turn, this impacts how people think about who opiate addiction actually affects.

Heroin Addiction and Recovery

The truth is, heroin use is on the rise alongside opioid painkiller prescriptions. As a result, opiate addiction is affecting hundreds of thousands of more Americans than in past decades.

The What: Heroin is an illicit form of morphine. It is usually sold as a white powder. The opiate drug is extremely addictive.

The How: Heroin, like other illegal opioids, is used only to get a high. It can be smoked, snorted, and even injected into veins.

The Who: The drug can affect anyone at anytime, though research has shown that younger males with a low income face the highest risk of abuse. The risk of abuse is particularly high for those who have used opioid pain relievers.

Heroin is a highly addictive opiate drug that creates a physical and psychological dependence in the user. Illicit opioids are initially used just to get high. But eventually a person becomes dependent on their continued use just to feel normal.

The body almost immediately builds up a tolerance to the effects of the drug. As a result, drug users have to take more and more of the substance to get the same high. This is where heroin addiction – and the possibility of drug overdose – begin to take shape.

Heroin is a type of opiate. Opiates originate from the opium poppy, which is one of the oldest drugs in the world.

Other forms of opiate drugs include:

  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone (prescription painkillers like Percocet and OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (prescription painkillers like Lortab and Vicodin)

All of these drugs are either derived from or designed to mimic the effects of the opium poppy plant.

Out of this list of opioid drugs, fentanyl is considered the most dangerous because it is synthetic – or man-made. But heroin comes close behind, especially because it is often replaced with fentanyl when sold on the street.

Unlike prescription opioids, heroin is always sold as an illicit drug – and usually on the street.

Some of the most common street names for heroin include:

  • Smack
  • Dope
  • China White
  • Black Tar
  • Junk
  • White
  • Brown
  • Snow
  • Scat

Heroin is often mixed with other drugs – to dangerous effect. Heroin and marijuana is called an Atom Bomb. Heroin and cocaine is usually called a speedball or snowball. Heroin and ecstasy mixed together makes an H Bomb or Chocolate Chip Cookie.

No matter the opiate nickname, using heroin on the streets is always dangerous. There is no reason to ever use heroin – or any other illicit opioid for that matter.

Like other opiates, the heroin drug activates the opioid receptors in the brain. These are the receptors that regulate pain, hormones, and dopamine. When opiates activate the receptors, they release huge amounts of chemicals in our brains and bodies that cause a sense of euphoria.

This is what makes heroin addiction so common. People tend to like the ‘high’ that they receive from their first hit of heroin. From there, they continue to chase the euphoria that they first experienced with the opiate drug.

Over time, the brain and body become dependent on this rush of chemicals just to feel normal and function regularly. 

Because the drug has a heavy impact on the brain and body, heroin detox can be dangerous if not completed in a professional treatment setting.

Synthetic Heroin: A New and Dangerous Drug

One of the more recent developments in opiate and heroin addiction is the introduction of synthetic heroin. Medical research has produced man-made drugs designed to mimic the effects of opiates. These are now known as synthetic opioids.

One of the most common synthetic opiates is fentanyl. It is also considered by many to be one of the most dangerous drugs in the United States. The synthetic drug is extremely dangerous for a couple of reasons.

First, fentanyl is extremely potent. The drug is 100 times more powerful than morphine and 50 times more powerful than heroin. And these are already potent drugs we are talking about.

Unsurprisingly, overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids have risen dramatically in the last few years. Out of 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016, over 20,000 were due to fentanyl drugs.

This is where the second reason behind the danger of synthetic fentanyl comes in. The drug is often mixed with heroin. People who buy the drug on the street are usually unaware that they are buying a much more potent version of the heroin drug.

As a result, heroin overdose deaths are on the rise. But these deaths are often actually due to the fentanyl mixed in with the other naturally occurring opiate. This is the synthetic heroin that is so dangerous and makes heroin detox so much harder.

What is Drug Addiction and Abuse?

We will say it again: if you are struggling with drug addiction or abuse, you are far from alone. The truth is, millions of people all over the United States struggle with substance abuse and dependence.

Addiction can take many different forms and begin in many different ways. Your struggle against your substance use disorder is a personal one. But we want to help you understand what it means, and where you can go from here.

Substance Addiction: The inability to voluntarily quit using drugs or alcohol, even if you want to. Addiction always involves tolerance, dependence, and the inability to quit.

Substance Abuse: Abusing drugs or alcohol is not the same as being addicted, but it is a dangerous step on the same path. Substance abuse means taking more than the recommended dose, especially sustained over time. Because it is an illicit drug, heroin abuse means simply taking the drug.

What to Know About Heroin Addiction Treatment

Drug addiction isn’t a consequence of a character flaw or moral failure. Instead, both addiction and abuse are a result of the addictive nature of opiates like heroin. But that does not mean that it is impossible to overcome the addiction in your life.

You can take the first step – we can help you with the rest.

Opioid addiction and opioid abuse are often confused as one and the same. But this isn’t always true. In some cases, someone can abuse a drug before they become addicted to it. It means they are on a dangerous path to addiction.

Here’s a good way to think about the difference between abuse and addiction: the first is defined more by social and psychological markers than physical symptoms, while the second involves all three.

With dope, the difference between being addicted to heroin and abusing heroin is a little harder to define. Using heroin is always considered drug abuse because of the nature of the drug. This is unlike prescription opioids, which have a legal and medical purpose.

The definition of addiction above mentioned that it always involves tolerance, dependence, and the inability to quit voluntarily. But what do these three terms actually mean?

Building up Tolerance:

Slowly building a tolerance to a drug is one of the first signs of both abuse and addiction. Over time, someone who has become addicted to a substance will need vastly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same effects as before. For the heroin drug, this is particularly dangerous since it can easily lead to a heroin overdose.

Developing Physical Dependence:

Along with tolerance, developing a physical and even mental dependence on a drug usually happens slowly and over time. Drug dependence means exactly what it sounds like. Your brain and your body become dependent on the effects of the   drug to feel and act normal. The main sign of opioid dependence is experiencing  withdrawal symptoms. These include everything from anxiety and nausea to feeling intense cravings for drugs like heroin.

 Finding You Are Unable Quit:

The final element of drug addiction is finding that you are unable to quit. Even if  you want to, you will find that the drug has essentially robbed you of the ability to make a choice in the matter. That is without help, at least. As a heroin addict, you can choose to seek out professional help. From there, entering an addiction treatment program will help you overcome the addiction and work toward recovery.

Opioid Addiction and Abuse – Symptoms to Look For

Beyond the three elements of addiction outlined here, there are also specific symptoms to be on the look out for.

Addiction does not always look the same. Different drugs can exhibit different signs of abuse, and sometimes addicts are good at hiding their struggle with a substance use disorder. But there are a few common heroin addiction symptoms to be aware of if you think someone you know and love may be a heroin addict.

These symptoms are physical, psychological and social. Even if they do not exhibit all of them, someone who is addicted to heroin will usually have a hard time hiding all of these symptoms.

If someone is using heroin, they are bound to show some physical signs of use. If you think someone may be addicted to heroin, you should look for any of these physical signs:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Runny nose
  • Itching and scratching
  • An haggard or tired appearance
  • Covering arms (to cover up signs of injection)
  • Tiny pupils or sleepy eyes

Of course, the major sign of heroin addiction is experiencing physical withdrawal symptoms. Heroin withdrawal can include any of the following:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Nervousness or paranoia
  • Muscle aches
  • Shaking
  • Intense craving for the heroin drug

If you see any of these symptoms in someone you know or in yourself, you should seek out professional medical help immediately for a heroin detox.

Addiction is not limited to physical symptoms. Drugs have a profound negative impact on both the body and the brain. Over time, this can create some strong psychological symptoms of heroin addiction.

The biggest psychological sign to be on the look for is a sudden change in demeanor. If someone is typically cheerful and self-possessed, they may become depressed and vacant. In contrast, if someone is usually quiet or introverted, they may become manic and hyperactive.

Either way, the main psychological symptom of addiction is a sudden mood change from day to day or hour to hour.

Once someone begins heroin withdrawal, they may also show some psychological symptoms of withdrawal. These include agitation, sleep problems, and depression or anxiety.

It is difficult to hide drug abuse over the long-term, especially after addiction has taken over. Once physical dependence takes over a heroin addict’s body, it becomes difficult for them to continue on in their daily routines without the intrusion of the opiate drug.

As a result, there are two major social signs of heroin addiction to look out for in those you know and love:

  • Sudden withdrawal from social commitments, events and gatherings. An addict will usually choose to use drugs or remain in isolation instead of facing the possibility of tipping their hand.
  • Losing responsibility at work, at school, or at home. Obviously, tardiness or absence at work is not inherently a sign of addiction. But if this continues over time and shows up alongside some of the other symptoms of addiction, it is a cause for concern.

These signs of heroin addiction do not necessarily only apply to that specific type of opioid. It is important to remember that another drug or type of opiate may be at play.

If you think you or someone you know may be addicted to heroin or another opiate, it is important to take action.

There are many professional services available, and there is help for heroin addicts with no insurance.

To begin with, you can get an addiction assessment for drug treatment and rehab. The assessment will help you decide if you need to participate in rehab, and decide which kind of program is right for you. If you still aren’t sure, you can take an addiction quiz to gain some insight on your drug use.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if you are actually addicted. To help you through this self-assessment, feel free to take one of our addiction quizzes to determine just how problematic your drug use is.

Determining When You Need Help – When Addiction Shows Up in Your Life

Going through all of those symptoms of heroin addiction can sometimes be overwhelming. To help you determine if you need help for a personal addiction in your life, you should ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Have I lost my responsibility over my commitments at work or at home due to my drug use?
  2. Have I been able to give up drug use completely without experiencing withdrawal symptoms or going back to the drug involuntarily?
  3. Have I damaged or lost relationships because of my continued drug use?
  4. Have I found myself continuing to use drugs even when I knew that it was actively harming my physical health, my close relationships, and my sense of well-being?

Being honest with yourself in these areas is a good place to start as you move away from substance abuse and toward the hope of recovery.

Opioid Podcast

Listen to a podcast about opioid addiction with special guest AspenRidge Recovery COO Cortland Mathers-Stuer.

What to Look For in Heroin Addiction Treatment

The most important thing to know about opioid addiction is that there are effective opioid addiction treatment options for you.

Heroin treatment is about more than avoiding an opioid overdose. It is about ridding your mind and your body of the negative effects of the drug, and moving on to a happier and healthier life.

Over 20 million people struggle with a substance use disorder in the United States. Just over 2 million actually seek out addiction treatment. Heroin addiction treatment accounts for just 14% of this number.

Given how many people struggle with a substance use disorder, there is clearly a need for heroin addiction treatment. But what do these addiction rehab options actually look like? There are two major types of heroin rehab programs:

  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment: Referred to as IOPs, these programs offer professional rehab services to participants several times each week. 
  • Residential Rehab for Heroin Addiction: These programs offer a safe and healthy space for individuals during heroin addiction recovery.

In both of these heroin treatment programs, heroin addicts are provided with the resources to address their substance issues head on and start heading toward recovery.

Inpatient treatment for addiction is what most people refer to as ‘rehab’. In residential heroin addiction treatment centers, participants stay in a rehab facility for several months in order to go through therapy and treatment.

Heroin rehab can last from a few weeks to a full year, depending on the severity of the addiction. During heroin treatment, participants engage in both one-on-one addiction therapy and group therapy sessions. At the same time, they are provided with a safe and supportive environment for completing the rehab program.

The key to heroin addiction treatment in residential rehab is to help the individual develop the coping skills that they will need to keep their addiction in check once they complete the rehab program.

Heroin rehab in an inpatient setting is usually best for those who have:

  1. Attempted heroin addiction treatment and have found themselves relapsed.
  2. Struggled with a substance use disorder for many, many years.
  3. Do not have a supportive and safe home environment or community that they can return to after treatment sessions.

Another popular option for heroin drug treatment is an Intensive Outpatient Treatment program – or IOP. In these programs, a participant receives nearly all of the same services as inpatient rehab. The only major difference is that participants are allowed to remain home for the duration of the program.

Instead of checking in to a residential rehab facility, participants attend treatment sessions several times each week for several hours.

The major benefit here is that an intensive outpatient program for heroin addiction lets heroin addicts keep up with their day-to-day responsibilities and commitments. At the same time, they receive the resources and support that they need to move from drug dependence to full recovery.

Another benefit to Intensive Outpatient Treatment is that it is typically a much cheaper option when it comes to heroin rehab. As a cost-effective option, an IOP opens up heroin addiction recovery for many more people

The Takeaway: If You are Struggling With Heroin Addiction, You Can Find Professional Help for Rehab

This information page on heroin addiction, abuse and treatment is designed as a beginning point for someone looking for more information on this substance use disorder.

More than that, we want to tell you that no matter where you are with heroin abuse or opiate addiction there is hope for recovery.

More than anything, we want you to know that drug addiction is a mental disorder that can be effectively treated.

If you still have questions about information on heroin addiction and abuse, feel free to reach out to us today.

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