Heroin Addiction, Abuse, and Treatment

Addiction Resource > Addictive Substances: The Anatomy of Drug Addiction > Heroin Addiction, Abuse, and Treatment

Heroin Addiction Abuse and Treatment

Heroin addiction is one of the most difficult to overcome, due to the drug’s unique and highly addictive nature. Those who find themselves, or someone they love, addicted to heroin should seek treatment immediately.

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What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive, deadly, drug which is derived from the resin taken from poppy plants. Opium is taken from poppy plants and refined into the drug morphine, which can then be further broken down and refined into heroin. Unlike many drugs, the heroin can be taken in a variety of ways – smoking, injecting and sniffing. It is often a white or brown powder, but can also be a sticky tar-like substance. Heroin is often cut with other ingredients, such as powdered milk or sugar. It can also be cut with dangerous substances and poisons, a fact that increases its danger for those who use the drug, as there is often no way to tell what substances are truly present in any given powder.

Users usually experience what is called a “rush” after taking heroin. This causes a euphoric sensation. When injected, this feeling occurs almost immediately. Smoking and snorting heroin results in a slower “high,” when compared to injection.

Over time, users have to use more and more of the drug to achieve the same result. As the body becomes dependent, withdrawal symptoms become more violent if the individual doesn’t use. This leads to an opiate addiction and physical/mental dependency on heroin that is one of the most dangerous illicit substances.

What does heroin look like?

Different forms of heroin look like:

  • A fine, white powder
  • A dark powder ranging in color from brown to gray to black
  • A sticky, tar-like substance

Heroin is often used with other drugs, such as alcohol and cocaine. This intensifies the dependence for many users and makes doing the drugs even more dangerous. The effects of heroin on the body are devastating.

Signs of Heroin Use

Signs of heroin addiction include:

  • Needle marks or “track marks” on arms, legs, and between toes
  • Unresponsive or incoherent while high
  • Lacks energy or gets sick often
  • Hygiene habits change or user neglects personal grooming altogether
  • Becomes secretive, depressed, or suddenly aggressive or violent for no reason
  • Always running out of money

heroin-marks-veinsFor those that are using heroin, there are ways to determine whether their drug use has become a full-blown addiction. They will find themselves craving the drug every day, or in the event, there is always a stash of the drug in possession, then the user is in dangerous territory. Other signs that you, or someone you love, may have a drug addiction include:

  • Noticeable or hidden needle marks (known as track marks) on the arms, legs, or between the toes
  • While under the influence, the user may become unresponsive or incoherent
  • May become slow to react to outside stimuli
  • Spending money on drugs, even when it takes the place of necessities like food, rent, or utilities
  • Letting drugs interfere with work or family obligations
  • Allowing the drug use, or acquiring the drug, to take up an inordinate amount of your time and energy
  • Not being able to stop using, even though you’ve tried

In Family Members or Loved Ones:

  • Sudden failing grades or poor performance at work or home – those who are under the influence or trying to acquire drugs may let other obligations fall by the wayside, as well.
  • Changes in behavior – Your loved one may become suddenly secretive and reclusive, violent, aggressive, or depressed and sullen for no apparent reason. These changes may worsen over time.
  • Physical deterioration – Drug user may lack energy or seem lethargic and generally unwell.
  • Poor hygiene – You may notice the person stops caring about what he or she looks like. Grooming habits may become sporadic or nonexistent, and those who once took great pains to look their best may let their personal appearance decline.
  • Requesting money or going broke – Drug users will often request money and have no real explanation for why it is needed. You may even notice money and other valuables missing. Some users who had the money or good jobs may now go broke with no explanation as to how.

Who is at Risk?

heroine-userGroups that are at higher risk for heroin addiction:

  • Veterans or others who have endured traumatic events may use heroin to cope with mental health disorders
  • Teens often try drugs due to peer pressure
  • College students often try drugs to relieve stress caused by classes or to experiment
  • Professionals sometimes resort to drugs to cope with job-related stress

While any person or group of people can become dependent on heroin, often after just one use, there are some groups who are more likely to suffer from addiction than others.

Veterans: Those who have endured the stress and perils of combat often suffer from mental health conditions or co-occurring disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety. They may use drugs, including heroin, to alleviate feelings related to these disorders.

Teens: Teenagers are often prone to drug abuse. This is due in part to peer pressure and the desire to “fit in” with friends who may be using drugs. They are also more likely to attend parties and other settings where drugs may be more readily available.

College students: College students are also more likely to use drugs than certain other groups. For one, the stresses of studying and attending classes may lead young adults to drink and experiment with drugs to handle the pressures. Parties, clubs, and other settings where young people congregate may also present the opportunity to try drugs.

Professionals: Despite what some may assume, professionals are sometimes more likely to use drugs than the general population. Those who work in high stress jobs may try drugs to cope.

Heroin Statistics

Nearly half a million people sought treatment for an addiction to heroin in 2012.
In 2009, there were nearly 1 million emergency room visits due to drug use. Out of those, approximately 200 thousand were from heroin use.
The average age of a first-time heroin user is 20 years old.


Those with drug addictions usually require a combination of treatment methods. They start with detoxification, which means getting the person off heroine before additional means can be used. This process can be painful for the user, involving withdrawal symptoms that may be mild to severe, depending on how dependent on the drug he or she was. How long heroin stays in your system? Detox symptoms may begin as soon as 12 hours after the drug was last used. Withdrawal symptoms may include:

Anxiety and Irritability
Jitters or shakiness

Lack of appetite
Nausea and vomiting

In some cases, severe withdrawal symptoms may occur. These can include seizures, hallucinations, agitation, and high fever. Occasionally, these symptoms will lead to hospitalization or even death.

After detoxification has taken place, finding the root of the drug use is usually the next step in treatment. This can be done in several ways including a drug rehabilitation.

Self-help – Some people choose to try and stay off drugs all on their own. They may read self-help books or try to go it alone. This tactic rarely works in the long-term and is never advised.

Support groups or outpatient counseling – In some cases, support groups may help recovering addicts remain clean and sober. This gives them the opportunity to discuss struggles and triumphs with others who have gone through similar issues. In many cases, these groups are led by a counselor. Seeing a trained mental health counselor or someone who has studied, or battled, addiction is also a good idea, as this person can help lead users by offering coping techniques.

Inpatient facilities – This is perhaps the most effective means of recovery. These inpatient facilities often help with every stage of recovery, including detoxification, counseling, support groups, and even more alternative forms of healing – such as nutrient and art therapies. Attendance in an inpatient program is usually followed by outpatient groups or counseling for maximum effectiveness. For those suffering from a heroin addiction, immediate inpatient treatment is urged.

Heroin Addiction, Abuse, and Treatment

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