Heroin Addiction Information

A heroin addiction is one of the most difficult illicit drugs to overcome. It is an opiate, and it simultaneously gives the user a rush of euphoria while creating dependence. The combination of the two makes this a very addictive substance. Continuing to abuse it is associated with adverse effects of mental, physical, social and psychological health.

But just because this drug is highly addictive, that does not mean it is impossible to stop. So many people believe that it will be too hard for them to quit, and as a result, they never try. With the right type of treatment, overcoming a heroin addiction is possible.

It is vital for anyone who is taking this drug to be aware of its effects. Heroin claims more and more lives every single day, and it is a key player in the opioid epidemic. Learning about the dangers of it, and how to recover from the addiction can make such a difference. That is the information we would like to present here.

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What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opiate drug that comes from the poppy plant. It is actually a more processed version of morphine, and there are many similarities between the two. When people use this drug, it works by blocking sensations of pain. Users experience a calming effect, as well as increased pleasure in the brain.

People use heroin for its pleasurable effects, but it is very dangerous because it is so addictive. The drug is sold as a white or brown-colored powder that is often mixed with various other substances. Some examples are sugar, starch, quinine and powdered milk.

There is also black tar heroin, and it is darker in color with a consistency like roofing tar. Some versions may be hard like coal. This type is mostly produced in Mexico and it is sold in the United States; usually in areas that are west of the Mississippi River. The reason it is so dark is because of the processing methods that are used to make it. It contains many impurities, and users typically dissolve it and inject it into veins or muscles.

Regardless, in any form, heroin is dangerous. We will talk more about the risks of abusing it in just a moment.

The history of heroin is quite interesting. This drug did not always carry the stigma that it does today. It was first made in 1874 by a man named CR Alder Wright. He was an English chemist who was working at St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London at that time. He had been working on combining morphine with different types of acids for quite some time.

Wright’s development did not go any further once it was tested on animals with mixed results. It was not until it was re-synthesized 23 years later by Felix Hoffmann that it became popular. Hoffmann was a chemist who was working at Bayer Pharmaceutical Company. When he first made heroin, he was actually attempting to make codeine; another drug that is made from morphine.

His experiment produced a drug that was as much as two times stronger than morphine. The head of research department called the drug heroin, which is based on the German word for heroic or strong. Bayer took control of the drug and started to commercialize it right away in 1895.

The chemical name for this drug is diacetylmorphine, but the name Heroin stuck. That is what it was marketed as, and the claims were that it was not as addictive as morphine. It was sold as a cough suppressant.

In the United States, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act went into effect in 1914. This law allowed for the control of the sale and distribution of Heroin, as well as for other opioids. This allowed it to be prescribed and sold for medical reasons only. But by 1924, the drug’s addictive nature was better understood. That year, the United States Congress banned the sale, importation or manufacture of it. Today, it is illegal in the U.S.

Because it is an illegal drug, heroin can only be purchased on the street. Some people may buy it online, but street dealers often carry it because of its popularity.

On the street, heroin is known by several other street names. They include:

  • Brown sugar
  • China White
  • H
  • Horse
  • Dope
  • Skag
  • Skunk
  • Junk
  • Smack
  • White Horse

Heroin is addictive because of the way it works in the brain. Most people know the dangers and risks associated with using it, but they continue to do so anyway. For them, this often does not come from a place of choice. Instead, people use it because they feel as though they have no other options. They continue to abuse it because they are addicted to it. The question is, why?

Using this drug results in an intense rush of euphoria. This is what users talk about when they say it makes them high. It can also produce other pleasurable side effects – some of which we mentioned earlier – such as:

  • Pain relief
  • Making hands and feet feel heavier
  • Extreme relaxation
  • Producing a state of semi-consciousness
  • Intense happiness

All of the above sensations go back to heroin’s impact on the brain, and the central nervous system as a whole. As the drug enters the brain, it reverts back into morphine. At that point, it is able to attach to the body’s opioid receptors. This causes the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that causes those pleasurable feelings.

With excess amounts of dopamine in the body, people tend to get used to those new levels. It gets to the point where they cannot manage their lives unless they are using. Without heroin in their systems, they just do not feel like themselves. They begin to go through withdrawal, and they need to use again to get back to their new “normal.” This is what makes this drug so addictive.

Heroin: From Abuse to Addiction

All addictions start with abuse, and heroin is no exception to that rule. But there may be some differences, considering the fact that people usually switch to this drug from other ones. We will get into that more in just a moment.

For someone who has never taken an opioid drug before at all, abusing heroin does not mean they are addicted. But it does mean that they are on the path toward an addiction if they continue.

Continued abuse of heroin causes the body to grow more and more accustomed to higher dopamine levels. There comes a point when people are no longer able to stop. Sadly, that is happening far too often in our country.

The Role of Prescription Opioids in Heroin Addiction

It surprises many people to know that a lot of addicts turn to heroin after becoming addicted to prescription opioids. The two addictions are actually quite similar to each other.

According to NIDA, people who use a prescription opioid painkiller are 19 times more likely to eventually use heroin. In one study, 86% of participants had used these drugs before switching to the illegal opiate. This is actually the reverse of what was true in the 1960s. During that time, more than 80% of people started by using heroin. That has certainly changed today.

People turn to heroin instead of opioid drugs for a few different reasons. Because of the Federal crackdown because of the opioid crisis, prescriptions are getting harder to find. Doctors are much more willing to try other types of drugs that are known to be non-addictive. They are less inclined to prescribe painkillers unless someone is in a lot of pain, going through cancer treatment, or just had surgery. Many times, those prescriptions are a one-and-done type of thing. Patients are not able to get additional prescriptions to fuel their addictions. And with changes in pharmacy databases, doctor shopping is not as possible as it once was.

Another factor is the cost. Not only is heroin much easier to get, but it is also much cheaper than painkillers. For a lot of people, it just makes sense to switch to the illegal drug instead of relying on doctors for prescriptions.

Heroin Addiction in Colorado

The entire country is currently at the mercy of opioid addiction with heroin at the front lines. Colorado is no exception. This state has actually seen a significant increase in the number of people who use the drug.

Facts and Statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • There were 536 opioid-related overdose deaths in Colorado in 2016.
  • That is a rate of 9.5 deaths for every 100,000 people.
  • This compares to the national rate of 13.3 deaths for every 100,000 people.
  • In 2012, there were 91 deaths related to heroin that year.
  • By 2016, that number had gone up significantly to 234.
  • The number of infectious diseases being transmitted because of injection drug use (IDU) has increased as well.
  • In 2015, there were 373 new HIV cases in the state.
  • It is believed that of these 17% of male and 24.8% of female cases can be attributed to IDU.
  • In 2016, Colorado reported close to 5,000 new cases of Hepatitis C.
  • Close to 50% of these cases are believed to be because of IDU.

These statistics are shocking, but experts believe that the problem has only gotten worse over the last several years. While there are solutions on the horizon, not enough time has passed to know if they are working.

Heroin Addiction in the United States

Of course, Colorado is not the only state dealing with a serious heroin problem. The same is true for every state. This drug’s popularity has grown incredibly over the last decade. That just means more work needs to be done to let people know of the dangers and the potential solutions for recovering.

Facts and Statistics

The CDC offers some interesting statistics regarding heroin addiction in the United States. According to their research:

  • Heroin use has increased among men and women regardless of age and income levels.
  • Interestingly enough, some of the largest increases have occurred among those who were once considered to be low risk.
  • These include women, people with private health insurance and people with higher incomes.
  • Between 2002 and 2013, the number of heroin-related overdose deaths came close to quadrupling.
  • This is a 286% increase.
  • In 2013, there were more than 8,200 people who died because of overdosing on this drug.
  • Over the last ten years, heroin use more than doubled among people between the ages of 18 and 25.
  • Close to 9 out of 10 people who use heroin also use at least one other drug.
  • Most of these individuals actually use three other drugs.
  • Today, around 45% of those who use heroin were also addicted to prescription opioids.

These numbers are staggering to say the least. It is clear why the President called the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. It truly is, and yet, people continue to use these drugs, driving themselves deeper and deeper into addictions.

The Effects of Heroin

The physical effects of heroin on the body are the most obvious. This is a drug that can alter a person’s mental state in the short-term and then lead to additional problems in the long-term. Dependency upon this drug has an impact in every area of a person’s life. That includes their relationships, work, school, and other aspects.

Using heroin is likely to result in:

  • Relationship problems with family and friends.
  • Increased aggression and irritability with others.
  • Job loss or loss of productivity at work.
  • Problems in school, including suspensions.
  • An unhealthy home life for everyone in the home.
  • Changes in personality because of the way the drug alters the brain’s chemistry.
  • Serious financial issues because of exhausting resources to get more of the drug.

As we mentioned previously, people generally start using heroin for its short-term effects. Some are looking for pain relief because they stopped taking their pain medications. Others will use the drug purely for the euphoria it produces. What neither group realizes is that there are so many more short-term effects to be aware of. They can include:

  • Flushed skin
  • A dry mouth
  • Arms and legs that feel heavy
  • Marked drowsiness
  • Problems thinking clearly
  • Slower heart function than normal
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Slower breathing rates

It is also possible for someone to fall into a coma, and/or experience permanent brain damage as a result of heroin. This can even happen after just one use if the individual used a large enough dose.

People often think that there is nothing wrong with drug experimentation. The words, “It was only one time” is something that a lot of parents have heard. But the reality is that with heroin, there may not be just a “one time.” It is a powerful, potent drug that people are likely to try over and over again.

It stands to reason that continuing to use heroin would produce even more serious effects. The long-term impact of using this drug cannot be denied. People who continue to use it day after day, and year after year put themselves at a great risk for:

  • Chemical imbalances in the brain that are not easily reversed.
  • Deterioration of the brain’s white matter.
  • Problems making decisions.
  • Problems regulating behaviors.
  • Changes in hormones.
  • Risk of infections in the blood vessels and heart valves.
  • Risk of tuberculosis.
  • Risk of arthritis.

In addition, long-term heroin users also put themselves at risk for a number of other conditions. They could suffer from collapsed veins if they inject the drug. They may also becoming constipated, have stomach cramps, get abscesses, and end up with liver or kidney disease. Also, as we mentioned earlier, they put themselves at risk for HIV and/or Hepatitis C.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

It is quite common for people to be completely unaware that they are addicted to heroin. They may know they have a problem with the drug, but it is one that they feel in control over. This is called living in denial. It can help these individuals to learn what the signs of addiction are. Likewise, concerned friends and family members also need to learn how to recognize when someone is a heroin addict.

These are some common signs of heroin addiction:

  • The presence of drug paraphernalia. This might include needles, spoons, lighters and pipes.
  • Constricted pupils
  • Constipation
  • Loss of self-control
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Becoming disoriented
  • Losing one’s memory
  • Track marks on the arms
  • Becoming isolated from loved ones
  • Problems with personal hygiene
  • Continuing to use the drug despite serious health conditions
  • Obsessing about the drug all the time

Having even one of these signs is an indicator that there is substance abuse present. Having more than one could indicate that the person is an addict.


There are those who will remain in denial even when presented with a list of common addiction symptoms. They may still believe that they are in control and that there is nothing to worry about. These individuals may benefit from additional methods of identifying a problem.

One way that often helps a lot of people is by taking a heroin addiction quiz. This quiz encourages the user to take an honest inventory of their day-to-day lives. It asks them about certain behaviors and beliefs, and then it provides them with the results.

Once they have the results, they have a better understanding of the problem they are facing. They can also begin the process of taking the next steps toward getting help.

Of course, looking at a list of symptoms and taking a quiz are no substitute for talking to a professional. This is perhaps the best method of determining if someone has a heroin addiction. By talking with an addiction treatment expert, they can get a recommendation for their next steps.

Even when someone is not addicted, but is abusing heroin, there are steps that should be taken to get help. They may need to attend therapy to work on the underlying issues that led to the addiction.

A lot of rehabilitation programs offer free addiction assessments over the phone. This allows the person to speak with a professional directly without having to wait for an appointment.

Getting Help for a Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction never goes away on its own. Like other substance abuse issues, it is progressive. It only gets worse as time goes on. That is why the best way to recover is to go through addiction treatment.

Drug treatment can be so beneficial in so many ways. In addition to helping people recover, it can address the physical and psychological aspects of the problem. Both are important in order for recovery to be successful.

What to Expect During Heroin Detox

Drug detox is the very first step in the recovery process for a lot of drugs; heroin included. Because it is an opiate, the protocol is very similar to what opioid painkiller addicts experience.

Detoxing refers to a type of treatment that is recommended as a way to help people through withdrawal. It can help to lessen the severity of their symptoms, and it can help them avoid possible complications.

Those who are successful in treatment have usually gone through drug detox. It is such an important part of the recovery process.

When someone stops taking a drug, they experience what is known as withdrawal. It is the body’s way of responding once it is thrown off balance. This is exactly what happens when someone who is addicted to heroin stops using it.

Opiate withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. They include:

  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Feeling agitated
  • Pains in the muscles
  • Increased eye tearing
  • Intense cravings
  • Excessive sweating
  • Yawning
  • A runny nose
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Goose bumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Medical detox is often the most important part of the detoxification process. It allows people to take medications to help them through withdrawal. This is called medication assisted treatment or opioid replacement therapy.

There are specific drugs that have been formulated to treat opioid addictions. Doctors often recommend them, and they include:

Vivitrol is a drug that has only recently been approved to treat opioid addiction. It is non-addictive, and not an opioid at all. It is given as a once-monthly injection, and the results with it have been very promising.

It is very common for people to also experience some form of holistic treatment during detox. For many, this means getting more exercise and improving their diets. Both of these methods help to improve the body’s overall health and ability to detox itself.

The Importance of Drug Rehab for Heroin Addicts

Once a person has gone through drug detox, rehab is the next step in the recovery process. It is essential for them to understand what led to their addictions. Unless the root cause is determined, old patterns and behaviors will repeat themselves.

Going through a quality drug rehabilitation program can be a life changing experience. It helps to get to the heart of the addiction so that it can be treated properly.

Getting Treated for Co-Occurring Disorders

A lot of people with addictions suffer from co-occurring disorders. Sadly, these conditions often go ignored, which only results in relapses.

co-occurring disorder is a mental health condition that frequently results in addiction. There are many, including anxiety, depression and PTSD. Using heroin can help to alleviate the symptoms from these and many other mental illnesses.

Treating both conditions at the same time is the best way to achieve a positive outcome for someone with a heroin addiction. Otherwise, they are likely to return to using when those symptoms come back to get relief.

Drug Treatment Options

People who need to go to treatment will find that there are all types of options available to them. No one form of treatment is superior to another, although some may be more appropriate for those who are new to recovery.

Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) are more popular now than ever before. They can be just as effective as inpatient treatment, yet they are much more flexible. That flexibility is exactly what is bringing people into treatment who might not otherwise go.

IOPs usually run for around 12 weeks, but this can vary, based on the person’s needs. They require people to attend appointments several days during the week. Each appointment is lengthy to allow time for individual and group therapy sessions.

Sober living homes offer long-term treatment to those who need it. These individuals may need a way to start new lives, and some even move out of state for this reason. A lot of people who stay in sober living homes do so because living at home would surely result in a relapse.

There are many types of sober living homes. Some require their residents to attend IOPs on their own. Others will offer in-house treatment. They are great resources for anyone who needs them.

Many people begin treatment by going through an inpatient drug rehab. These programs can be very effective; especially for those who need that level of care.

Inpatient treatment involves staying in a facility for about 28 days. Detox is done during that time, and then rehab will continue right after. A lot of inpatient programs offer both services at the same location.

Outpatient treatment is a type of rehab that is usually offered to people who have been through an IOP or inpatient. It is usually not the best solution for someone who is new to treatment. That is because clients are offered significantly less time with staff, and they usually need more support.

This type of treatment should be utilized by those who are ready for it. But it will not be effective for someone who has never been through any other type of program.

What Happens When Someone Relapses?

Unfortunately, relapsing is often a part of the recovery process. NIDA reports that between 40-60% of people who use drugs will relapse at some point. This is often a disheartening statistic, and it is one reason why people question the effectiveness of treatment.

When someone relapses on heroin, they put their life at risk. A relapse can lead to an overdose because people do not take their changing tolerance levels into account. Their bodies can no longer handle the amount of the drug they would have normally taken. As a result, they overdose.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

When someone has overdosed, or one is expected, it is important to call 911. Doing so may just save that person’s life. But first, it is critical to know the signs of a heroin overdose to look for. They include:

  • Breathing that has stopped, or shallow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Tongue discoloration
  • A low blood pressure
  • A weak pulse
  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Nails and lips that have turned blue
  • Stomach and intestine spasms
  • Constipation
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness

Again, this is a medical emergency, and there are no at-home or over the counter treatments that can help. If an overdose is suspected, please call 911 right away.

Help is Available for Heroin Addiction Recovery Today

At AspenRidge North, we believe that it is important to state the facts about heroin. This is a powerful, dangerous drug that so many people are addicted to. There are ways to recover, and we can help them get started on the path to a better life without this drug.

Do you have questions about heroin addiction and treatment? We are here to help. Please contact us.

Sources

drugabuse.gov