There is no doubt that we are facing an opioid crisis in modern America. From large, metropolitan cities to small, rural towns, we’re seeing this drug in epic proportions.

In 2016, approximately 20.1 million people over age 12 a substance use disorder. Of that figure, over a half a million individuals struggle with a heroin addiction.

Heroin is a highly dangerous and highly addictive drug. When used chronically, it can lead to a variety of severe consequences. Furthermore, it can be fatal- with just one use.

Let’s get into what you need to know about heroin and finding heroin addiction help.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin belongs to the class of drugs known as opioids. Opioids bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and body and are used medically to relieve pain.

Heroin is derived from morphine, which is a naturally existing substance from opium poppy plants.

Heroin has many street names that include black tar, hell dust, fire, smack, tar, east coast powder.

It can come in a brown or white powder or as a black and sticky substance.

Who Uses Heroin?

A recent study revealed that nearly 100,000 Americans reported using heroin in 2016. It’s a trend that has been steadily rising since 2007.

The typical heroin user may not look like your average, stereotypical “junkie.” While it’s true that 30-40 years ago, the average user was primarily an inner-city male from a minority group, that demographic has changed.

Many people actually progress to heroin use from prescribed painkillers. Prescription opioids, such as Percocet, Vicodin, or Oxycodone, can start the slippery slope to heroin use.

Some people receive these medications for an acute or chronic pain condition. Over time, they may develop an increased tolerance. They may start experiencing withdrawal symptoms if they run out of medication.

Some doctors will limit the number of refills they provide for their patients. However, if an individual becomes dependent on the medication, they may resort to drastic measures to obtain it. Because prescription medicine can cost significantly more, some will turn to heroin, as its often cheaper and more easily accessible.

How Is Heroin Taken?

Like most drugs, heroin can be used in a variety of ways.

It can be injected via a syringe directly into a vein or muscle. Sometimes, people will mix it with other substances, such as meth or cocaine, when using it intravenously. Users often start by injecting heroin into the arm, but the veins will collapse over time. People will then progress into injecting anywhere they can locate a vein.

Intravenous (IV) use is the most potent form of administration. The peak effect can occur within 5-10 seconds. Because of the risk of overdosing, IV use is also considered the most dangerous.

Heroin can also be smoked in a pipe or rolled into a cigarette or joint. Finally, in its powder form, it can be snorted.

What Are The Short-Term Effects of Heroin?

When heroin enters the brain, it converts into morphine. Users experience a “rush” of a pleasurable sensation. The intensity on this rush varies on the type of drug, the route of administration, and the individual user.

Other physical effects of heroin use include:

  • dry mouth
  • skin flushing
  • dry mouth
  • heavy feeling in the bodies

Some users will feel nauseated and may experience vomiting. After the primary effects start to decline, users typically remain sleepy and sedated for several years.

What Are The Long-Term Effects of Heroin?

When used long-term, repeated heroin use can change the physical structure of the brain. Some research suggests that heroin can deteriorate the brain’s white matter, which can impair decision-making and emotional regulation skills.

Long-term use of heroin can also lead to tolerance of the drug. This means you need to take more and more of it to achieve the desired effect.

Furthermore, you can experience physical dependence. This refers to the body adapting to the presence of the drug. It also refers to experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use.

What Happens During a Heroin Overdose?

Overdosing on heroin can be fatal, and it requires immediate medical attention. The warning signs of an overdose include:

  • Bluish nails or lips
  • Depressed or stopped breathing
  • Gurgling or snoring sounds
  • Weak pulse
  • Pinpointed pupils
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Episodes of losing consciousness
  • Disoriented or delirious thinking
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Seizures or coma

One of the most substantial risks for heroin overdose comes with polysubstance use. Taking other substances, such as meth, cocaine, or alcohol, with heroin can increase the chance for medical consequences, such as overdose.

Today, many people unknowingly use heroin laced with other substances, such as fentanyl or carfentanil. Fentanyl is said to be 50-100 times more potent than heroin, and carfentanil is supposedly 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

People relapsing on heroin after a sustained period of abstinence also face an increased risk for overdosing. This happens because many of them use the same amount of heroin they used in the past. However, because their tolerance has decreased, they face the risk of taking more than their body can handle.

If you are with someone who you suspect may be overdosing, it’s critical to call 911 as soon as possible. Many states with good samaritan laws will protect you legally if you call for medical support- even if you were using substances yourself.


Naloxone is an FDA-approved opioid antagonist. It can block and reverse the effects of opioids. Naloxone administration can restore the overdosing individual’s breathing and save his or her life.

Naloxone comes in the form of an autoinjection or prepackaged nasal spray (known as Narcan).

It’s a prescription drug, but you can purchase it in most pharmacies and drug stores throughout the United States.

What Is Heroin Addiction?

Chronic, progressive use of heroin can lead to addiction. There are many different signs associated with addiction.

Physical & Medical Factors

Heroin addiction can dramatically impact a person’s physical health. The user may stop prioritizing grooming and hygiene. They may present as disheveled or distressed. They may look gaunt or emaciated due to not eating.

Sometimes, people using heroin share needles and run the risk of developing serious medical conditions like HIV or Hepatitis C.

Emotional & Psychological Factors

The desire to use, obtain, or conceal a heroin habit can lead people to neglect other areas in their lives. Heroin users often find it hard to hold down a job or perform well in school. They may withdraw from their social relationships and spend most of their time isolating.

It’s also common to feel very depressed, anxious, irritable, and even suicidal. Because many people struggling with drug addiction also struggle with co-occurring mental illness, drug use can exacerbate other symptoms.

On a psychological level, many drug users want to quit or cut down on their habit. Unfortunately, the intense cravings, tolerance, and fear of withdrawal make it feel impossible to do so. For this reason, many people feel alone, ashamed, and humiliated over their addiction.

Financial Factors

People struggling with a heroin addiction may steal money or items to fund their habit. They may not be able to pay their bills because they need money for more drugs. They may engage in concerning behaviors, such as prostitution or panhandling, to acquire money.

In some cases, heroin addiction can cause people to lose their jobs, homes, and savings accounts. Many unassuming people end up in serious financial problems due to the progressive nature of their use.

Why Seek Heroin Addiction Help?

Getting sober on your own can be incredibly challenging. For some, it is impossible. Many people have tried quitting on their own many times before reaching out for professional help.

Professional heroin addiction treatment provides a safe and structured environment needed to achieve and sustain long-term recovery. In this setting, you’ll receive education, life skills, and coping tools.

Professional treatment also provides wraparound care for other, extraneous issues including support for legal issues, medical treatment, family problems, and even financial stressors.

Types of Addiction Treatment

There are numerous types of treatment options available to those seeking support for their heroin addiction.


Within 6-12 hours after the last heroin dose, most individuals start experiencing withdrawal symptoms. You can expect that these symptoms can peak within the first 1-3 days, and they will begin dissipating within 5-7 days.

Detox provides 24-hour psychiatric and medical monitoring and evaluation. It’s usually known as the ‘first step’ of treatment. Detox helps flush the toxins associated with harmful substances, and it helps provide stabilization for intoxicated individuals.

Some detox facilities provide opioid detox medications to relieve the distressing, physical symptoms.

It should be noted that detox alone is not considered treatment. It’s merely the first step towards stabilization and health.

Inpatient Residential Treatment

Inpatient residential treatment provides 24/7 monitoring, structure, and support for newly sober individuals.

Treatment will you in learning:

  • stress management
  • healthy communication skills
  • relapse prevention tips
  • self-esteem and self-worth
  • life management skills
  • parenting and relationship techniques
  • management for occupational or financial problems

In this level of treatment, individuals are separated from their homes and live with their fellow patients full-time. This provides you the opportunity to surround yourself with people who understand addiction. It also provides you with the chance to focus exclusively on your recovery- free from external distractions.

Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Partial hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient (IOP) treatment provide structured treatment for several hours each day.

Unlike inpatient care, patients do not live at the facility, and they do not receive 24/7 supervision. Instead, many of them commute to and from the center, often while working or attending school.

Some individuals transition into these levels of care after completing a detox and inpatient residential program. Others enter these programs if they do not need medically supervised detox or if they are not fit for a higher level of care.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment provides patients access to treatment and care in a non-residential setting.

Again, many of these patients have already completed intensive programs, and this is simply a step down from their higher level of care.

Outpatient treatment still provides people with support, counseling, and supervision during this transition back into the real world. This sense of accountability can help individuals feel empowered and ‘on track’ with staying sober.

What Happens After Treatment?

Even after completing a treatment program, the recovery process is never totally finished.

Instead, most people choose to adopt the philosophy that they are “in recovery.” In other words, they are continually working, growing, and learning within their recovery. The work never stops.

Well-qualified treatment centers work to provide wraparound care for their patients. Together, with your treatment team, you will collaborate on an appropriate plan for your success.

Some people stay connected with their sobriety by attending 12-Step meetings. From Alcoholics Anonymous to Narcotics Anonymous to Heroin Anonymous, there is no shortage of free meetings available virtually anywhere in the world.

Other people continue with individual, family, couple, or group therapies. Having professional support can help you as you reintegrate back into society and face stress.

Many individuals have to change parts of their lives to stay sober. You may have to reevaluate old friendships, jobs, or even living environments that are reminiscent of using.

Final Thoughts

Heroin addiction can be devastating for you and anyone you love. Even though it may feel hopeless, relief and recovery are possible. They require dedication and persistence and a willingness to try something different.

Locating the best heroin addiction help can be a challenge. At Addiction Treatment Services, we know how difficult taking that first step towards change can be.

Whether you or a loved one is struggling, we’re here to help with support and guidance. Contact us today to speak to one of our intervention specialists.