There’s no denying the reality of the opioid epidemic in America. There were more than 72,000 total drug overdose deaths in America in 2017 alone. Almost 30,000 of those were from the synthetic opioid fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.

Since heroin is often cheaper to get than prescription opioids, the epidemic encompasses this dangerous drug as well. Heroin use has been on the rise since 2007, with almost one million Americans using heroin in 2016. It is time for our nation to do something to change this.

Saving people who are using heroin occurs one person at a time. That’s why we’ve assembled this guide to treatment options for people who are using heroin. After reading it, you and your family can offer meaningful support to the heroin addict in your life.

Read on to learn about the devastation that heroin addiction can cause and the treatments that can help.

People on Heroin by the Numbers

You may not need more facts to convince you it’s important to treat heroin addiction in the United States. But here are a few figures that give an even clearer picture of the problem.

Increases in heroin use are especially troubling in young populations. Adults ages 18-25 have seen a greater increase of heroin users than any other age group. This is unfortunate, but it is also surprising, given the fact that there have been declines in heroin use in children ages 12-17.

Over a 10 year span from 2002 to 2012, the incidence of first-time heroin use was almost 20 times higher if the person had first used non-medical pain relievers. A study of young urban injection drug users published in 2012 found that 86 percent of them had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically before starting heroin.

Overdose deaths involving heroin have increased immensely in the past few years. In 2017 alone, there were nearly 16,000 overdose deaths that involved heroin.

It’s not just urban centers that are witnessing overdose deaths, both in first-time users and increased users. Suburban and rural communities, especially near St. Louis and Chicago, are suffering these effects as well.

Adults ages 18-25 are also seeking more treatment for heroin addiction. This group comprised 11 percent of admissions in 2008. That number was up to 26 percent as of the first half of 2012.

The Damage Heroin Does to a Person’s Body and Mind

It’s heartening to see a greater percentage of young people seeking treatment for heroin addiction. It’s a good thing they are, too, because heroin wreaks havoc on the body and the mind. Seeing these effects begin at such a young age is disheartening.

Here are just a few of the ways in which heroin affects the user.

In the short term, heroin can cause vomiting and constipation. It can also reduce one’s sex drive and make it difficult to achieve orgasm.

Because of these reasons, many people steer clear of heroin after trying it just once. The risks are just not worth the reward of the heroin high.

In the long-term, heroin abuse deteriorates white matter in the brain. This limits brain activity, which makes it difficult for heroin users to make decisions. They have less control over their behavior and become unable to respond to stress.

There are also long-term medical effects of heroin use. They include collapsed veins, abscesses, muscle and bone pain, infection of the heart, and risk of HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

The Damage Heroin Does to Families

If heroin only hurt the user, it would be bad enough. But the drug’s damages do not stop at the individual level. They extend to families and loved ones as well.

Heroin users’ parents and spouses often adopt unhealthy and codependent caretaker roles. They blame themselves for their partner’s or child’s addiction. This entanglement only increases the guilt of the caretaker instead of helping the addict.

Another strain heroin puts on relationships is financial. Heroin users manipulate loved ones into supporting them emotionally and financially. These strains can damage these relationships to the point of breaking.

The children of heroin addicts also suffer from their parents’ addiction. These parents raise their children in toxic environments. This makes their children more likely to develop substance use disorders themselves.

Children of heroin addicts can also suffer from low self-esteem, fear of abandonment, and depression. They also display compulsive behaviors ranging from overeating to compulsive sexual behavior.

How to Tell If Someone Is Using Heroin and Needs Treatment

It’s clear heroin use is a killer of individuals as well as families. If you are not sure if your loved one is using heroin, here are some warning signs to look for.

They may have shortness of breath, dry mouth, vomiting, rapid weight loss, and scabs from picking at their skin. They may have slurred speech or be unable to hold themselves upright. Track marks from needles may appear on their arms or feet.

The psychological symptoms are also extreme. Your loved one may undergo quick personality changes from intense euphoria to anxiety and depression. They may also display an inability to make decisions or show emotions.

Frequently, heroin addicts display confusion and jumbled thoughts in their day-to-day lives. If they tend to drift off or get lost in conversation, they may be suffering the psychological symptoms of heroin addiction.

Heroin users also display external behavioral symptoms.

They may be secretive about their activities, like stealing or shoplifting. They may lack productivity or be unable to fulfill their responsibilities. They may spend all their time seeking out the next fix despite the consequences, no matter how severe.

Intervention or No Intervention?

Once you’ve identified that your loved one is a heroin addict, it is easy to become hopeless. Resisting this hopelessness is essential to getting the addict help.

You have to approach the subject of treatment to help the addict in your life. But this can be one of the trickiest parts of getting the addict the help they need.

One question that comes up early in the process is whether or not to hold an intervention. An intervention can help the addict come to their senses. They can realize the damage they are causing to themselves and to others.

But interventions don’t always look like they do on television. Interventions can backfire when an addict is unwilling to face their situation squarely. When this happens, an intervention may create more problems than it solves.

If you are certain an intervention is necessary for your situation, you may want to seek the help of a professional interventionist. There are a few tangible benefits of doing so.

As a third party observer, an interventionist can provide an objective perspective on your situation that you do not have. They can see the problems that exist in the family as well as in the addict. Because of their removal, they can address those problems in addition to the addiction.

Many interventionists take a holistic approach to treatment. They can help addicts identify co-occurring addictions and mental health issues. They cannot diagnose these things, but they can suggest resources for treating these issues.

Once the addict and their family seek help, an interventionist can also provide ongoing support. They can assist the family throughout the treatment-seeking process.

What Does Treatment Look Like?

Once the addict has admitted to their problem and committed to seeking out a treatment program, what are the options for treatment?

Not all programs are created equal. Some will work better than others, depending on the personality of the addict and the nature of their addiction. But here are a few common features you may find scattered across various treatment programs.


Many treatment programs begin with a period of detoxification. It’s a painful part of the process, and some addicts resist treatment simply because they are afraid of the symptoms of withdrawal that rear their heads in detox.

These symptoms may include stomach pain, muscle spasms, severe depression, agitation, nervousness, sweating, and nausea.

Detox usually lasts between five and seven days, and treatment programs often provide supervision and medical assistance to addicts during this time to help mitigate their symptoms of withdrawal.

Residential Treatment

Because of the intensity of heroin addiction, residential treatment is frequently recommended for heroin addicts looking to get sober. Inpatient treatment programs typically last anywhere from 30 days to or even six or 12 months, though those times can vary quite a bit from program to program.

The great benefit of residential treatment programs is their ability to treat the addiction holistically. These programs usually employ medical staff to treat the physical symptoms and issues that the heroin addict faces, but they also employ therapists and counselors to address the underlying psychological causes of the addiction.

These highly structured programs involve a variety of therapies as well as group and individual activities to address an addict’s problems and show them what a brighter future might look like.

Inpatient treatment programs can be expensive. They may cost a couple hundred or up to a thousand dollars per day. Fortunately, a good health insurance plan will cover much of the cost of inpatient rehab.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment programs, often referred to as IOP for “intensive outpatient program” or PHP for “partial hospitalization program,” split the difference between residential treatment and simply going off heroin cold turkey. These are programs that offer many of the resources of the residential programs without the time commitment that comes with living in the facility where you receive treatment.

Outpatient treatment gives some freedom to the addict, which may be a blessing or a curse, depending on the individual case. Typically, a PHP offers more structure and requires more of a time commitment than an IOP.

If the cost of an inpatient program is prohibitive, an outpatient program can give the addict resources in a structured setting without placing much financial burden on the caretaker.

Long-Term Aftercare

No matter how long the initial treatment program, a heroin addict requires a lifetime of support afterward. Since there are no lifetime treatment programs, that help has to come in other forms.

Some treatment programs offer aftercare in the form of returning to the treatment center with decreasing frequency after leaving the program. This provides some scaffolding from the resources of the program to the addict’s ongoing treatment team in the outside world.

That treatment team is an important part of aftercare. An addict should connect with doctors who support their physical health and mental health professionals who can address ongoing psychological issues.

Another bridge from treatment to unassisted living is the sober-living facility. This is a house for addicts fresh out of treatment. They maintain a structured routine and begin to look for jobs.

A sober-living facility can help an addict experience life in the outside world. They start to look beyond the walls of the treatment center.

Aftercare may also include attendance at 12-step meetings or other recovery groups. At these groups, addicts can experience community with each other while supporting each other in their recovery. Some addicts find this support in faith-based communities as well.

The Options for Treatment Are Many and Real

While the number of people using heroin is depressing, it doesn’t have to be a dead end. There are real options when it comes to helping heroin addicts face their issues and overcome their addictions. They involve patience on the parts of the families and willingness from the addicts themselves.

Check out our heroin addiction treatment services for more information on how you can help the heroin addict in your life.