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Heroin Addiction And The Best Rehab Centers For Treatment

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 12, 2019

Often causing dependence soon after abuse begins, heroin is typically considered to be one of the most addictive of all abused drugs, illicit or prescribed. Withdrawal from heroin is a difficult and dangerous process that often leads to relapse for many who try to get off this drug without professional help. Heroin addiction can harm the body in several ways, including various organ damage, overdose, coma, or death.

Heroin is an illegal and highly addictive opioid drug derived from morphine. With a high potential for abuse, a user may become addicted quickly and experience numerous dangers, including various diseases, depression, coma, overdose, and death—the latter three may occur at any time, including after the first dose. A medical detox and various medications and therapies exist within a variety of treatment programs to help you, or your loved one, obtain sobriety. An inpatient drug rehab program may be best, as this is typically considered a severe addiction.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal, Schedule I controlled substance, the classification due to its intense potency, potential for abuse, and the fact it serves no medical purposes. Known by numerous street names, including “China White,” “Dope,” “H,” “Horse,” “Junk,” “Skag,” or “Smack,” heroin is highly addictive and widely dangerous. The euphoria and rush associated with a heroin high is virtually immediate, giving users instant gratification which quickly leads to tolerance, dependence, cravings, and for many, addiction.

Synthesized from the opium poppy plant, heroin is a derivative of morphine, and is most commonly sourced from Mexico, Central and South America, and Southeast and Southwest Asia. Depending on the region and the purity of the drug, heroin comes in a white or brown powder or in a form referred to as “black tar heroin,” which is either a black, tar-like substance or similar in form and appearance to coal.

How Is It Abused?

Heroin is usually injected (“shooting up,” or “slamming”) snorted, or smoked (“chasing the dragon,” and in lesser instances, taken orally, anally (“plugging”)) or vaginally as suppository. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) also notes that reports have surfaced of heroin abusers spraying a liquified version of the drug into their nose from a spray bottle, a practice referred to as “shabanging.” The means of administration is largely dependent on the form and purity of the drug; in example, heroin that is exceedingly pure is most typically snorted or smoked, whereas, more impure varieties are more commonly injected. How heroin is administered changes the way the effects are felt, including, the intensity of euphoria or the presence of a rush; how quickly they are felt, and the duration of time they are experienced for.

When an individual chooses to inject the drug, they do so in several ways, in various locations. Injection may occur intravenously, into the muscle, or subcutaneously (directly under the skin), termed “skin popping.” A person may inject the drug into their arm, however, as these regions become compromised by overuse or infection, or in an attempt to hide the marks, he or she may instead inject on their legs or neck, between their fingers and toes, and even in areas within their genitalia.

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Heroin is also widely used in polysubstance abuse, sometimes without an individual even knowing. According to CESAR, recreationally, some individuals may alternate between snorting heroin and cocaine, a practice called “crisscrossing,” or may inject heroin and another drug together (commonly crack), referred to as “speed-balling.” A common practice is cutting the drug with another substance or chemical. While these may be foodstuffs such as sugar or powdered milk, in some cases it might be another drug. A dangerous practice is occurring across the United States, with reports of heroin being mixed with other dangerous, and more potent opioids, including fentanyl and carfentanil, increasing the risk of overdose and death.

In recent years, due to the prescription drug abuse crisis, the way many individuals have come to heroin abuse and addiction has changed—according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Pooling data from 2002 to 2012, the incidence of heroin initiation was 19 times higher among those who reported prior non-medical pain reliever use than among those who did not.” It is theorized this is due to the increased number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers and the oftentimes greater availability and cheaper price of heroin.

What are the Effects of Heroin Addiction Affect A User?

Like other opioid drugs, heroin exerts a vast impact on your central nervous system (CNS), specifically by depressing it. Human brains actually contain opiate receptor sites, due to the presence of naturally occurring opioids. When an illicit or external version floods a person’s system, like heroin, these sites are occupied, signaling to your brain that production of its own versions should slow. When heroin enters the brain, it actually turns back to morphine, which speaks to its great potential for abuse and addiction.

With prolonged use, your brain may become dependent on the heroin, and fail to produce its own opioids. As abuse continues, an individual may no longer feel the previous effects; this is due to a tolerance, which now requires a person to increase their dosage to feel the pleasurable effects they seek. As a person seeks to overcome their tolerance, the capacity for numerous dangers, addiction, and overdose increase.

What Are The Dangers And Side Effects Of Heroin Opioid Abuse, Addiction, and Overdose?

Due to its potency, even after only using heroin once or twice, some people may already find it hard to stop using, beginning to experience cravings and exhibiting drug-seeking behaviors. The American Society of Addiction Medicine cites that “23% of individuals who use heroin develop opioid addiction.” Overall, heroin is responsible for great detriment to the abuser, and may cause the following:

Short-Term Effects

  • euphoria
  • rush
  • nausea and vomiting
  • flushed skin
  • heavy limbs
  • itchy skin
  • dry mouth
  • decreased cognition (thinking)
  • lack of motivation
  • poor motor control
  • spontaneous abortion (miscarriage)
  • respiratory depression
  • decreased heart function

At the initial onset of drug use, according to NIDA, a person may “go on the nod,” while they alternate between periods of wakefulness and a drowsy or semi-conscious state. Even on the first use, a person may encounter such severe respiratory depression and impaired heart functioning, that they may enter into a coma, experience brain damage, overdose, or fatality.

Long-Term Effects

Unfortunately, when drug abuse spans long period of times, severe and life threatening problems arise. Because heroin is so addictive and hazardous, users should be aware that long-term effects may not take that long to develop, including:

  • memory loss
  • depression
  • damaged immune system
  • collapsed veins
  • bacterial infections and abscesses
  • hormonal imbalance and/or sexual dysfunction
  • arthritis
  • stomach issues, including constipation
  • infection of the heart lining or valves
  • liver or kidney disease
  • clogged blood vessels in the brain
  • pneumonia
  • tuberculosis
  • addiction
  • withdrawal
  • overdose
  • coma

One of the largest dangers when using heroin is the sharing of needles. When people don’t use sterile needles, they risk contracting various infectious diseases, including AIDS/HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other pathogens that may be readily transmitted by blood. Again, heroin can, at any time, cause coma, overdose, and death.

Learn Where you Can Get Heroin Drug Addiction and Overdose Treatment

Unfortunately, heroin is extremely psychologically and physically addictive, which can make it difficult to treat, however, effective treatment options do exist. We highly recommend that you never attempt to quit heroin on your own, or suddenly (“cold turkey”). Withdrawal may create very uncomfortable and even painful symptoms. In order to alleviate or reduce these concerns, we strongly urge you to seek a medical detox.

The detoxification process alone is very strenuous, and though outpatient programs are available, doctors highly recommend inpatient drug treatment programs so that the recovering individual can be monitored and supported at all times. The upside is that there are many excellent rehabilitation centers all across the country ready to help you through this difficult transition.

Within this process, medication will likely be administered to help with the unpleasant withdrawal side effects. As offered by NIDA, such medications may include buprenorphine (Suboxone), naltrexone, or methadone. These, and other non-addictive medications may be used to help alleviate the side effects of withdrawal, including anxiety, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, vomiting, fever, and cravings. Certain medications may also be used within medication-assisted therapy, which combines medications with various behavioral therapies to achieve the maximum impact.

Once an individual completes detox, an intensive combination of therapy and counseling comes into effect. Both in individual and group settings, cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common treatments, teaching the recovering addict how to remove dysfunctional thoughts, emotions, and behaviors from their life, instead creating more positive ones, while building life and coping skills to help them avoid temptation and relapse. To enhance these modalities, other activities and resources may be integrated, including various 12-step programs and meetings, family programs, relapse prevention, and aftercare support.

After the inpatient program is complete, it is highly recommended that the person continue going to meetings and counseling sessions to stay on track and gather support from those who are also going through similar circumstances.

Let Us Help You Find Compassionate Treatment

We can help you find the rehabilitation center that best fits your unique needs. If you or a loved one are suffering from heroin addiction, get help today. Contact us and the caring staff at will help you develop a treatment plan.

For Even More On Drug Addiction And The Best Rehab Centers For Treatment:

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What Is Heroin?

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Research Report Series: Heroin

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Heroin

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