Heroin Addiction: Signs, Effects, & Treatment
Heroin addiction is a life-threatening disease that is complex, but treatable. Signs of heroin abuse may include behavioral or emotional changes, weight loss, track marks, or impaired coordination.
Heroin is an illegal and addictive opioid drug. Heroin comes from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from certain poppy plants.
The drug is often sold in the form of a white or brown powder, or tar-like substance.
Abusing this drug can lead to mental health issues, short-term and long-term physical complications, and substance use disorder.
Below, learn about the prevalence of heroin use in the U.S., the effects of the drug, how heroin is used, and more.
Heroin Statistics: Use, Overdose, And Recovery
Heroin use in the United States has risen sharply in the past two decades, due in part to the widespread abuse of prescription opioids such as oxycodone.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 80% of people who use heroin in the U.S. first misused prescription opioids.
Heroin is cheaper than prescription opioids, however, and more easily accessible in the wake of greater restrictions on prescribing.
Key facts about heroin abuse in the U.S.:
- In 2018, about 81,000 people over the age of 12 in the U.S. reported using heroin for the first time.
- 2011 data reported that 4% to 6% of people who misused prescription opioids switched to heroin.
- The prevalence of heroin use was significantly higher from 2012 to 2013 (1.61%) than it was between 2001 and 2002 (0.33%).
- About a third of all opioid overdose deaths involve heroin.
- The number of heroin-involved overdose deaths rose from 1,960 people in 1999 to 15,482 people in 2017.
- More than 14,019 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in 2019. This is a 6% decrease from 2018.
- There were 13,165 heroin-involved overdose deaths in 2020, a downward trend that’s continued since 2016.
What Is Heroin?
A highly addictive substance, heroin works in the brain by binding to opioid receptors — particularly, those associated with feelings of pleasure and pain.
Learn more about the different types of heroin.
You can identify heroin by recognizing the color, texture and appearance, paraphernalia, and more.
Here’s what to look for when identifying heroin:
- What heroin looks like: Many types of heroin look like a powder substance, which may contain certain additives or impurities. Heroin may also look like a dark, tacky substance.
- The color of heroin: You may identify heroin by a stark white color (often implying few to no impurities, though certain white substances may be cut with heroin), a brown powder, or a black substance.
- Heroin paraphernalia: Common paraphernalia associated with heroin use include heroin needles or syringes, spoons, foil, or pipes.
What Does Heroin Feel Like?
A heroin high may last up to five hours, setting in after about 20 seconds and peaking around the second hour.
Heroin Detection Times
Heroin may be detectable in your system for anywhere between 2 and 90 days.
Effects Of Heroin
Heroin is an addictive, mind-altering drug that can have both physical and psychological effects.
The side effects of heroin should be taken seriously. At times, immediate medical attention may be necessary.
- feelings of intense pleasure and relaxation (euphoria)
- dry mouth
- heaviness of the arms and legs
- nausea and vomiting
- foggy thinking
- warm flushing of the skin
- drifting in and out of consciousness
- imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems
- deterioration of the brain’s white matter (containing important nerve fibers that affect learning and brain functions)
A person might feel the following mental side effects from heroin:
- mental health issues
- clouded mental functioning
The following physical side effects of heroin may occur:
- heroin teeth
- liver disease
- skin diseases
Learn more about the effects of heroin abuse.
Signs Of Heroin Use
You can recognize several signs someone is on heroin, including physical and behavioral signs.
Below are common physical signs of heroin use:
Behavioral signs of heroin use may include:
- difficulty maintaining relationships
- withdrawing from family or friends
- lying or stealing
- increasing risk-taking behaviors
Learn more about recognizing the signs of heroin abuse.
Addiction can cause strong drug cravings and reinforce continued use, resulting in a dangerous cycle.
It can also cause the body to experience uncomfortable symptoms beginning within hours of your last dose.
This is known as heroin withdrawal, the symptoms of which can be mild to severe.
Often, the cycle continues because a person can’t withstand the withdrawal symptoms, using heroin again to alleviate the discomfort.
The following are some of the most common symptoms of heroin withdrawal:
- sleep difficulties
- bone and muscle pain
- strong cravings for heroin
- cold flashes and goosebumps
- nausea and vomiting
- uncontrollable leg movements
Heroin withdrawal is generally not life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable or painful.
It can also cause dehydration due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea. Without proper medical support, this can be dangerous.
Read more about the common signs of heroin withdrawal.
Risks Of Heroin Use
Over time, the repeated use of heroin can cause a vicious cycle in which a person may use heroin more frequently and in greater amounts.
This can cause a whole host of effects on physical and mental health, as well as impact other areas of a person’s life.
It’s important to be aware of the risk and signs of overdose, especially if you or someone you love have been using the substance.
It may take about 30 mg to overdose on heroin. However, some people who abuse heroin may tolerate as much as 10 times more than this amount.
- inability to think, speak, or respond to others
- agitation or paranoia
Physical signs of heroin overdose include:
- blue skin
- limp body
- loss of consciousness
- gurgling or choking
- heavy nodding
- slow or stopped breath
In case of an overdose, a person must administer naloxone immediately.
Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse the harmful effects of opioids by blocking opioids from binding to the receptors in the brain.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose.
Heroin Methods Of Administration
Many people start by snorting or smoking heroin and eventually level up to injecting it, as injecting heroin has the strongest effects.
However, injection comes with the greatest health risks, including HIV and other infections from using dirty needles.
Find more information on the methods of heroin use.
Heroin Street Names And Cost
The street cost of heroin is anywhere from $5 to $500 per gram, or $10,000 to $100,000 per brick (kilogram).
A few of the most common street names for heroin include:
Heroin And Other Substances
Heroin may be compared to other substances, such as prescription or illicit drugs that share similar properties or makeup.
Here are the major differences between heroin and other drugs:
- Heroin vs. crack: Heroin is an opioid drug derived from the poppy plant, whereas crack is a form of cocaine, a stimulant drug.
- Heroin vs. opium: Heroin is a product of opium. Opium can be found in multiple drugs of abuse, including morphine and codeine.
- Heroin vs. oxycodone: Both oxycodone (brand name OxyContin) and heroin are opioid drugs. While they’re derived from the same plant, oxycodone is approved for medical use and heroin is not.
- Heroin vs. fentanyl: Fentanyl is about 50 times stronger than heroin. At times, heroin may be “cut” (or mixed) with fentanyl to increase its potency.
Treatment For Heroin Addiction
Living with addiction can be a painful experience for both the person with heroin addiction and their loved ones.
Overcoming heroin abuse may require treatment at multiple levels of care. The safest way to stop using heroin and avoid relapse is to enter a medically supervised detox program.
After a heroin detox program, it’s best to enter one of the following addiction recovery programs.
Inpatient Or Residential Treatment
Inpatient rehab programs offer a supportive environment for people to heal from the effects of addiction.
Here, you or your loved one will learn supportive coping strategies for managing the challenges that may lie ahead on the road to recovery.
You may choose a short-term 30-day program or a longer residential treatment program. Both of these options will provide 24-hour care and supervision.
People overcoming opioid addiction, including heroin abuse, may benefit from medication assistance in substance abuse treatment.
Certain medications, along with behavioral counseling, can be very helpful in early recovery from heroin dependence or addiction.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) helps to:
- curb heroin cravings
- ease the process of withdrawal
- allow your body and mind readjust without heroin in your system
Outpatient Addiction Treatment
If you or your loved one are not ready for an inpatient program, you can choose between several levels of outpatient care for heroin addiction recovery.
Outpatient treatment is also a good step-down option to continue your recovery after an inpatient or residential treatment program.
Outpatient options may include:
- standard outpatient programs (OP)
- intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- partial hospitalization programs (PHP)
Specialized Heroin Addiction Treatment
You can also find many specialized programs for heroin abuse treatment. This is because addiction is not a one-size-fits-all illness, and each person may require different services.
Specialized treatment programs for heroin abuse include:
- heroin addiction treatment for women, including pregnant women and women with children
- treatment for heroin overdose
- teen heroin addiction treatment
Learn more about heroin addiction treatment options.
Heroin Abuse And Addiction FAQs
If you suspect that you or someone you love has a heroin addiction, you may have questions about heroin abuse.
Explore some of the commonly asked questions about heroin’s effects, characteristics of heroin, and more.
Does Heroin Cause Neuropathy?
Heroin addiction has been linked to a number of neurological complications, including acute neuropathy (damage to your nerves).
Is Heroin A Nervous System Depressant?
Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, as it slows down functions in the central nervous system.
Is Heroin Controlled Or Illegal?
Heroin is an illegal drug. It is listed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse.
Where Is The Main Source Of Heroin?
Heroin is produced in South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. Much of the world’s heroin supply comes from Afghanistan.
Heroin is not produced in the United States.
What Does Heroin Taste Like?
Heroin may have a bitter taste or no taste at all. Heroin often takes on the smell and taste of its additives or impurities.
How Addictive Is Heroin?
Heroin is highly addictive.
As a Schedule I substance, the DEA warns against using this drug because there is a high likelihood of forming an addiction or physical dependence on the drug after just a few uses.
Why Do People Use Heroin?
People use heroin to feel a sense of intense euphoria and pleasure.
However, the negative physical, mental, and behavioral effects of the drug and the likelihood of addiction far outweigh the pleasurable effects.
What Kind Of Drug Is Heroin?
Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, taken from poppy plants.
Find more FAQs about heroin abuse here.
Recover From Heroin Addiction At Spring Hill Recovery Center
Conquering addiction is not easy, but it is possible.
If you know someone in or near Massachusetts who is ready to overcome heroin addiction, Spring Hill Recovery Center may be right for you.
Spring Hill is an accredited rehab center in Ashby, Massachusetts that offers residential treatment and intensive outpatient programs for heroin addiction.
Our treatment programs offer a wide array of traditional treatments and holistic therapies. Call us today to learn more about our programs for heroin addiction recovery.
- American Psychological Association — Recognizing and Responding to Opioid Overdose https://www.apa.org/advocacy/substance-use/opioids/resources/recognizing-overdose.pdf
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Heroin Overdose Data https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/heroin/index.html
- DrugPolicy.org — What’s the difference between heroin, fentanyl, morphine and oxycodone? https://drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/difference-heroin-fentanyl-morphine-oxycodone
- JAMA Psychiatry — Changes in US Lifetime Heroin Use and Heroin Use Disorder https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2612444
- National Institute on Drug Abuse—Heroin DrugFacts https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
- National Institute on Drug Abuse—Heroin Research Report https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/overview
- National Institute on Drug Abuse — Overdose Death Rates https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—Key Findings: 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf