Heroin, an illicit drug made from the opium poppy flower, has contributed to the over 1,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts alone.
It is estimated that nationwide over 902,000 people have used heroin in the past year, while an estimated 691,000 have developed a heroin use disorder.
The drug in its various formulations has been illegal since 1924 but continues to afflict communities throughout the United States.
If you or a loved one are seeking heroin addiction recovery, there are a range of evidence-based treatment options at Bedrock Recovery Center in Massachusetts.
How Heroin Drug Abuse Leads To Addiction
Immediately after a person ingests, snorts, or injects heroin intravenously, they get a rush of euphoria. People who use heroin describe the experience as dream-like.
Heroin also stops your brain from receiving pain messages and slows the heart rate. When too much of the drug is taken, breathing can slow to a halt, and overdose death can occur.
One of the main factors that contribute to heroin addiction is the growing prescription opioid crisis.
Painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone have effects similar to heroin, and people who use these medications often transition to heroin because it’s stronger and less costly.
Learn more about the causes of heroin addiction.
Methods Of Heroin Abuse
There are several ways a person can use heroin, depending on its form.
Heroin can be used in the following ways:
- injecting heroin intravenously
- skin popping heroin
- snorting heroin in powder form
- smoking heroin in a pipe or on aluminum foil
- rectal administration (“plugging”) of heroin
The most common way to abuse heroin is by injecting it intravenously with a needle. This method provides a near-instant high, but may also lead to overdose or increased risk of disease from using a dirty needle.
Learn more about methods of heroin abuse.
Signs Of A Heroin Addiction
The signs and symptoms of heroin use will vary among people based on the severity of their addiction, the amount of the drug being taken, and the frequency of use.
Prolonged heroin addiction will have long-term effects on a person’s physical and mental health. If you suspect someone may be using heroin, there are a range of signs to look for.
Learn more about the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction.
Behavioral Signs Of Addiction
When heroin use becomes a priority, a person’s life will suddenly shift to revolve around getting the drug. People may start using heroin-related street slang or become more secretive and dishonest.
You may also notice evidence of heroin paraphernalia lying around. This may include small bags with white residue, missing or burnt spoons, missing shoelaces or belts, glass pipes, and more.
Physical Signs Of A Heroin Addiction
Physical signs of heroin use include sudden and drastic weight loss, scabs bruises, or abscesses on the skin, decreased attention to hygiene, wearing long sleeves in hot weather, and constricted pupils.
People who abuse heroin are also known to “nod out.” Nodding out on heroin refers to passing in and out of consciousness due to the effects of the drugs.
Mental Signs Of A Heroin Addiction
People who use heroin regularly will likely begin exhibiting drastic changes in their personalities due to the physical and psychological effects of addiction.
There are several changes that you may notice in someone who uses heroin. They may include lack of empathy, depression, insomnia, drowsiness, or acting extremely euphoric.
Common Heroin Paraphernalia
Heroin paraphernalia are objects that may be used to take or administer heroin.
Common paraphernalia items may include:
- a needle or syringe used to inject heroin
- a bent or burnt spoon used to cook heroin
- a heroin pipe used to smoke the drug
Learn more about how to identify common heroin paraphernalia
Types Of Heroin
Heroin comes in many different formulations, including refined pure powder and less-refined forms that are mixed with additional drugs or other substances.
Some of the types of heroin include:
- pure heroin — a white powder form
- cheese heroin — heroin mixed with Tylenol (acetaminophen) pills
- black tar heroin — a sticky, brown, or black tar-like substance
- brown powder — powder heroin refined from black tar heroin
- synthetic heroin — opioids produced in a lab such as fentanyl, methadone, and others
- blue heroin — heroin and fentanyl mixed together
Read more about the different types of heroin
Substances Used To Cut Heroin
Some formulations of heroin are diluted with other substances so drug dealers can sell more of the drug at less of an expense.
Commonly used heroin cutting agents include:
- talcum powder
- laundry detergent
- sucrose (sugar)
- crushed over-the-counter painkillers
While the substances listed above are not necessarily safe to snort or ingest, some cutting agents such as rat poison or fentanyl may cause potentially fatal side effects or overdose.
Learn more about drugs and other substances used as heroin cutting agents.
Heroin typically has physical characteristics such as a white powder or brown powder form, or a sticky, black tar-like substance.
The smell and taste of heroin may differ depending on the level of refinement or chemicals used in the heroin.
Learn more about how to identify heroin
Street Names For Heroin
Heroin may be referred to by several different slang names, depending on the form. Slang terms include dope, snow, junk, china white, brown, skag, H, and more.
Read more about street names for heroin.
Using heroin regularly may result in your body becoming chemically dependent on the drug. People with a physical addiction will start to feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as a few hours after not taking heroin.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:
Severe cases of heroin withdrawal may be life-threatening. Symptoms of severe heroin withdrawal include trouble breathing, high sodium levels in the blood, and heart failure.
Learn more about heroin withdrawal.
Effects Of Heroin
When heroin enters the brain, it binds to receptors that produce sensations of happiness and well-being. Heroin may also make people behave irrationally or make poor decisions.
Learn more about the effects of heroin use.
Effects On The Brain
When heroin enters the brain, it binds to naturally occurring opioid receptors that lead to a release of dopamine and other chemicals. The result is an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing, relaxation, and painlessness.
The more heroin someone takes, the less dopamine their brain will produce. Over time, the brain will become dependent on the drug and will experience withdrawal when heroin is not in the system.
Learn more about how heroin affects the brain
Effects On The Body
After the brain has released a rush of pleasure-inducing chemicals to the body, it will be accompanied by a warm sensation to the skin, and dryness in the mouth. Extremities will start to feel heavy as well.
The onset of nausea, vomiting, and itching may occur in the initial minutes of the high, followed by drowsiness and slowed breathing.
Learn more about the physical effects of heroin abuse
Heroin overdose may occur when too much heroin is taken at once. However, if treated quickly with the medication naloxone (Narcan), it can be reversed.
Symptoms of a heroin overdose may include:
- difficulty breathing
- cold flashes
- weak pulse
- bluish skin
Taking heroin may become even more dangerous when it’s mixed with other drugs such as benzodiazepines, cocaine, and other opioids.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose.
Heroin Use During Pregnancy
Heroin use during pregnancy can cause serious problems for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby, including premature birth, neonatal abstinence syndrome, birth defects, and stillbirth.
Abusing heroin can be dangerous for expecting mothers. Placental abruption is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus before birth.
Placental abruption may cause heavy bleeding and cut the baby off from its food and oxygen supply. It can be deadly for both mother and baby.
Learn about other risks of heroin use during pregnancy.
How Heroin Affects Babies
Heroin use can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs when heroin is passed to the fetus, causing dependency in the baby.
The baby may experience fever, seizures, irritability, and possibly death after prolonged exposure to heroin.
In most cases, the baby will require hospitalization and treatment with medication such as morphine to relieve symptoms until the baby is opioid-free.
Learn more about heroin babies.
What Are The Risk Factors For Heroin Addiction?
Research over the years has determined that there are certain factors that may increase the risk of heroin addiction in some people.
These factors include but are not limited to lack of parental supervision, poverty, early aggressive behavior, and availability of heroin.
How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System?
The half-life for heroin is short, which means the body processes and flushes it from the system quickly. Heroin will typically remain in the blood for 6 hours and remain detectable in urine for up to 3 days.
Heroin detection times will vary between people depending on the frequency of use, age, body fat percentage, and more.
Learn more about how long heroin can be detected in your system
Myths About Heroin Addiction
There are several misconceptions about heroin addiction and treatment.
Some of the most common myths include:
- Heroin is a young person’s drug — the average age of heroin overdose is in the late 30s or early 40s.
- Impure heroin kills more people — heroin purity is only modestly related to an overdose death.
- People only use heroin recreationally — people almost always become dependent on heroin once they begin taking it regularly.
Find out more about myths related to heroin.
Celebrity Deaths Caused By Heroin Abuse
Many high-profile and artistic people have died from a heroin or opioid overdose over the years, outlining the fact that anyone is susceptible to the dangers of the drug.
A few of the most famous examples of celebrity deaths include:
- River Phoenix — actor
- Jim Morrison — musician
- Janis Joplin — folk singer
- John Belushi — actor
- Chris Farley — comedian and actor
- Phillip Seymour Hoffman — actor
Learn more about celebrities who have died due to heroin overdose.
Treatment Options For Heroin Drug Use And Addiction
Heroin addiction may be treated in an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting and may include a range of therapies and evidence-based services.
Treatment options for heroin use may include:
- short-term or long-term residential treatment programs for heroin addiction
- dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone
- group, individual, and family counseling for opioid use
- medically monitored heroin detox
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- outpatient programs for heroin addiction
- aftercare services
Due to the possibility of severe withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek a reputable treatment program when recovering from heroin addiction.
Learn more about heroin addiction treatment programs.
See the frequently asked questions below for more useful information about heroin addiction.
How Long Does A Heroin High Last?
Whether injected, smoked, or snorted, the euphoric high from heroin will peak around two hours in and last for a total of four hours or longer.
Read more about how long a heroin high lasts.
What Is Heroin Made From?
Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a substance taken from the seed pod of opium poppy plants. These plants are typically found in Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Columbia.
Learn more about what heroin is made from.
What Is A Heroin Hangover?
A heroin hangover, also known as “dope sick”, occurs when a person who habitually uses heroin stops for a few hours.
Someone with a heroin hangover may experience minor withdrawal symptoms such as runny nose, sore back, sensitive skin, and restless limbs.
See our page on heroin hangovers for more information.
What Is Freebasing Heroin?
Freebasing is a method of heroin use that is intended to increase the potency and immediacy of the high.
The method involves putting the drug into a glass pipe and heating it until it boils, followed by rapid inhalation of the vapors.
Find Treatment For Heroin Drug Addiction Today
If you or a family member have a substance use disorder, help is available. Call Bedrock Recovery Center for more information on our inpatient substance abuse rehab program.
Our team will also answer any questions you have about heroin dependence, drug use treatment plans, and more.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Heroin DrugFacts https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
- National Institute of Health (NIH) — What are risk factors and protective factors? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/preventing-drug-use-among-children-adolescents/chapter-1-risk-factors-protective-factors/what-are-risk-factors
- National Library of Medicine — What is the scope of heroin use in the United States? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Opiates https://www.samhsa.gov/data/taxonomy/term/442
- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) — History of Heroin https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1953-01-01_2_page004.html