Heroin Addiction Health Risk Factors

In 2018, nearly 15,000 people died from a heroin overdose. Part of treating and preventing addiction is understanding the risk factors that cause it.

Who Is at Risk for Heroin Abuse and Addiction?

Most people know heroin is dangerous. There’s often a combination of many factors that drives someone into trying heroin.

History of Drug Use

One of the biggest risk factors is past drug abuse and addiction. There are many reasons for this.

First, someone who has suffered addiction to another drug probably has the same brain chemistry that will make them susceptible to heroin use. They also know drugs offer immediate relief for the stress and pain in their life.

Second, the other drugs may begin to lose their effect. As people who use other drugs build a tolerance to them, they will start craving more powerful substances. Heroin often fits the bill.

Finally, past drug use means people know how to access illegal drugs. They already know the ins and outs of suppliers and how to avoid detection. It will be much easier for them to get their hands on heroin than someone who’s never used drugs before.

Opioid Prescriptions

A history of drug use is a major risk factor, but it doesn’t have to be illegal drug use. In fact, one of the biggest predictors of heroin use is an opioid prescription. Someone with a bad injury might receive a prescription for an opioid pain reliever from their doctor. Unfortunately, these prescriptions are very addictive. When the prescription runs out, they may have to turn to heroin. It’s cheaper and easier to access.

Peer Pressure and Environment

It probably comes as no surprise that people who grow up around heroin users are more likely to use heroin themselves. For one thing, as human beings, we have an intense need to be accepted by our peers. Studies have shown that people are much more willing to do something if those around them do it. This is the root of peer pressure.

Plus, a community suffering from a lot of heroin addiction is going to be more stressful. Things like child neglect and domestic abuse are more common. There is more crime and poverty. As a result of the stress and pain caused by these things, more people in the community may turn to heroin. This continues the cycle.

High Levels of Stress

Stress, in general, can contribute to heroin use. Heroin is a pain reliever and sedative. It eases emotional, mental, and physical pain. It causes a feeling of euphoria, intense joy, and relaxation. People who have high stress levels will search for anything to relieve them. Eventually, that could be heroin.

Mental Illness

Mental disorders like depression and anxiety can drive people to heroin use. Without treatment, the pain of these illnesses just gets worse. If a person is suffering and has nowhere to turn, they may try heroin.

Risk Factors for Heroin Addiction

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs available. It doesn’t take much for someone to get addicted. In fact, it can happen in as little as one dose. Still, certain people may be at greater risk for developing an addiction than others.

Frequent Heroin Consumption

Since heroin can have someone addicted in just one dose, the more doses you take, the higher your chances of addiction. Plus, the body also builds a tolerance to heroin quickly. It gets used to having the drug in its system. As a result, you have to take more and more each time to get the same effects. This makes addiction more likely because withdrawals will be more severe. It will be harder to quit using.

Heroin at an Early Age

There’s an unfortunate link between teens and heroin abuse. Using heroin at an early age makes addiction more likely. For starters, there’s just more time to use the drug and build a tolerance. Also, studies show that teenagers have not finished developing mentally. They are still not fully able to control their impulses and emotions. That’s why they have higher risks of taking drugs. They are unlikely to fully understand the dangers, which can lead to addiction.

Family History of Heroin Addiction

Addiction tends to run in families. With everything from tobacco to heroin, if your relatives suffer from addiction, it’s likely that you will too. Besides the fact that this means you grew up in a household where addiction was common, there is a genetic component. Genes may play a role in mental illnesses, impulsivity and stress responses that can impact addiction. Plus, they can affect brain chemistry and make it easier to form a dependence on heroin.

Heroin Health Risks

For those who do use heroin, there are many health risks. Some of these come from the drug itself and others from the situations surrounding its use.


A lot of heroin users inject the drug with needles. This is risky. If people share needles, they can spread blood-borne infections. These include HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and hepatitis.

Brain Damage

Long-term heroin use changes the brain. It affects decision-making abilities and how people respond to stress. Heroin also slows down your breathing. If it’s too slow, the brain can’t get enough oxygen. This can cause severe damage.

Dependence and Withdrawal

Dependence is a very common side effect of heroin use. The body gets used to heroin and can’t work right without it. As a result, when you stop taking it, you have withdrawals. For heroin, these include nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain as well as intense cravings for the drug. They can last for weeks, sometimes even months.

Overdose and Death

The worst health risk of heroin use is death. Heroin has a big effect on the heart and lungs. It relaxes them and slows them down. With a high enough dose, it can slow them down too much. You can stop breathing or get so little oxygen that your brain can’t work. This is a heroin overdose, and it can lead to coma or death.

Get Help Before You Become a Statistic

It’s true, certain people are at a higher risk for heroin abuse than others. But you don’t have to be a product of your environment, genetics or past. If you or a loved one needs to break the chains of heroin addiction, there is always hope.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, our experts know how to address your risk factors to give you the best possible chance of recovery. Call us today to find out your options.

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: June 21, 2020

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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