Heroin Addiction Treatment

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Drug Treatment Guide

heroin filled needle and snoopWhat is Heroin?

Few drugs are as dangerous or addictive as heroin. This powerful opiate is derived from morphine, and comes in three different forms: a fine white powder, a brown or black powder and sticky gel-like substance known as black tar heroin. These three different forms can be snorted, smoked, or injected into veins, under the skin or into the muscle.

Street names for this drug include junk, smack, brown sugar, thunder, and H. It is often combined with morphine or powerful painkillers like fentanyl.

What are the Signs of Heroin Abuse?

Heroin is used for the euphoric feelings it evokes.

Some of the common signs of heroin abuse include:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Feelings of drowsiness
  • Foggy mental state
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Decreased heart rate

Heroin and Other Drugs

Prescription drug abuse often leads to heroin abuse and addiction. Those who abuse opioid painkillers are at a much higher risk of using heroin and becoming addicted to it. This is because painkillers like OxyContin, for example, produce the same effects as the hard drug. Many people turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative as it typically costs less and is more readily accessible than prescription pills.

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How does Heroin Addiction Form?

When someone uses heroin, the pain receptors in their brain are blocked, causing the release of and dopamine and serotonin, which produce feelings of happiness and euphoria.

As the person continues to abuse the drug, their chemistry changes. The brain begins to reduce or even stop the natural production of dopamine and serotonin. Eventually, the only way the individual can feel happy is by taking more of the drug.

This imbalance in brain chemistry leads to many of the withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, onsomnia, anxiety, sweating, depression and body aches. Many users want to stop, but feel they cannot deal with the withdrawal symptoms.

What are the Signs of Heroin Addiction?Heroin Addiction

Signs that someone is addicted to heroin may include:
  • Bruised skin and needle marks on the body
  • Infections or abscesses on the skin
  • Liver, organ or heart disease
  • Collapsed veins
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slurred speech

Mental addictions can also form as people use heroin to avoid symptoms of mental disorders such as PTSD or depression. The individual being unable to cope with their symptoms abuses heroin to self-medicate. Eventually, not only do their mental disorder’s symptoms worsen, but they have the issues of an addiction to deal with.

Steps of Addiction Treatment 

Evaluation: The first step of residential treatment is an evaluation. During this period, a drug treatment professional will assess the patient to establish the scope and severity of their addiction. The assessment also looks at possible co-occurring mental disorders and other problems the person may be dealing with. Once the patient’s individual needs are explored, a treatment plan is developed and recovery can begin.

Medical Detox: A detox period is needed to wean the patient off the drug and mitigate any severe withdrawal symptoms. The biggest concern is the depression and suicidal thoughts that many patients have during this time. During medical detox, patients will be in a safe and comfortable environment, surrounded by medical professionals who will evaluate and monitor them around the clock.  Medication can be provided depending on the severity of the symptoms. Methadone can be used as a management method for long-term recovery, helping with severe cases of addiction where multiple relapses have occurred.

Therapy: Behavioral therapy is a large part drug addiction treatment. Various methods including motivational incentives, cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivation interviewing can be effective in heroin addiction cases. The end goal is to adjust the patient’s behavior and response to situations that would usually cause substance abuse.

Relapse Prevention: A critical part of a patient’s recovery is the management of potential relapse. Relapse prevention is crucial for long-term sobriety. The stages of relapse are looked at so that the individual can identify problematic situations before they get to the point where they are considering using drugs again.

Aftercare: Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous are available for recovering substance abusers. These meetings are especially effective in helping a recovering addict remain sober over the long-term.


  1. Abuse, N. I. (n.d.). Heroin. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  2. Abuse, N. I. (2014, May 14). America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/legislative-activities/testimony-to-congress/2016/americas-addiction-to-opioids-heroin-prescription-drug-abuse

Last updated on July 7th, 2017 at 07:28 pm

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