Heroin Addiction Treatment

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, a psychoactive (mind-altering) substance taken from the opium poppy plant. Heroin is part of a class of drugs categorized as opioids. Other opioids include some prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

How is Heroin Taken?

Heroin is a derivative of opium, which comes from the poppy plant grown in Asia.

When you take heroin, it is converted to morphine in your body. Then, it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain. These neurons are specialized for endogenous neurotransmitters that are involved in the subjective experience of pain and stress.

Heroin is primarily taken via injection, although the drug can also be smoked or snorted. Injecting the drug results in a very fast transition from the bloodstream, cross the blood-brain barrier, into the brain. The effects occur very rapidly. Smoking or snorting the drug also results in a rapid administration to the brain.

Heroin Addiction Statistics

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released the following estimates based on survey data:

  • In 2016, about 5 million people admitted to some lifetime of heroin; 948,000 people admitted to using heroin within the year before taking the survey, and 475,000 admitted to using heroin within the month before taking the survey.
  • In 2017, about 5.3 million people admitted to some lifetime use of heroin; 886,000 admitted to using heroin within the year before the survey, and 494,000 people admitted to using heroin within the month before the survey.

Despite heroin’s reputation as a major drug of abuse, a very small percentage of Americans have ever used the drug.

The History on Heroin


Heroin was developed as a potential solution to morphine abuse in the late 1800s.

The goal was to develop an opioid pain reliever that would not be addictive, but still have the pain-relieving properties of morphine. 

This focus eventually led to the development of heroin. The Bayer Company marketed its new wonder drug as a potential cure-all for many different things, including coughing and pain. The number of individuals abusing heroin skyrocketed, and heroin abuse became a major issue across the country. Eventually, the drug was prohibited in the United States.

Heroin is currently classified in the Schedule I (C I) category of controlled substances. Substances in this category are illegal to possess, cannot be prescribed, and are deemed unsafe for personal use even if you are under the supervision of your physician. They can only be obtained with the permission of the federal government, and they are typically confined to use in research studies.

Consequences of Heroin Abuse on Person

Consequences of heroin use range from using the drug itself to the circumstances around its use. There are severe effects on an individual’s physical and mental health when using heroin. Also, they may find themselves in unlawful situations. This can lead to arrests, imprisonment, and many other negative consequences. 

Chronic heroin users who share unsterilized heroin paraphernalia may also begin to suffer from:

  • Liver disease (from hepatitis C or otherwise)
  • Chronic constipation
  • Depression
  • Kidney disease
  • Infection of heart valves and lining
  • Skin abscesses or infections, possibly due to collapsed or scarred veins
  • Increased risk of contracting hepatitis

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has also proven that long-term heroin use can cause alterations in the brain. This affects the way your brain functions daily. Research has also proven that heroin impacts the white matter in the brain. This negatively affects an individual’s ability to make decisions and control their behavior.

Short Term Health Effects of Heroin

When you use heroin, you will experience the following:

  • A sudden strong sensation of warmth and euphoria, often known as the rush
  • Flushing of the skin
  • A feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs
  • A reduction in pain, anxiety, and stress
  • Decreased breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Issues with judgment and rational thinking

Long Term Health Effects of Heroin

There are major complications associated with heroin abuse. The severity of these issues can vary greatly from person to person, depending on the degree of abuse and personal factors.

Medical complications that can occur due to heroin use include:

  • Issues associated with injecting the drug, such as collapsed veins, cardiovascular issues, heart disease or heart infections, and the contraction of blood-borne diseases like hepatitis or HIV due to needle sharing.
  • Respiratory issues due to suppressed breathing rates.
  • Potential liver damage.
  • Significant issues with emotional control and judgment due to alterations in the brain.
  • Problems experiencing pleasure from activities that once gave you pleasure. This happens due to changes in the brain pathways associated with chronic heroin use.
  • Organ damage, including brain damage due to hypoxia (decreased oxygen delivery to organs).
  • Lower levels of achievement, problems with personal relationships, financial problems, and legal issues.

Consequences of Heroin Abuse on Relationships


There are many consequences that heroin addiction has on relationships. These consequences stem from the individual’s dependence on heroin. Addiction becomes a priority in their life, and their partner suffers from it as well. Below are some of the many ways that heroin addiction impacts relationships


The drug-dependent individual feels the need to lie about their addiction to their partner. They may even be in denial themselves, so they try and cover up their use. They may lie about:

  • Where they are.
  • Who they are with.
  • The events of the day.
  • Why they are behaving differently.
  • Why money is missing.

Trust Issues

The loved one, whether a family member or spouse, may begin to develop trust issues as a result of a perceived lack of respect, honesty, and loyalty. Trust is the foundation of any relationship. Lack of trust can result in relationship-damaging issues like jealousy, anger, fear, and resentment.

Anger and Abuse

Anger and violence are dangerous consequences of a strained relationship from heroin addiction. The use of heroin can result in increased aggression and violence. The drug-dependent individual may lose control of their behavior and act on impulse. Thus, putting their partner at risk. 

Furthermore, the loved one living with a drug-dependent individual may begin to increasingly grow frustrated. This can cause them to express anger or act out violently, thus putting their partner in danger as well.


Codependency can result in a relationship that causes one or both partners to feel at loss of personal control. Two codependent individuals no longer feel like their people. Rather, their identity becomes intertwined with other individuals. As stated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), codependent people:

  • Control others because they do not think the other person can function independently.
  • They have low self-esteem and overly focus on their partner.
  • Disregard their own needs, wants, and beliefs to keep their loved one calm and content.
  • Become overly aware of the emotional changes of others.
  • Maintain loyalty and commitment to their loved ones despite a lack of effort on their loved one’s end.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Generally, heroin is detectable in a person’s urine for about three days. However, certain tests can detect heroin use for up to 7 days. Depending on the dosage, amongst other factors, the amount that heroin stays in the body will vary.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Blood?

Heroin remains in the blood for up to six days.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Urine?

Heroin remains in urine for about three days.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Hair? 

Heroin remains in the hair for up to 90 days. 

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your Saliva? 

Heroin can be found in saliva for up to 24 hours.

Using Heroin with Other Drugs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says there has been a slight rise in heroin use. A good percentage of overdoses on opioid drugs are associated with the use of heroin combined with the very potent synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Fentanyl is so potent that a minute amount could easily kill you. Some dealers add it to heroin to enhance the potency of their product, but this is an extremely dangerous practice. Most often, people overdose on fentanyl, not even realizing it is in the batch of heroin they purchased.

Even on its own, heroin can result in overdose. The CNS depressant effects of the drug rapidly reduce breathing and heart rates to the point where the brain is deprived of oxygen, and you can suffocate to death (anoxia).

Signs of Heroin Overdose

The following are signs of a heroin overdose:

  • Lethargy
  • Slurred speech
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Confusion
  • Bluish tint to the lips, fingers, and/or toes
  • Depressed or labored breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Weak pulse

The three major signs of heroin overdose — known as the opioid overdose triad — are pinpoint pupils, lethargy or unconsciousness, and respiratory suppression.

While a heroin overdose can be deadly, it can be reversible if care is administered in time. The opioid antagonist Narcan (naloxone) can reverse the effects of opioid overdose, but it needs to be administered quickly. The medication bumps heroin or other opioids from the opioid receptors, essentially pushing the person into withdrawal and stopping the overdose.

If fentanyl or a very high dose of heroin has been taken, multiple doses of Narcan may be needed. Further medical treatment is required to stabilize the person. Otherwise, the heroin overdose could return once the naloxone wears off.

Heroin Abuse Symptoms and Signs of Addiction

If you are using heroin regularly, you are likely addicted to the drug. Other signs of addiction include:

  • You find you need more heroin to get the effects you once got with smaller doses.
  • When you have not taken heroin, you begin to experience headaches, shakiness, irritability, and achiness (the early stages of withdrawal from heroin).

If either of these two conditions is present, you most likely qualify for a diagnosis of an opioid use disorder as a result of your heroin use.

Other formal signs of a substance use disorder are:

  • Problems with controlling drug use.
  • Continuing to use heroin even though it causes you significant problems.
  • Declining performance at school or work due to drug use.
  • Health problems associated with heroin use.
  • Financial difficulty due to spending significant amounts of money on heroin.

Additional Signs of Heroin Addiction

In addition to the above, there are some consequences associated with using heroin in any manner.

  • Needle marks or track marks where the drug is typically injected are clear signs of injection drug use.
  • Skin abscesses often occur at injection sites.
  • Individuals who snort heroin often have frequent runny noses or nosebleeds.
  • Using heroin in any way can lead to respiratory issues due to a decreased breathing rate from the drug; however, people who smoke the drug will have more chronic respiratory problems.
  • Teary eyes, in conjunction with pinpoint pupils, suggest heroin use.
  • Long-term users of heroin begin to neglect personal hygiene and responsibilities.
  • When you start to develop a physical dependence on heroin, you will have issues with anxiety, pain, nausea, and irritability as part of the withdrawal syndrome when you cannot get heroin.


If you are regularly using heroin, the legal system assumes you are abusing the drug. The drug is illegal to use in this country in any capacity. It is deemed unsafe for private individuals to use it under any circumstances.

What is the Next Step to Stop Heroin Abuse?

Taking action is crucial to stopping heroin abuse. Staging an intervention for a loved one may help concerned loved ones nudge the drug-dependent individual in the right direction. Seeking treatment is crucial to successful and safely recover from heroin abuse. 

Intervention for Heroin

There are different options when it comes to staging an intervention for a loved one. An invitational intervention can be more appropriate for someone who has expressed in rehabilitation. This person may want help but doesn’t know how to take those first steps.

A surprise intervention may be the only option if the drug-dependent individual refuses to listen to anyone and is in denial about their addiction. A surprise intervention can be overwhelming on both ends. However, this intervention can also end up being the most needed. There are many steps you can take before ensuring a smooth intervention and prepare for any setbacks on the drug-dependent individual’s end. 

Heroin Withdrawal 

Withdrawal symptoms usually begin between 6 and 12 hours after their last heroin dose. Withdrawal from heroin may be similar to those of prescription opioids, but often more intense as explained above. Withdrawal often feels like a horrible case of the flu. The most unpleasant pain and discomfort last a week, with withdrawal symptoms peaking during the second or third day.

Common symptoms of withdrawal during heroin detox include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches


Heroin Withdrawal Timeline and Duration

The timeline of withdrawal during a heroin detox is dependent upon multiple factors. These factors include:  

  • The length of time heroin was used
  • The amount of heroin taken each time
  • The frequency of use
  • The method by which they took heroin
  • The presence of underlying medical or mental health issues

Days 1-2 of Heroin Withdrawal

Symptoms generally begin to develop as soon as 6 hours after the last dose. Muscle aches will typically begin on the first day. Accompanying symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking, and diarrhea.

Days 3-5 of Heroin Withdrawal

By the third or fourth day, withdrawal symptoms reach a peak. Symptoms during this peak include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers, and nausea/vomiting.

Days 6-7 of Heroin Withdrawal

Acute withdrawal begins to taper off after about 7 days. Recovering individuals will start to feel more like their normal selves. 


The First Step of Addiction Recovery: Detox for Heroin Addiction

These withdrawal symptoms are a result of your body getting used to being substance-free. These discomforting feelings are at the beginning of detox when your body works hard to cleanse itself of toxins accumulated through heroin use. That’s the explanation of detox: the timeframe in which the body processes substances in your system, clearing those toxins out.

The use of prescribed medication to help the recovering individual wean off the substance safely can be defined as a medical detox. It’s generally a three-step process: evaluation, stabilization, and preparation for future treatment

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

If you want to break free from the grips of heroin but have strong doubts you cannot, it is likely time to seek help. When you begin to use the drug frequently and develop tolerance and physical dependence, you have a diagnosable opioid use disorder. Addiction is a disease and should be treated like one.

Treatment for heroin abuse includes several components:

  • Rehab often begins with a thorough evaluation by a clinician to determine your level of heroin abuse and its effects on your emotions, physical functioning, social functioning, and thinking abilities.
  • You will generally be screened for any other substance abuse issues or co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • The evaluation will help the clinician develop a treatment plan for you that is based on the principles of effective treatment. Your treatment plan is tailored to fit your unique needs.
  • The first stage of treatment is medical detox (withdrawal management). Heroin withdrawal usually requires medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Usually, Suboxone or methadone is used.
  • The backbone of treatment is therapy. Various forms of behavioral therapies are used in addition to complementary therapies.
  • Completion of a structured treatment program does not mean that you are finished. Aftercare must continue for several years following treatment, but its intensity will decline over time as you find a stronger foothold in recovery.
  • Continuing care is focused on your ability to remain abstinent, avoid relapse, and develop the skills needed to live a drug-free life.


Aftercare programs are not short-term solutions. They are long-term commitments, and involvement in various interventions will continue for years in most cases.

If you relapse, you should accept your relapse as a learning situation instead of viewing it as a treatment failure. Address the situation with your treatment providers and move forward in your recovery.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Heroin Addiction

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) refers to “dual diagnosis” as a term for people who experience a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder simultaneously. Dual-diagnosis can also be referred to as a “co-occurring disorder.” This requires the recovering in duals to partake in evidence-based therapies that target both disorders, rather than just focusing on one. 

Depending on the disorder, the exact combination of therapies will vary. Common mental health disorders that can be treated along with addiction include, but are not limited to:

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Treatment for Heroin

One of the initial matters you will have to address is whether you should begin treatment in an inpatient unit or as an outpatient. Inpatient treatment may be required for medical detox. This will allow you to get needed medical treatment and isolate yourself from potential temptations to relapse.

Outpatient treatment allows you much more freedom, but you need a safe home environment and a strong support system in place. If you don’t have a solid home environment, you can reside in a sober living home while undergoing outpatient treatment.

The decision on which of these modes of treatment is best for you can be made during the assessment phase. If you have a long history of heroin abuse with numerous attempts to quit and many relapses, initial inpatient treatment may be recommended. If outpatient treatment is appropriate, a sober living home is a good idea.

Inpatient Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Inpatient rehabilitation, also known as residential treatment, is the highest level of care offered for heroin addiction. Inpatient rehab provides 24/7 medical support and care. Members of residential treatment will partake in a structured routine each day. 

They’ll also receive full access to all amenities. The length of treatment ranges from 28 to 90 days, depending on the severity of the addiction.  

Outpatient Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Outpatient treatment is a more flexible type of care. There are different levels of care within outpatient treatment ranging from partial hospitalization programs to intensive outpatient programs. 

This kind of treatment is ideal for individuals that have serious obligations outside of treatment, such as taking care of a child. Recovering individuals will travel to the facility for treatment and return home after. Depending on the unique individual, scheduled sessions can range from one to five a week. 

Life-Long Recovery from Heroin

Life-long recovery requires effort long after treatment is over for heroin addiction. An individual must upkeep their sobriety to prevent relapse. We encourage you to see this as a fulfilling process. Continued participation in sober and supportive activities, such as support groups, step-down programs, and sober living, increases the chances of successful addiction recovery. 

Sober Living 

Sober living homes are properties located at the recovery center. There are many benefits to staying in a sober-living home, such as attending 12-step programs, creating structure and routine, accountability, as well as maintaining a bond with sober peers. 

A major aspect of staying in a sober living home is creating positive friendships that help to reinforce sobriety and substance-free fulfilling activities. 

AA Meetings

Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are centered around the belief of a Higher Power. These meetings create a supportive community for recovering alcohol-dependent individuals based on a 12-step approach. 

NA Meetings

NA meetings are similar to AA meetings in structure, as well as the faith-powered belief system. The main difference is that NA meetings open their doors for individuals struggling with all types of drug addiction. 

Smart Recovery Meetings

SMART Recovery Meetings are centered around evidence-based methods used to form healthy coping mechanisms. SMART Recovery Meetings have a more scientific approach to addiction recovery. Regardless, you’ll be able to give and get support in this community regardless of what kind of addiction it is. 

Seek Help With Footprints Recovery Today! 

At Footprints Recovery, we’re here to help you or a loved one through heroin addiction recovery. No matter what stage of addiction you’re in, you can choose to get help today and regain control of your life. Pain doesn’t need to last. It can teach you the necessary lesson to grow and become a better person. 

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to find your location here and reach out to us. We’re waiting for your call!

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