Facts About Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive opiate drug that is derived from morphine. It can look like a sticky black substance or a white or brown powder, and is one of the most widely abused and rapidly acting opiates.

Heroin is typically injected, sniffed, snorted or smoked. Someone who abuses heroin may inject the drug as many as four times a day (or more). While some types of heroin are pure, most street heroin is mixed with sugar, starch, powdered milk or other substances, including certain poisons. Because the potency of the drug is unknown, users are at increased risk for overdose and death. 

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse can lead to drug tolerance, heroin addiction and severe health consequences. Some of the side effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Respiratory problems including pneumonia
  • Organ damage due to toxic additives
  • Fatal overdose
  • Infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis

Heroin Detox

Once an individual becomes physically dependent on heroin, stopping abruptly can produce severe withdrawal symptoms, including muscle pain, insomnia, diarrhea, kicking movements and cold flashes. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as a few hours after use and typically last up to one week, though some heroin addicts may experience months of withdrawal.

The first step in treating heroin addiction is often heroin detox. Many drug rehab centers offer medically supervised heroin detox using methadone or Suboxone, which can ease withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings and increase the addict’s chance of long-term recovery.

Heroin detox, by itself, is rarely sufficient to keep a heroin addict clean and sober. In most cases, heroin addicts will need to commit to outpatient, or preferably inpatient, heroin rehab.

Treating Heroin Addiction

Addiction to heroin can occur on the first use or after prolonged use. Government studies suggest that roughly 23 percent of individuals who use heroin become dependent on it.

When injected, a sense of euphoria sets in after just a few seconds, while sniffing or smoking the drug produces a high in about 10 to 15 minutes. Because heroin is cheap and can be extremely potent, it attracts users young and old.

Heroin addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that is difficult to overcome without heroin rehab. Research shows that the best treatment for heroin addiction is a combination of medication and counseling. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, in particular, has proven helpful in changing negative thought and behavior patterns and increasing coping skills.