Skip to content

Heroin Addiction


Heroin Addiction, Symptoms, Signs, Effects, and Treatment information.

What is Heroin?

What is heroin made of? Heroin is an opioid drug produced from the substance morphine, which naturally occurs in the seed pods of different types of opium plants. This plant is the starting point for the creation of multiple narcotic substances: morphine, opium, codeine, and heroin. There are two major types of heroin currently sold on the streets today: white powder heroin and black tar heroin.

The effects of heroin are very similar for both. Powder heroin is off-white in color and is the purer of the two types of heroin. Making powdered heroin involves refining heroin that has been processed to remove impurities. Black tar heroin is cheaper than other types of heroin because of its crude manufacturing process and its level of purity — most black tar heroin is estimated to only be 30-40% pure.

Heroin is a lethal, commonly abused, illegal drug in the United States. A member of the opiate family, it’s derived from the opium poppy plant and made from morphine. Heroin addiction has become an epidemic that claims thousands of lives every year, and it’s only getting worse, as many people use heroin as a last resort drug to feed their prescription painkiller addiction.

In the past few years, nearly 80 percent of people attributed their heroin use to prescription opioid use. Therefore, prescription opioid use is one of the greatest risk factors for heroin use. Some of the more common heroin street names are dope, smack, horse, and junk. What does a heroin high feel like? It elicits feelings of elation and pleasure that people get addicted to. However, the adverse effects of use and abuse are too serious and harmful to ignore.

In addition, heroin addiction is the inability to stop using heroin despite suffering a range of negative consequences from using the drug. What are some of the symptoms of heroin addiction? Sadly, this compulsion to use heroin leads to chaos in life, financial and social problems, physical and psychological dangers, and a world of other consequences. Faster acting than morphine and highly addictive, heroin can result in physical dependence after a single use for some people. As the drug begins to wear off, the user immediately feels a range of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that typically lead to subsequent use.

What does a heroin addict look like? There are the personality traits that are commonly linked to heroin addicts, such as slow or sudden changes in physical health and appearance., frequent impulsivity, constant fatigue, and patterns of dishonesty and manipulation. What are the signs of a functioning heroin addict? Addiction is a complex medical condition that makes it hard to generalize the traits and actions of heroin addicts. However, some commonalities can help both professionals and concerned friends or family members identify whether an individual could be struggling with a substance use disorder.

We Level Up drug alcohol & mental health rehab centers with onsite medical detox & dual diagnosis treatment programs

Get Your Life Back

Find Hope & Recovery. Get Safe Comfortable Detox, Addiction Rehab & Dual Diagnosis Mental Health High-Quality Care.

Heroin Use Statistics

The following heroin use statistics were reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [1]: 

  • About 800,000 Americans engaged in heroin use in 2018. 
  • From 1999-2018, heroin use was responsible for more than 115,000 deaths in the United States. 
  • In 2018, more than 14,000 people in the U.S. died from a heroin overdose
  • From 1999-2008, the annual number of deaths related to heroin use increased by more than 700%.

Furthermore, based on the statistics it is a dangerous narcotic that is highly addictive. Can you snort heroin? Typically, it is injected, snorted, or smoked to produce a euphoric state. Regardless of the method of ingestion, repeated use of heroin can lead to extreme physical and psychological dependence. Fortunately, although the road to recovery may be long and painful, there is help for heroin addiction.

heroin addiction treatment
Getting and staying sober is very challenging, but with the right support network and tools, it’s completely attainable.

How Long Does It Take To Get Addicted To Heroin?

It’s possible that you could use heroin without getting addicted. However, it’s also possible that you could become addicted quickly. You might spin into a downward spiral that results in losing everything that means anything to you. Is heroin addictive? Before we answer that question, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: there is no safe amount of heroin. Especially since fentanyl is used as a cutting agent to increase the profit of the drug dealers, it’s entirely possible to try heroin for the first time, overdose, and die.

heroin addiction treatment
Is heroin a stimulant? Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, which means that it produces symptoms of sedation.

There is no clear research-backed answer to the question, “how long does it take to get addictied to heroin”. It’s also true that the answer is different for everyone. For example, we know that people with co-occurring conditions such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder are more likely to get addicted. It’s also intuitive that the more often you use, the more likely you are to become addicted.

To accurately answer this question, we must first understand how addiction works. Addiction is the act of compulsively engaging in the use of a substance, causing psychological and physical components. While it may take some time to become physically dependent on a substance, the user could experience psychological cravings after their first time using heroin. Regular and frequent users of heroin will experience symptoms of withdrawal when they attempt to cut down or quit their heroin use. While heroin withdrawal is typically not fatal, the symptoms may become so agonizing that the users will do anything to avoid it.

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for an Accredited Drug, Alcohol or Mental Health Center Near You?

Even if you have failed previously and relapsed, or are in the middle of a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

Free 24/7 confidential help about Treatment, Financial Assistance plus Valuable Guidance & Resources.

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a powerful opiate painkiller that is derived from morphine. What does heroin do to the brain? It quickly enters the brain where it disrupts the reception of communication signals, particularly in the areas of the brain associated with pain, pleasure, heart rate, breathing, and sleeping. Long-term use of heroin can cause permanent changes in brain function.

The effects of heroin take place very shortly after the use and tend to persist for a period of a few hours. Heroin has the following effects on the user: 

  • Labored breathing
  • Lowered ability to a cough
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Heaviness in the limbs
  • Itching
  • Constricted pupils
  • Euphoria

Signs of a Heroin Addict

What are the signs and symptoms of heroin use? After continued use of heroin, tolerance begins to develop, and physical dependence sets in. The result is that if a user tries to reduce their dosage or stop using altogether, withdrawal symptoms set in, making them more likely to use again to remove the symptoms. If you or a loved one are at the point of withdrawal, and cannot or will not stop using, you are likely suffering from heroin addiction.

Users may feel the following symptoms of heroin withdrawal hours or days after their last use:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Bone pain
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Insomnia
  • A runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 

Some Physical and Emotional Signs of Addiction

If you suspect that a friend or family member may be using heroin. Individuals who are addicted to heroin are likely to show some or even all of the following signs:

  • Fatigue followed by patterns of alertness
  • Shallow or labored breathing
  • Injection wounds, track marks, needle marks
  • Infections on the skin from injections, boils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • The appearance of “distant” gazing eyes (some say heroin steals the soul)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Disorientation or poor motor function
  • Placing distance from friends and family members or hanging out with a new group of people
  • Communication flaws, difficulty speaking, slurring speech
  • Lack of memory, forgetting things or not remembering important events or matters
  • Long, droopy, heavy extremities
  • Itching
  • Constipation
  • Unexplained Weight loss

In addition, many signs of heroin addiction listed above, there can also be behavioral changes, such as social isolation, neglected responsibilities, unkempt appearance, poor hygiene, and disinterest in the hobbies and activities the user once enjoyed.

First-class Treatment Centers, Therapy, Activities & Amenities

World-class High-Quality Addiction & Mental Health Rehabilitation Treatment

Rehab Centers Tour

Renowned Behavioral Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient rehab programs vary.

Addiction Helpline (844) 597-1011

Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:

  • 15+ Years Experience
  • 100s of 5-Star Reviews
  • 10K+ Recovery Successes
  • Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
  • Onsite Medical Detox Center
  • Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
  • Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
  • Coaching, Recovery & Personal Development Events

Effects of Heroin Use

Many people who experience heroin addiction will go to great lengths to hide their condition. Being able to recognize these warning signs and symptoms of heroin addiction can be the difference between continued addiction and recovery and life and death.

Mental Effects of Heroin

Heroin releases excessive amounts of dopamine in the brain. This depletes neurotransmitters of brain chemicals and teaches the brain that it needs heroin to function. This causes heroin withdrawal and detox in the absence of heroin and can lead to mental disorder symptoms of depression and anxiety. This drug can also cause frontal lobe damage, which impacts memory, attention, and spatial awareness.

  • Memory loss
  • The trouble with reading and writing
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Loss of balance and coordination
  • Irritability, depression, or confusion
  • Problems walking or moving

Psychological Effects of Heroin

The psychological effects of heroin abuse may result from the efforts of the brain to rewire itself. A person with heroin addiction will become more tolerant as the problem progresses because their brain is forced to create more opiate receptors to manage the influx of opium. This is the main reason repeated doses of heroin can never mimic the user’s first experience. As a result, the person will continue to use more and more heroin, disturbing the way their brain processes pleasure and dopamine production. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and other forms of substance-induced psychosis.

Alternate Between Drowsy and Wakeful States of Consciousness

After the initial rush ends, individuals who consume heroin experience a trance-like state that shifts between wakefulness and drowsiness. During this period of time, which is commonly known as “nodding out,” the user’s minds become cloudy. Generally, “nodding out” look like people who are trying to stay awake. Their heads “nod” and simultaneously drop as they get sleepy, and then suddenly, they jerk awake. The process usually continues for a couple of hours.

“Nodding out” occurs because heroin is an opioid sedative that causes people to feel alert one moment and sleepy the next. This may seem harmless, but the reality is nodding out is totally dangerous. Heroin users can easily lose consciousness, slip into a coma, or nod off and never wake up again. People using heroin may try to disguise “nodding out” as everyday fatigue, but alternating between wakefulness and drowsiness for hours after a euphoric high is most often a symptom of heroin addiction.

heroin addiction treatment
Heroin users who are attempting to quit the drug often end up using it again simply to alleviate the painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms they are experiencing.

Physical Effects of Heroin

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances in existence, and an addiction to this drug is hard to overcome without professional heroin addiction treatment. Addiction to heroin is treatable. Although it is possible to recover from heroin addiction, it’s not easy.

Experience Unexplained Physical Changes

Since this drug often causes nausea and vomiting, many people using heroin lose their appetite. Because of this, the majority of people who abuse this drug lose weight. Weight loss is often one of the first physical signs and symptoms of heroin addiction that family members notice. Moreover, many heroin users appear tired and look older than their real age. They may have dark circles around their eyes and a pale complexion. Some might even have a bluish tint to their skin because of the way heroin affects heart rate and blood pressure.

Other unexplained physical changes commonly linked with heroin include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Scabs and bruises
  • Constant runny nose
  • Heavy-feeling limbs

Experience Excessive Itching and Skin Picking Disorder

Other common symptoms of heroin addiction are itching skin and skin picking disorder. When used, heroin triggers the immune system to release histamine, a chemical that’s normally released when someone has an allergic reaction. When released inside the body, histamine activates the skin’s itch receptors, which commands the brain to scratch an itch.

In addition, heroin can:

  • Irritate nerve fibers in the body, making itching worse
  • Bind to specific receptors in the body that send itch signals to the brain
  • Lead to injection injuries that cause abscesses and skin infections that may itch as they attempt to heal

Many heroin users pick their skin as well. Generally, the picking is a result of the intense itching heroin causes. However, the anxiety and restlessness associated with heroin withdrawal can also lead to skin picking.

Heart Attack

Chronic heroin injectors may develop collapsed veins, and infection of the valves and heart linings. Other cardiovascular effects include heart failure, blood vessel damage, low blood pressure, collapsed veins, and heart attack. Heroin users were at higher risk for acute myocardial injury (the medical name for heart attack), after heroin inhalation and binge drinking. The cause might be a heroin-induced cardiotoxic effect or vasospasm compounded by the presence of binge drinking.

Lung Disease

Lung problems, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to these vital organs. 


Heroin can decrease and suppress T and B immune cells. It can lower someone’s ability to fight infections, viruses, and bacteria. The way someone uses heroin and other forms of the drug can also put them at risk for infection. People who use heroin as an injection drug and share needles are at risk for hepatitis C and HIV.

Inpatient Heroin Rehab

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease and should be treated the same as other chronic diseases. Like those, it should constantly be monitored and managed. Heroin is a type of opioid. Opioid addiction treatment is different for each individual. The main purpose of opioid addiction treatment is to help the person stop using the drug. Opioid addiction treatment also can help the person avoid using it again in the future.

The body does go through specific symptom stages known as the opioid withdrawal timeline. The opioid withdrawal timeline varies from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of opioid that was used, how long it was used, and any other substances that may have been used in conjunction with opioids as well. Medically managed withdrawal opioid detox ensures the individual remains safe and stays as comfortable as possible.

heroin addiction treatment
The good news is that heroin addiction can be successfully treated—with the right help.

Detox Treatment

The first step in treatment is medical detox. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to heroin abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.


Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis programs treat both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

Now that we learned about the symptoms of heroin addiction, hopefully, this will give you an idea of what drugs you’re dealing with. If you or your loved one is suffering from Opioid withdrawal symptoms and addictions, and at some point experienced opioid overdose symptoms, indeed, help is just a phone call away. Professional opioid addiction treatment is necessary for fast and effective recovery. Contact us today at We Level Up treatment facility. We provide utmost care with doctors and medical staff available 24/7 for life-changing and lasting recovery. We offer an enhanced opportunity to return to a fulfilling and productive life.

heroin addiction treatment
Heroin detox programs are broken down and differentiated by the client’s needs. In many cases, individuals who need the most help start with detoxification and transition directly into inpatient rehabilitation,

Start a New Life

Begin with a free call to an addiction & behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers recovery programs that vary by each treatment facility. Call to learn more.

>> Personalized Care

>> Caring Accountable Staff

>> World-class Amenities

>> Licensed & Accredited

>> Renowned w/ 100s 5-Star Reviews

Rehab centers for alcohol & drug addiction

We’ll Call You


[1] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) –
[2] National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) – Sex and Gender Differences in Substance Use | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
[3] How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? – We Level Up NJ

Popular alcohol & drug rehabilitation & mental health treatment-related articles: