What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine and is highly addictive. Morphine is a natural substance derived from the seed pods of the opium poppy plant (flower). According to LiveScience.com, heroin comes from gum of the opium poppy.

To harvest heroin, the poppy flower bulb is sliced open producing thick drops of white opium. These drops are then scraped and processed with other fluids like water which creates a morphine solution. The process continues using various additives until it is formed to create either a powder form or in tar form of heroin. 

Heroin Addiction 

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs worldwide due to how it works in and on the human brain and the effects it has on the human body. Heroin will bind to opioid receptors within the brain which are the same receptors that the body naturally produces endorphins.

The result of heroin use is a euphoric feeling and will reduce or even eliminate all types of physical pain which makes it so popular for abuse commonly leading to addiction.

Unfortunately, since heroin binds to these same receptors the effects of use cause your natural endorphins not to work as well which is why people that use and/or abuse heroin end up addicted, physically and psychologically. 

Cause And Risk Factors For Heroin Addiction

A lot of research has been done over the years searching for a precise cause of abuse and/or addiction to heroin. Unfortunately, researchers have been unsuccessful in determining the express cause of heroin addiction. However, the general belief is that there are a number of factors that can lead to an addiction to heroin.

The most common cause and risk factors for heroin addiction include but are not limited to:

  • Genetics – People that have a parent or a sibling with a heroin addiction or other substance abuse problems are placed at a far higher risk of the chance of becoming addicted to heroin or other types of substance abuse.
  • Environmental – If someone is brought up within a home where heroin addiction and/or other substance abuse is prevalent, abuse and/or addiction becomes a learned behavior on how to deal or cope with stressful or adverse circumstances in their lives. This tends to lead to a much younger introduction to heroin and/or other substances which greatly increases the chances for abuse and/or addiction as they get older.
  • Psychological – On average, 1 out of 5 people struggle with mental illness, often undiagnosed. Unfortunately, most are either misdiagnosed or receive little to no treatment for their mental health. It is safe to say that often substance abuse and/or addiction, especially to drugs like heroin, is merely a side effect of poor mental health. 
  • Physical – If your body does not have a healthy level of the neurotransmitter dopamine (what is typically referred to as the “pleasure chemical”) within the brain, they may turn to heroin and/or other addictive substances to give them some sort of relief which can lead to addiction.

Signs, Symptoms And Side Effects of Heroin Addiction

It is often one of the hardest things to do for someone who has a heroin addiction to admit that they are struggling with this disease. Often it comes with feelings of shame and defeat because they aren’t able to just simply “stop.”

Heroin addiction is one of the most painful substances to stop and if not done properly and in a safe environment can often lead to death. For this very reason, it is imperative that we learn the signs and symptoms of a heroin addiction so we know when it is time to seek help or get help for someone we love or care about.

The signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction will vary depending upon the individual. This is largely due to their genetic makeup, the amount of heroin abused, their intake of other substances (like other drugs and/or alcohol), and the amount of heroin they are abusing. 

The most common signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction include but are not limited to:

  • Behavioral signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction
    • Risk-taking behaviors
    • Problems at home, school and/or work
    • Self-isolation
    • Secretiveness
    • A constant need for money
    • Stealing and/or theft of goods
    • Sexual promiscuity and/or “sex work”
    • Extreme and irrational excuses for behavior and/or need for money
    • Strained personal relationships
    • Fits of anger and/or rage
    • Selfishness
    • Illegal activity or associating with suspicious people
  • Physical signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction
    • Dry mouth and/or bad breath
    • Dental decay or poor hygiene
    • Flushed looking skin
    • Dragging and/or constant movement of the extremities
    • Extreme drowsiness and/or lethargy
    • Delayed and/or slow movements or reactions
    • Unconsciousness
    • Slowed and/or severely decreased breathing
    • Slowed heart rate
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • Intense itching resulting in redness and/or scabs
    • Open wounds if injecting
    • Severe weight loss or gain
  • Cognitive signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction
    • Eye rolling and/or head nods (nodding out)
    • Mental cloudiness
    • Loss of mental clarity and/or focus
    • Unable to perform basic problem-solving
  • Psychosocial signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction
    • Aggressive and/or violent mood swings
    • Melancholy behavior or signs of depression
    • Blaming others for self-incurred problems
    • Severe anxiety and/or restlessness
    • Surges of joyfulness

Long Term Effects of Heroin Addiction

If someone abuses or remains addicted to heroin for long periods of time, there can be some very severe and even deadly long term health effects including serious illnesses. If you or someone you love or care about is battling with abuse or an addiction to heroin, it is important to understand and convey the dangerous and potential long term side effects of the abuse and/or addiction.

The most common sign and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction include but are not limited to:

  • Anoxic brain damage
  • Imbalance of brain and hormone systems
  • HIV (AIDS)
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Pulmonary complications
  • Pus-filled abscesses (infections)
  • Collapsed veins
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Heart valves and/or lining infections
  • Bowel obstruction and/or chronic constipation
It's time to begin detox. How do I get started?

Whether the decision to be free from addiction has come from you or a loved one, the all important first step is drug or alcohol detox. Unity Behavioral Health offers an effective, medically supervised detox providing the best results.

HELPLINE: 561-708-5295

Heroin Abuse And/Or Addiction Withdrawal

As previously stated, heroin is a very dangerous and addictive drug that can account for serious, life-altering complications in those that are addicted, including physical dependence and more often than not; a lethal overdose. Due to this very sad and grim fact, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a possible withdrawal to hopefully save a life.

Continuous heroin abuse quickly leads to physical addiction and dependence, which will lead to potentially lethal withdrawal symptoms if the heroin abuse is suddenly stopped (cold turkey).

The medical community always recommends that a withdrawal from heroin should occur in a medically-monitored detox and rehab facility to prevent complications and even death. The symptoms of heroin addiction withdrawal can start within just a couple of hours of stopping the use of the deadly drug. 

The most common signs and symptoms of heroin abuse and/or addiction withdrawal include but are not limited to:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Involuntary movements; kicking, twitching, shakes, etc.
  • Flu-like symptoms; fever, chills, goosebumps, etc.
  • Relentless cravings for heroin
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Bone aches; primarily in the legs (or any previous injury will have increased pain and/or discomfort)
  • Skin blemishes and/or acne (often severe)
  • Severe headaches and/or migraines
  • Emotional outbursts; crying, moaning, screaming, etc.

If you or someone you know is experiencing heroin abuse and/or addiction withdrawals, it is imperative that you seek immediate assistance from a certified drug treatment facility to keep you or your loved one safe from further harm or quite possible, even death.

It is important to give anyone that is addicted to heroin physical and psychological relief. Remember, although you or a loved one may have chosen to abuse heroin, the physical pain is not their choice nor an exaggeration; it literally can mean the difference between life and death.

Heroin Addiction Overdose

A heroin overdose is a scary and potentially deadly situation. If medical assistance is not immediately sought, your chances of survival are gravely affected.

In 2017 the CDC did a study and found that both legal and illegal opioids caused 68% of all drug overdose deaths within the United States. Studies on overdoses have found that the most common drugs found in accidental drug overdose deaths were fentanyl, heroin, and, cocaine. 

Overdose from heroin will occur when a person consumes too much heroin or if the strength and/or purity is higher than the person is used to. 

The most common signs and symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Death
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak or lack of pulse
  • Shallow, slow, labored or no breathing
  • Dry mouth and/or tongue discoloration
  • Reduced sized pupils (pinpoint pupils)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abdominal spasms (gastrointestinal tract)
  • Severe hypotension
  • Nails and/or lips, blue in color

If you or a loved one is displaying any of the above symptoms, seek treatment immediately! Opioid addiction has become so prevalent in today’s society that most emergency response personnel now come equipped with the life saving drug, Narcan.

Narcan is typically administered as a nasal spray or via a syringe. The spray is the most effective because it is absorbed quickly through the nose and works as an opioid antagonist within the brain.

Its job is to block opioid receptors from absorbing any more opioids, which helps to lessen the painful and negative effects of heroin overdoses. Naloxone is yet another common overdose drug used and it reduces and further blocks opioids from the receptors, helping to reverse the potential damage of a heroin addiction overdose.

Heroin Addiction Detox

Without a doubt, heroin addiction detox is one of the most physically and equally psychologically, painful detox processes in more recent times. It is agreed amongst the substance abuse and addiction community that heroin detox not only affects the human body (physically) but equally affects the human brain (psychologically); making it not only just a matter of will power but also a matter of physical limitation(s). Heroin addiction really does hurt.

  1. Withdrawal Medications (Pharmacological Treatments For Heroin Addiction) – Since the 1800s, scientific research has shown that pharmacological treatment of a heroin addiction increases retention in addiction treatment programs and is effective in combating all of the effects of heroin addiction withdrawal. 

The three types of heroin addiction detox medication are:

  • Agonists – activates opioid (heroin) receptors.
    • Methadone
  • Partial agonists – activates opioid (heroin) receptors with a smaller response than agonists.
    • Buprenorphine
  • Antagonists – blocks opioid (heroin) receptors and prevents the abuser/addict from the rewarding effects of heroin.
    • Naltrexone
  1. Behavioral Therapies – There are many powerful behavioral treatments accessible for the treatment of a heroin addiction that can be done either in outpatient or residential programs. 

The various types of therapies for heroin addiction include but are not limited to:

  • Contingency Management – utilizes a points based system for rewarding modified and positive growth and process during treatment,
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is customized to encourage them to modify expectations and behaviors related to their heroin abuse and/or addiction and teaches coping skills for problems. 

Heroin Addiction Treatment Options

There are many different types of heroin addiction treatment options and not all options will work since each person has differing struggles, lifestyles or other daily responsibilities that may restrict which type of treatment will be most effective. 

Heroin addiction treatment programs include but are not limited to:

  • Medically-supervised detox
  • One-on-one and group counseling
  • Programs designed to bring in your loved ones in the treatment process
  • Fitness regimens
  • Nutrition plans
  • Life skills training to ensure that you hit the ground running upon returning to your regular life

It is important to seek professional assistance from a qualified heroin addiction treatment facility in determining which program best suits the special needs and possible schedule for whomever is seeking treatment from terrible affliction of heroin addiction. 

Heroin Addiction is a Disease: Get Help Now!

Do you or someone you care for have a heroin abuse and/or addiction problem? Give yourself or your loved ones extra motivation to accept heroin addiction treatment by calling an admissions specialist at Unity Behavioral Health for a FREE consultation and CALL US at our 24-HR Helpline at 1 (561)-805-1219.


NIMH – Mental Illness. Retrieved from:  https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

National Helpline – SAMHSA: Substance Abuse And Mental Health. Retrieved from:


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