Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Heroin
  3. How does Heroin Work
  4. Heroin Addiction
  5. Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
  6. Dangers of Heroin Addiction
  7. Heroin Withdrawal
  8. Heroin Addiction Treatment
  9. Treatment at New England RAW, an Avenues Recovery facility

1. Introduction

An opioid addiction and overdose crisis is ravaging the United States right now. And one of the biggest contributors to this crisis – Heroin.

Get this. In 2020 alone, among Massachusetts residents, there were 2035 confirmed opioid-related deaths. That’s 2035 deaths too many. This number gets even worse when you broaden the scope to the whole country.

One of the most typical causes of overdose and addiction to heroin is lack of education. Many people don’t know what heroin and its addiction are and how much of a menace it can be. Here, we will provide an overview of what heroin is, the symptoms, its dangers, and how heroin addiction can be treated.

2. What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid that is obtained from morphine, which is taken from the resin of the seed pod of the opium poppy. Other common opioids are morphine, codeine, pethidine, and methadone. We are certain you must have heard of at least one of these substances. And one common property of all of them is their tendency to create dependence and addiction to those that use them.

These substances are psychoactive, which means they can alter the mental state and well-being of an individual. In simple terms, they change the way the brain works. Many people use these drugs to get a “high” feeling.

Heroin is usually injected directly into the bloodstream, smoking, or snorting. Its color and form largely depend on how its made and what other chemicals or substances are mixed with it. So, it may be black, brown, or white and also be in powder form or as a sticky mass. 

3. How Does Heroin Work?

Let’s do a little biology. In the brain, there are reward chemicals and centers. These chemicals are the “feel-good” chemicals, the chief of which is dopamine. Now, imagine how you feel when you pass an exam you’ve been reading really hard for, or your dog gives birth to some nice puppies, or you hear very good news about a close friend. Just the imagination of that itself is enough to put a smile on your face.

These reward centers cause that feeling of happiness. What happens with psychoactive drugs, like heroin, is that they stimulate these centers and chemicals, causing that “high” feeling. This doesn’t sound like a bad thing, except it is. It is terrible, in fact. Why?

Heroin reaches the brain quickly and starts to elicit its actions, which is making the user happy and less sensitive to pain for a while. Body temperature and blood pressure drop, the heartbeat can become irregular, breathing slows down, and the pupils constrict.

How it feels

People who use heroin describe the feeling as dreamy, warm, and relaxing. The user is detached from reality, and there’s little sense of anxiety. This effect can last several hours.

Again, this doesn’t seem so bad, right? The problem is heroin – and other psychoactive drugs – are very addictive. If someone takes heroin once, the person wants to take it again. This happens a few times until the user can’t get off it, and this is the beginning of one of the most serious conditions one can imagine – addiction.

This effect of heroin becomes even more pronounced when the person has taken other depressants, like alcohol, sleeping pills, methadone, etc.

How heroin addiction develops

Upon continued use, the body of the user becomes dependent on heroin. In extreme situations, the user cannot even go more than a few hours without heroin use. It gets even worse when the body becomes tolerant to heroin, and the user has to keep increasing the dose to get the same effect. Tolerance is one of the reasons withdrawal is so bad with heroin abuse.


Interestingly, addiction isn’t the most immediate threat of heroin use. That title belongs to heroin overdose. While addiction usually drags on for months or years, making the user more and more miserable, overdose can lead to respiratory failure and death within mere hours.

4. Heroin Addiction

Before we dive into heroin addiction, it makes sense to consider addiction itself briefly. Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by uncontrolled use of a substance and the inability to stop its use despite harmful physical and mental consequences.

From this, it’s easy to understand what heroin addiction is. Simply put, heroin addiction is being addicted to heroin. In such cases, the user cannot get off heroin use, even when it starts depleting the user’s quality of life. Their relationship, education, health, and other facets of their lives start to suffer.

5. Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Certain psychological, physical, and social symptoms accompany heroin addiction. While observing the following symptoms in an individual isn’t enough to tell for sure that the person is addicted to heroin, these symptoms are excellent indicators of addiction.

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Sleep disorders
  • Constipation
  • Organ damage
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Poor concentration
  • Isolation and withdrawal from relations
  • Financial problems
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Poor educational results
  • Constantly wearing long-sleeved shirts

Again, while these are usually the symptoms observed with heroin addiction, they aren’t definitive. You still need to move close to the person in question to be sure they use heroin.

6. Dangers of Heroin Addiction

Any drug that can influence the way the brain works is dangerous. Yes, even if used for medicinal purposes. They are dangerous because the tendency for addiction is high. The body can get dependent and tolerant to them fast too. Heroin is not exempted.

There are some dangers associated with heroin addiction. Some of these dangers directly affect the user’s health, some affect the relations of the user, and others affect others around the abuser. One thing is constant, though, and it’s that people are always affected when heroin is abused.

Some of the health-related issues associated with heroin addiction are:

  • Gastrointestinal upsets, which is usually short term
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleep disorder – insomnia
  • Cardiovascular infections
  • Organ failure, particularly the liver, kidneys, and lungs
  • Miscarriages
  • Reduced immunity
Social Consequences

The user may also become unnecessarily violent and abusive towards people around them. Of course, this means their relationships will be strained. They have fewer friends, may get fired from work, and divorce is always around the corner.

7. Heroin Withdrawal

One of the most common things people say to drug addicts is, “just stop! How difficult could it be?” This is extremely naïve. Drug addicts cannot just stop; they just can’t. One of the primary reasons is withdrawal symptoms.

If you’ve been following to this point, you will remember that we established that the body gets tolerant and dependent on heroin upon continued use. This means the user cannot do without the drug due to the reduced production of the body’s endogenous chemical transmitters. Don’t fret; we’ll explain.

Because the drug can stimulate the chemical centers and transmitters, the body kind of takes the back seat with its own endogenous chemicals stimulation. This is the body trying to regulate the effect of increased dopamine (remember dopamine?).

This way, the body becomes dependent on the drug to meet up the body’s requirements. Abrupt withdrawal will lead to a myriad of symptoms that may even be worse than the symptoms of continued use. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Chills
  • Gastrointestinal conditions, like diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Involuntary muscle movements

These withdrawal symptoms depend on the level of addiction. People that cannot do without heroin for a few hours could literally lose their minds if they abruptly withdraw from the drug. This is why the solution to heroin addiction will never be “just stop.”

Therapy will eventually take them off the drug, but it’s usually gradual. For instance, instead of taking the drug six times daily, the individual will take it four times. Then, three. Then, two. And before you know it, they are off the drug.

Withdrawal from heroin will take lots of time and discipline. It will definitely look frustrating at times but under no condition should it be abrupt.  

8. Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction is a bother; we can’t deny that. It is difficult to treat but not impossible. Through proper medical and psychological assistance, heroin addiction can be overcome. Note the keyword “proper.” Don’t leave treatment to just anyone or try and fix the problem yourself. There are professionals for this.

To start with, seek medical care for the victim. The medical team will decide on the best therapy for the patient. However, the best approach is usually through medication and behavioral therapy.

No medication can cure addiction, but some medications with similar action to heroin are typically prescribed. One such medication is methadone. These medications are milder in action and last longer, which will help in gradually tapering the dose of heroin the user takes.

Behavioral therapy, on the other hand, does not involve medications. Instead, it focuses on the mental aspect of things, teaching the user how to cope without heroin. This, also, must be left to professionals.

Finally, family members and relations must not abandon the abuser at any stage of their treatment. They need all the support they can get if they are to beat heroin addiction eventually.

9. Treatment at New England RAW, an Avenues Recovery Facility

Heroin is one heck of a medication. It has a very high potential for addiction and overdose, both of which are terrible to the abuser. Studies have shown that all six New England states have opioid-related deaths higher than the national average. That is simply unacceptable.

As such, the illicit use of the drug must be discouraged. One way to do this is through proper education, which this article will provide.

If a person is already addicted, treatment should be sought out. At New England RAW, a team of compassionate professionals will welcome you into a community that will help you believe in yourself and the gift of a life of addiction recovery. A treatment plan will be drawn according to your specific strengths and weaknesses, and freindships of support will be established that last a lifetime.

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