Heroin is an unfortunately common drug of abuse in America. Reports show almost one million people have used heroin at least once over the last year. Because of the dangers and addiction potential of the substance, many people seek heroin detox and heroin addiction treatment each year.

Luckily, many forms of treatment have proven successful for heroin users. Professional treatment centers like BRC Healthcare offer several programs designed to help people recover from heroin safely.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a synthetic opioid drug that produces pleasurable cognitive effects. Heroin can be synthesized from opium, which grows in Southeast and Southwest Asia as well as Colombia and Mexico. However, heroin is also available throughout the U.S. There are no accepted medical uses for it because of its high potential for abuse.

Heroin is sometimes called H, smack, hell dust, or horse. The drug is generally manufactured as a brown or white powder. Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected intravenously, depending on its form. Heroin activates opioid receptors in the brain, which results in a rush of rewarding, euphoric feelings. Substances like heroin also trigger a surge of dopamine in the brain, which compels the user to crave the substance. These cravings are often so intense, the user will go dangerous distances to achieve the high again and again.

Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction may start after an individual becomes addicted to prescription opioids but can no longer afford expensive prescription painkillers. The following signs and symptoms are associated with both addiction and withdrawal.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Each user can experience a variance of signs and symptoms. The following symptoms are common among most heroin users:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Hostility
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Lying about drug use
  • Avoiding loved ones
  • Weight loss
  • Paranoia
  • Scabs and bruises from picking at the skin
  • Delusions
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Increased sleeping
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decline in school or work performance
  • Shortness of breath
  • Respiratory infections
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme itching
  • Constricted pupils
  • Flushed skin
  • Pressured speech

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Many people who become addicted to heroin are afraid to stop using the substance because of its extremely uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Those looking to stop using heroin must enter a heroin detox program and a heroin rehab to avoid relapse. The following withdrawal symptoms are common among most heroin users:

  • Intense craving for heroin
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Limb cramping
  • Severe pain and body aches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Insomnia
  • Cold sweats
  • Death may occur if other medical issues are present

What are Opioids?

Opioids are crucial in the medical field. Medically, they are primarily used for anesthesia and pain relief. When taken as prescribed by a doctor, opioid pain relievers are generally safe and incredibly effective. Synthetic opioids mimic the effects of natural opioids such as heroin or opium for medical purposes.

Both semi- and fully-synthetic opioids have a high-risk factor for overdose and, at the very least, dependence.

How Does Heroin Affect the Body and Brain?

Addiction is considered a brain disease, and heroin is an excellent example of that. After long-term use, and short-term use in some cases, both the body and brain develop a significant heroin dependence. Once the brain and body adjust to having a certain level of the substance in its system, dependence ensues.

Since the brain is adjusted to the substance, when it is no longer present in the individual’s system, cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms set in. Due to the nature of opioid tolerance, heroin users must consistently increase their doses to experience the high they are seeking and have become dependent on.

This is dangerous for several reasons. When someone uses heroin more often, they will need to increase their dosage, as mentioned. At a certain point, the body can’t handle the drug intake, and an overdose may occur. Second, many people who are early in their addiction tend to snort or smoke heroin. At a certain point, they may want a quicker and more intense high. This is where many gravitate toward intravenous use, which offers a host of more issues such as:

  • Increased chance of overdose
  • Skin infections
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Bloodborne illnesses, such as HIV

What is Heroin Addiction Treatment?

Heroin addiction treatment starts with heroin detox. A heroin rehabilitation center offers a medically assisted detox program that is imperative to many people’s recovery. Following heroin detox, many people join a primary program, such as an inpatient heroin rehab. These treatments not only help people stop using the substance, but they can help struggling individuals build a healthy and productive life moving forward.

Heroin rehab treatment programs, in conjunction with behavioral therapy, can put people in a position to overcome their addiction and destructive behaviors. Though opioid addiction is difficult to overcome, many people have found success through heroin addiction treatment.

Medically-Assisted Heroin Detox

Research shows that medically-assisted heroin detox gives people the best chances to overcome opioid addiction. The specific medications used in heroin detox programs impact the opioid receptors in the brain. Some medicines can help lessen drug cravings, while others can help alleviate some of the physical symptoms that occur during withdrawal.

Detoxing from heroin is extremely dangerous, and it is always recommended to undergo heroin detox in a controlled medical environment. During a medically assisted heroin detox, medical professionals work with their patients to provide both education and support. Though this is an uncomfortable process, it sets the foundation for a successful and sustained recovery.


Methadone is the most well-known and commonly used substance in medically-assisted heroin detox. This substance is a full agonist, meaning it acts on receptors in the nervous system and brain. This process blocks the euphoric effects of opioids while minimizing symptoms associated with withdrawal. Methadone can be dangerous if misused and requires administration by a medical professional.


Buprenorphine is a partial agonist. This means it does not fully bind to opiate receptors within the body. Buprenorphine provides similar benefits as methadone; it helps to alleviate withdrawal symptoms while decreasing drug cravings.

If someone attempts to use heroin, or any opioid, while taking buprenorphine, they will experience unpleasant results. Recent research has shown that buprenorphine medications such as Suboxone are safer and offer a potentially smoother withdrawal process than medications.

Primary Program: Heroin Rehab

After detox, many individuals begin inpatient treatment. This live-in form of rehabilitation is an imperative step in treating heroin addiction. People in inpatient programs live at the facility, participate in specific treatment programs, and have access to therapeutic treatments. Since heroin addiction is extremely difficult to beat, having 24-hour support and monitoring is imperative to some individuals.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment, or treatment for co-occurring disorders, is a treatment for people facing addiction along with another mental health concern. In some cases, this can be an addiction and co-occurring depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It is not uncommon for co-occurring disorders to influence each other. Therefore, it’s best to treat each disorder simultaneously while learning how each mental health issue plays a role in the other. For example, an individual may look to substances to numb the difficult symptoms of another disorder.

Therapeutic Programs for Heroin Addiction Treatment

Therapeutic treatments are essential in addiction recovery. These treatments delve into the underlying causes of addiction. Many people who suffer from addiction find they have unresolved trauma or triggers. Substance use therapists help people understand addiction and how it may have played a role in their life.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy is one-on-one treatment between a therapist and their patient. During these sessions, therapists often use strategies involving cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. CBT is an approach to heroin addiction treatment that helps people shift how they think about drugs like heroin.

A large focus of cognitive behavioral therapy is to help the struggling individual figure out how heroin was used to cope with triggers that do not involve drugs. Ultimately, substance use therapists aim to help their patients develop healthy cognitive patterns and skills to prevent relapse.

Aftercare Program

Aftercare programs are follow-up treatments based on relapse prevention. Studies show that having a continuous support network during and after treatment is the best form of relapse prevention. Aftercare programs help people stay motivated to continue their journey of recovery. Follow-up treatment is just as vital as the initial treatment, as a relapse could mean starting the entire process again, which is common with heroin addiction.

Heroin and Opioid Statistics

  • When observed within approximately 1 to 12 months after heroin onset, an estimated 23% to 38% of new heroin users have become dependent on heroin.
  • 808,000 people reported past-year heroin use in 2018.
  • In 2018, Poison control centers reported that 5,300 children were accidentally exposed to heroin and fentanyl.
  • In 2018, heroin-involved opiate death rates were seven times higher than they were nine years before.
  • Since 1999, opioid painkiller sales have increased by 300%.
  • Roughly 30% of people who use prescription opioids misuse them.
  • About 2.1 million people living in the United States have an opioid use disorder.
  • Each day, about 130 Americans die from opioid use.

Find Help With BRC Healthcare Today

At BRC Healthcare, we take pride in our ability to direct clients to proven gender-specific treatments while offering various amenities. Heroin addiction requires professional intervention. If you or a loved one are dealing with an addiction to opioids, the time to reach out for help is now. Call us today to learn about our heroin detox and rehabilitation programs.