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Heroin Addiction – Get the Facts About Overdose, Withdrawal, Dangers and Treatment

Heroin AddictionFacts: Heroin is a highly addictive drug, and its use is a serious problem in America. Recent studies suggest a shift from injecting heroin to snorting or smoking because of increased purity and the misconception that these forms of use will not lead to addiction.

Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder. Street names for heroin include “smack,” “H,” “skag,” and “junk.” Other names may refer to types of heroin produced in a specific geographical area, such as “Mexican black tar.”

Why is Heroin so Addictive?

Heroin abuse is associated with serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, spontaneous abortion, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

The short-term effects of heroin overdose appear soon after a single dose and disappear in a few hours. After an injection of heroin, the user reports feeling a surge of euphoria (“rush”) accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, a dry mouth, and heavy extremities. Following this initial euphoria, the user goes “on the nod,” an alternately wakeful and drowsy state. Mental functioning becomes clouded due to the depression of the central nervous system. Long-term effects of heroin appear after repeated use for some period of time. Chronic users may develop collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, cellulitis, and liver disease. Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health condition of the abuser, as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration.

In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin may have additives that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs.

Heroin Tolerance, Addiction, and Withdrawal

Heroin white powderWith regular heroin use, tolerance develops. This means the abuser must use more heroin to achieve the same intensity or effect. As higher doses are used over time, physical dependence and addiction develop. With physical dependence, the body has adapted to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms may occur if use is reduced or stopped.

Heroin withdrawal, which in regular abusers may occur as early as a few hours after the last administration, produces drug craving, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), kicking movements (“kicking the habit”), and other symptoms. Major heroin withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health is occasionally fatal, although heroin withdrawal is considered much less dangerous than alcohol or barbiturate withdrawal.

Treatment of Heroin Addiction

There is a broad range of treatment options for heroin addiction, including heroin detox medications as well as behavioral therapies. Science has taught us that when medication treatment is integrated with other supportive services, patients are often able to stop heroin (or other opiate) addiction and return to more stable and productive lives.

LAAM is a synthetic opiate medication for treating heroin addicts and can block the effects of heroin for up to 72 hours. Other approved medications are naloxone, which is used to treat cases of heroin overdose, and buprenorphine (typically in the form of Suboxone, buprenorhpine with naltrexone, or Subutex, buprenorphine without naltrexone) which blocks the effects of morphine, heroin, and other opiates. Click for more information on buprenorphine treatment, Suboxone and Subutex.

There are many effective behavioral treatments available for heroin addiction. These can include residential and outpatient approaches. Several new behavioral therapies are showing particular promise for heroin addiction. Contingency management therapy uses a voucher-based system, where patients earn “points” based on negative drug tests, which they can exchange for items that encourage healthful living. Cognitive-behavioral interventions are designed to help modify the patient’s thinking, expectancies, and behaviors and to increase skills in coping with various life stressors.

At Pat Moore Foundation, our mission is to provide an open, caring and proven rehabilitation center. Located in Orange County, southern California, we have been empowering men and women caught in the life-shattering cycle of drug and heroin addiction for more than 20 years. Our professional staff is certified and highly skilled. Each staff member is also involved in his or her own recovery program and understands the drug addiction rehabilitation process from a perspective that only another drug addict can. Because of this connection our staff is involved in the client’s recovery from the first day.

Individuals participating in our heroin detox and opiate addiction treatment programs are in a residential setting and are usually able to participate in counseling and enjoy the company and comfort of their peers. Should individuals require further medical attention, Costa Mesa and the Newport Beach area have renowned hospitals (all in Orange County, California) within a few minutes of this facility.

If you have questions about heroin abuse or addiction for you or a loved one, or if you need help please call us 24 hours a day at (888) 426-6086. There is hope.

For additional information on other drug-specific addictions, please see the following links:

Prescription Drug Addiction

OxyContin Addiction

Methadone Addiction

Crack Cocaine Addiction

Opiate Addiction


Note: All medical services are administered by medical professionals, which are facilitated and operated solely under the jurisdiction of a separate medical corporation.