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Heroin Addiction

Heroin use is a serious problem in the United States, with the widespread opioid epidemic currently devastating in the country. In 2015, there were more than 13,000 heroin overdose deaths, a number that has been rapidly increasing each year since 2010.

The problem isn’t just the growing number of people affected by the disease of heroin addiction; it’s also the lack of treatment options.

According to Jane Carlisle Maxwell, an addiction researcher at the University of Texas, “The number of persons dependent on pain relievers or heroin and new initiates is more than three times greater than the current capacity to deliver treatment.”

The heroin addiction epidemic requires high-quality, results-driven addiction treatment. At Arete Recovery, our goal is to provide a solution for this need by helping those who are stuck in a pattern of addiction. 

What Is Heroin?

Heroin, also known as diamorphine, is an opioid made from the poppy plant and is a cousin to morphine. Heroin was first synthesized in 1874 and tested on animals, but no further research or application was explored until it was resynthesized in 1897. Pharmaceutical and life sciences company Bayer initially marketed the “non-addictive morphine substitute” for suppressing coughs. However, it soon became a commonly abused addictive drug.

Today, heroin is a Schedule I drug in the U.S. and a lucrative black market crop in Mexico and Afghanistan, with opium production on the rise and growing as fast as 50 percent in Mexico in 2014. 

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and can affect the limbic system (the reward center) fairly quickly. As a disease, addiction is a brain disorder that creates an irresistible desire to continue to use drugs. Addiction manifests in psychological symptoms but the mechanisms of addiction are largely biological. Exposing your brain to opioids causes chemical changes that result in a shift in behavior.

Most people addicted to heroin don’t start with heroin. In fact, 75 percent of people who are addicted to heroin used prescription opioids first. Prescription pills like Percocet are opioids that can be powerfully addictive. Many users start using pills because of an injury or medical procedure that requires prescription pain relievers. After becoming addicted to the pills, it becomes too difficult to maintain because of the cost or availability, and they turn to heroin.

After addiction takes hold, it is difficult to stop, especially without professional rehab treatment. Long-term addiction recovery methods are proven to be the most effective treatment option.

What Are the Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Heroin has many physical effects on the body, but when a person becomes addicted, they can start to feel withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours of last using the drug. In some cases, withdrawal can start in as little as a few hours. If you or someone you know is exhibiting the following symptoms, it may be because of a heroin addiction:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscular or bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Flushed skin
  • Intense heroin craving

Heroin addiction may also be a possibility if you notice a growing tolerance. If it is taking higher doses than before to achieve the same high, it may mean you are developing an addiction. After long-term use, heroin can affect decision-making, impulse control, and stress responses.

What Is Involved in Heroin Addiction Treatment?

Heroin addiction treatment is a process that has many different approaches. Heroin addiction can be treated using medication, behavioral therapy, and other experimental therapies. Medicines including buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone are commonly used in treating symptoms of heroin withdrawal. These medications work by binding to the same receptors in the brain that opioids target and blocks withdrawal symptoms.

The first and arguably one of the most important steps in heroin addiction treatment is medical detoxification, known more simply as “detox.” The medical detoxification stage is closely monitored by doctors and nurses, who may or may not, depending on the severity of the addiction, administer doses of medications to curb withdrawals and relapse urges.

Medical detox rids the body of any residue from past or current drug or alcohol abuse and is vital before starting an inpatient or outpatient program. During detox, usually lasting around five to seven days, you may be given medications to curb any withdrawal symptoms you may have.

As the first step in addiction recovery, the whole treatment process is highly dependent on the success detox process. Because of this, it is highly recommended that you or a loved one seek a medical detoxification program with an experienced, licensed, and reputable team of medical personnel.

Once your body has rid itself of the drug’s chemical through detox, you can continue your recovery through residential treatment. Behavioral therapies are often used in treatment—including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy—to help you modify your behavior and retrain your brain’s response to craving and triggers. During the residential program, you will live at the facility for 30-90 days while participating in daily therapies.

Once your time in residential treatment is over, there is still a long road of recovery ahead. Simply leaving the facility and returning to the stress and temptations of everyday life is a recipe for relapse. By taking advantage of an outpatient program, you can stay connected to the recovery community and fight relapse whenever the temptation appears. Outpatient is also ideal for those who can’t put their outside obligations on hold to enter a residential facility.

Of course, professional treatment is optimal, and most of the time, it will be. But you may ask yourself questions like if it is possible to help someone struggling with addiction without the help of a professional treatment center. While we advise seeking the expert help you need, there are many things you can do at home to help a loved one going through treatment or suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

While someone you know suffers from heroin addiction, being supportive and positive is just as, if not more, important than them receiving care at a treatment center. Providing a positive outlook on the situation forms a positive environment, and the most helpful, easy, and simple thing you can do is provide a comfortable, positive environment.

If the person in recovery is part of an outpatient program and only visits the recovery center a few times a week, make them feel welcome when they get back home. Let them know how proud you are and how great their treatment seems to be working.

If the person in recovery is part of an inpatient program and stays on site at the recovery center, a phone call can easily put a smile on their face. A simple, “Hey, we all miss you and can’t wait to see you!” can easily be the difference between a successful story and an unsuccessful one.

How Dangerous Is Heroin?

In terms of lives lost, heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs the U.S. is facing. Heroin’s threat is caused by a number of factors. First, there is a clear danger of overdose and thousands of people die each year because of heroin. When a person takes too much of the drug, their breathing slows to the point that the brain does not receive enough oxygen. Overdose can happen, even to experienced drug users. Overdoses are even common among people who have built up a tolerance, stopped using addictive substances for an extended period (because of treatment or jail time), and relapsed with a dosage to which their bodies were no longer accustomed.

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Adulterants are commonly added to heroin, which makes its potency unpredictable. When a user comes into contact with especially pure and unadulterated doses, it can result in an overdose. Plus, dealers are now adding other, more powerful, opioids to heroin. Fentanyl is a notoriously powerful drug that is sometimes added to heroin without users knowing. 

Heroin Abuse Statistics

Heroin addiction is a large contributor to the overall opioid crisis that is plaguing the United States. Here are some fast facts concerning the opioid problem facing the country:

  • Nearly 23% of people who try heroin become addicted.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome (withdrawal symptoms experienced in babies who are born from addicted mothers) has quadrupled in 15 years.
  • 75% of heroin addicts started with prescription opioids.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

Heroin is among the most dangerous opioids available to man, and if you or a loved one runs the risk of addiction, it could prove dangerous and even fatal. At Arete Recovery, we understand addiction and how to treat it in the best way possible. We put the client first when it comes to anything, and every case is always treated as a unique one. 

With a team of professionals and experts, we provide you with any resource you may need to be as comfortable and happy as possible. From doctors and nurses to psychiatrists and case managers, support is available 24/7. Call Arete Recovery at 855-781-9939 or contact us online.


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Seelye, K, (March, 2016).Heroin Epidemic Is Yielding to a Deadlier Cousin: Fentanyl. The New York Times. Retrieved September, 2018 from

Nestler, E, (December, 2013). Cellular basis of memory for addiction. US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved September, 2018 from

Cicero, T, (July, 2014). The changing face of heroin use in the United States: a retrospective analysis of the past 50 years. Pub Med. Retrieved September, 2018 from

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Qiu, Y, (May, 2013). Progressive White Matter Microstructure Damage in Male Chronic Heroin Dependent Individuals: A DTI and TBSS Study. Plos One. Retrieved September, 2018 from

Leonard, K, (August, 2016). America's Opioid Epidemic Is Increasingly Harming Babies. US News. Retrieved September, 2018 from

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