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Heroin Abuse, Addiction, and Treatment

Among people 12 and older in 2021, about 1.1 million people used heroin and about 1.0 million people had a heroin use disorder.[1] Heroin is so addictive that the majority of people who try it become addicted in a short amount of time. Heroin is also deadly and was responsible for more than 9,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021.

Heroin addiction can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s health and well-being. Detox and comprehensive heroin addiction treatment may help people overcome addiction and learn the skills they need to live a healthy, sober lifestyle.

Understanding what to expect during heroin addiction treatment may help you prepare to start your recovery journey.





What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illicit opioid drug derived from morphine, which is made from opium poppy plants. Heroin is available in several forms, including a white or brown powder or a thick, sticky substance called black tar heroin.[2] Users inject, snort, smoke, or sniff heroin. Heroin may also be added to other illicit drugs or cut with other substances. It is almost impossible for heroin users to know exactly what substances they are consuming, making overdose or other complications more likely.

Heroin may also be called:

  • Big H
  • Chiva
  • Horse
  • Smack
  • Thunder
  • Black Tar

Heroin and other opioids bind to your brain’s opioid receptors, causing a flood of dopamine–a neurotransmitter involved with pleasure and reward. Heroin is highly addictive, and users may quickly develop a psychological or physical dependence on it.

The Effects and Risks of Heroin Use

Heroin use can quickly spiral into a life-threatening addiction, causing significant short and long-term effects on your health and well-being. Understanding the risks of heroin use is essential.

Short-term effects

Heroin’s effects begin soon after you use it. Users report feeling a rush of pleasure and euphoria within just minutes of ingesting the drug. Other short-term side effects include:

  • Warm or flushed skin
  • Heaviness in the arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cloudy or slow thinking
  • Nodding off–going in and out of consciousness
  • Severe itchiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Slow breathing
  • Constipation
  • Pain relief

Heroin’s effects may last for several hours and may be followed by a “crash”–unpleasant withdrawal symptoms– that may last for up to a week.

Long-term risks

People who use heroin regularly for an extended period may develop severe physical and mental health complications. These may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Damaged tissues in the nose and sinuses
  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Chronic constipation
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung problems, including pneumonia
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in women
  • Abscesses
  • Mental health problems, including depression

Because heroin is often cut with other substances, ingesting it can lead to unexpected consequences. Additives like powdered milk, starch, or sugar can cause irreversible damage to the lungs, brain, liver, or kidneys by clogging blood vessels. People who inject heroin risk contracting bloodborne diseases like HIV and Hepatitis from sharing needles and other equipment.


A heroin overdose is a life-threatening medical emergency that requires immediate intervention. Overdosing on heroin causes a person’s breathing to slow to dangerous levels or stop altogether. This can prevent oxygen from reaching the brain, resulting in coma or death.

If someone near you is experiencing a heroin overdose, call 911 right away. Administer naloxone (Narcan) if it is available and wait with the person until emergency medical services arrive.

Heroin Abuse and Addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive narcotic drug. People who use heroin regularly may develop tolerance, meaning they need to take larger or more frequent doses of the medication to get the desired effects.

People who develop tolerance and dependence on heroin will likely experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using it. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include:

  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Severe muscle aches and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Involuntary leg spasms
  • Intense cravings for heroin

Withdrawal symptoms may begin just a few hours after the person last used heroin. The effects of withdrawal can be so severe that many people relapse before completing detox.


Heroin Statistics 2019


Heroin Detox

Getting treatment from a heroin detox program can significantly increase your chance of having a safe, complete detox. A proven combination of medical and behavioral therapies is effective at allowing people to stop using heroin.

Before beginning heroin detox, a doctor or addiction specialist will assess patients to identify potential risk factors and shape the course of treatment. Tailored treatment plans allow people to reach their goals and learn the skills they need to maintain sobriety for life.

Heroin withdrawal is typically not life-threatening, but it can be difficult to detox successfully on your own. Heroin detox centers can provide around-the-clock support and prescribe medications that help alleviate your symptoms.

Medications used during heroin detox include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex)

These medications help to alleviate withdrawal symptoms during heroin detox, including cravings.

Heroin Addiction Rehab

After completing a heroin detox program, people must participate in a comprehensive treatment program that helps them address addiction’s emotional, physical, and behavioral aspects.

Heroin addiction treatment programs are offered in several levels of care in outpatient and inpatient settings. The type of treatment a person requires depends on various personal factors, including the severity of their addiction and general health.

People may attend inpatient or outpatient rehab for heroin addiction. Outpatient heroin rehab is a type of addiction treatment program that allows individuals to receive care and support while living at home and continuing with their daily activities. In this program, individuals attend counseling and therapy sessions at a treatment center on a scheduled basis, typically several times a week.

Inpatient heroin rehab, also known as residential treatment, is a type of addiction treatment program that involves individuals staying at a treatment facility for a period of time to receive intensive care and support. In this program, individuals live on-site and receive around-the-clock medical and therapeutic care in a structured and supportive environment.

Whether inpatient or outpatient, treatment plans utilize a combination of evidence-based and holistic therapies, including:

  • Individual, group, and family therapy
  • Relapse prevention education
  • Medications
  • Mental health treatment
  • Holistic therapies like nutrition support, nature therapy, massage, mindfulness, yoga, and more

After completing heroin rehab, people must develop and follow an aftercare plan to keep them active in recovery. This may include participating in other forms of addiction treatment, attending 12-step or support group meetings, or continuing individual behavioral therapy sessions.

Start Heroin Addiction Treatment in West Palm Beach, FL Today

At Mandala Healing Center, we inspire healing in our patients through compassionate care. Going beyond the conventional approach of detoxification, patients at our facility are inspired to fully heal in an environment designed to nourish their entire being.

Clients are taken on a journey of healing through complete immersion into evidence-based clinical modalities, multifaceted alternative therapies, and expert medical management, allowing them to fully detox and recover from drug and alcohol addictions. Through a program of care designed to encourage change, a foundation is created that allows clients to find their higher purpose and reclaim their lives.

If you or a loved one are suffering from heroin addiction or would like to learn more about your treatment options, please reach out to our dedicated admissions counselors today.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?, Retrieved April 2023 from
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Heroin DrugFacts, Retrieved April 2023 from