Understanding Heroin Abuse

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

August 14, 2023

Table of Contents

Heroin abuse often causes addiction to develop in the form of heroin use disorder, one form of a as opioid use disorder.

Addiction to heroin can unfold rapidly and with serious adverse consequences, both short-term and long-term.

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Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid. The illicit narcotic is derived from chemically-processed morphine, a substance occurring naturally in the seed pods of opium poppies.

There are three main types of heroin:

  1. Brown powder
  2. White powder
  3. Black paste (Mexican tar)

Whether heroin is injected, smoked, or snorted, the substance enters the brain quickly. Here, it binds to naturally-occurring opioid receptors.

Heroin is a schedule I controlled substance. Like all schedule I substances, there is no accepted medical use in treatment for heroin in the U.S. Heroin also has a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Heroin Use Statistics

Each year, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) publishes data from NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). According to NSDUH 2020, 902,000 over-12s in the U.S. reported past-year heroin use in 2020. This marks a significant increase on 778,000 reporting past-year heroin use in 2019.

The same data shows that 2.7 million people in the United States have an addiction in the form of opioid use disorder. Among these, 690,000 people have heroin use disorder. This amounts to roughly 0.2% of the U.S. population engaging in heroin abuse to the extent of addiction.

CDC data shows that over 13,000 people died from heroin overdose in 2020 in the U.S.

This 2017 study suggests that the biggest increase in heroin abuse between 2001 and 2013 occurred in Caucasians. Younger adults aged 18 to 29 and those aged 30 to 44 are more likely to abuse heroin than older adults.

According to CDC, overdose death rates involving heroin decreased almost 7% from 2019 to 2020. That said, 13,000 people died from a heroin-related overdose in the United States, and the 2020 rate of fatal heroin overdoses is almost seven times higher than the 1999 rate.

Almost 20% of all opioid-related deaths involve heroin.

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How Many Teens Abuse Heroin?

According to Monitoring the Future survey concerning substance abuse in 2021:

  • 0.2% of eighth-graders used heroin.
  • 0.1% of tenth-graders used heroin.
  • 0.1% of twelfth-graders used heroin.

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) reports that almost half of young adults who abuse heroin started by abusing prescription opioid painkillers like Vicodin or OxyContin. Painkiller abuse typically begins two years before heroin abuse.

When it comes to teen drug abuse, prevention is the best treatment. As a parent, it is never too early to open a dialogue with your children about the dangers of drug abuse.

If you suspect your teen may already be abusing heroin, what signs should you look out for?

Signs of Heroin Abuse

If you suspect a friend or family member is abusing drugs, here are some of the most common signs of heroin abuse:

  • Abruptly losing consciousness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Continuously dry mouth
  • Ongoing constipation
  • Loss of self-control
  • Constricted pupils
  • Track marks on arms
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Slowed breathing
  • Itching the skin
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Runny nose
  • Watering eyes
  • Memory loss
  • Lethargy
  • Extreme exhaustion
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Bruising of the skin
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Hepatitis C

Heroin Abuse Symptoms

The symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction vary depending on many factors, including:

  • How much heroin is used.
  • Duration of heroin abuse.
  • Route of delivery (smoked, snorted, injected)

Heroin abuse triggers physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach pains
  • Constipation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent itching
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • Scabbed or bruised skin
  • Irregular breathing
  • Slow breathing
  • Problems with vision
  • Suddenly falling asleep
  • Flushed skin
  • Slurred or incoherent speech

Psychological Symptoms

  • Major depressive episodes
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritation
  • Hostility
  • Loss of interest in favored activities
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Disorientation
  • Lying about drug use
  • Concealing drug use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations

Heroin Abuse Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery Center, we specialize in the outpatient treatment of addictions.

Whether you are addicted to prescription opioid painkillers or heroin, you would benefit from kickstarting your recovery with a supervised medical detox. You will benefit from medications to reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings. You also have clinical and emotional care on hand around the clock. We can connect you with a licensed medical detox center near you.

Once detoxed, you can engage with one of our outpatient treatment programs for heroin addiction. Choose from the following programs:

For those with more severe heroin use disorders, our PHP offers you the most intensive form of addiction treatment outside of residential rehab.

Regardless of the type of program that makes the best fit for you, you can take advantage of a personalized treatment plan drawing from these therapies and interventions:

For anyone grappling with heroin use disorder and a co-occurring mental health condition, our dual diagnosis treatment program offers simultaneous evidence-based treatment of both conditions.

Even though heroin is among the most addictive of substances, you can initiate your sustained recovery here at Renaissance, whatever your level of heroin abuse. You’ll complete your program with robust aftercare and relapse prevention plans in place.

To start claiming a life free of heroin, reach out to the friendly admissions today at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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