What are the risks of heroin addiction

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid that’s highly addictive. Heroin addiction causes negative outcomes that ripple out far beyond the person using the drug. It’s easy for substance abuse to ramp up in users with this drug and its potent high sending a rush of feel-good chemicals to the brain so quickly. It digs its claws and quickly users are sent on a mental health rollercoaster downhill as the drugs usage leaks into daily activities.

Drug addiction is an epidemic in this nation and it’s important we examine the risks of these addictions to better understand ways to actively counter it.

Capable of depressing entire communities, and creating a variety of medical and social consequences, heroin addiction is immensely damaging.


The number of heroin users in the United States has been rising for the past decade. NSDUH data shows that  948,000 adult Americans used heroin during the past year. The greatest increase in new users is among young adults aged 18 to 25.



Why Are More People Using Heroin?

The opioid epidemic that continues to pummel the United States is partially responsible for the uptick in heroin use. Some people prescribed opioid painkillers and unable to refill prescriptions turn to street heroin instead.

The consequences of the global pandemic are also believed to have led more people to use all types of drugs, heroin included.

Today, then, we’ll be looking at the most suitable forms of treatment for heroin use disorder, specifically medication-assisted treatment delivered in combination with psychotherapies.

While heroin addiction is potentially deadly, and quitting the drug remarkably challenging, with the right help and support, you can leave the needle behind and reclaim the life heroin stole from you.

Before that, some heroin basics.

Heroin 101

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid that’s derived from morphine, a naturally-occurring substance found in the seeds of opium poppies.

You find opium poppies throughout southern Asia.  These poppies also grow in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico.

Known as smack, scag, brown, and dark, heroin goes by many names. It also comes in different forms. Most of the heroin produced in South America comes in the form of an off-white powder. The taste is acrid and bitter. Mexican heroin, by contrast, is a sticky black tar. This form of heroin proliferates in the western states.

The darker the heroin, the more impure the substance. Black tar heroin is colored that way due to the primitive processing techniques used. Dealers cut heroin with a variety of bulking agents from sugars and starches to quinine and, more disturbingly, fentanyl. Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid more than fifty times stronger than morphine.

The more pure forms of heroin can be smoked or snorted. Most heroin users inject the drug intravenously, though. This delivers the fastest and most intense high. Heroin mixed with crack cocaine is termed a speedball. This is especially dangerous.


What are the Effects of Heroin?

As an opioid, heroin impacts both your brain and your CNS (central nervous system). When you use opioids, the drug alters levels of neurotransmitter movement in your brain stem. This area of the brain is responsible for base functions like breathing and heart rate.

Beyond this, using opioids triggers feelings of pleasure and a sense of euphoria. Heroin is an opioid, and opioids impact the brain and the nervous system.

Opioids also serve as highly effective painkillers. Heroin blocks pain signals traveling to the spinal cord resulting in an altered perception of pain.

Using heroin brings about a wide range of effects, both short-term and long-term.






What are the Short-Term Effects of Heroin?

Immediately after using heroin, you’ll find your body flooded with a sense of intense euphoria.

Other standard short-term effects of heroin use include:

  • Nodding out
  • Flushed skin
  • Heavy limbs
  • Pins and needles
  • Reduced mental function
  • Itching
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

What are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin?

If you continue using heroin long-term, you’ll be risking a laundry list of negative outcomes, including but not limited to the following:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Damaged septum and nasal tissue
  • Sexual dysfunction (men)
  • Constipation
  • Abscesses
  • Insomnia
  • Stomach cramping
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung complications
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Infection of heart lining
  • Mental disorders
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS
  • Heightened risk of hepatitis C

Other Negative Effects of Using Heroin

As well as heroin damaging the body and mind, the drug is also cut with a variety of other substances that can also be dangerous. While some additives cause clogging of the arteries, other substances like fentanyl can lead to heroin overdose.

In 2019, there were over 70,000 drug overdoses in the United States. Over the first half of 2020, this figure increased by 13% as the pandemic created mayhem.

Heroin overdose is an obvious danger for anyone using the drug. This can be life-threatening.

If you notice slowed breathing in anyone using heroin, this is a common marker of overdose. Without intervention, this can be fatal.

What are the best methods of heroin addiction treatment, then?


What are the Best Methods of Heroin Addiction Treatment?

Treating opioid use disorder with a combination of medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapy is proven effective.

Using the right FDA-approved medication – more on that below – dramatically improves overall retention in treatment programs.

With medications, some of the adverse and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin detox can be mitigated. Medications can be used to counter nausea, vomiting, insomnia, anxiety, and diarrhea.

Medications used to treat heroin use disorder work by targeting the same opioid receptors in your brain that heroin targets without delivering the heroin high.

These can be categorized as follows:

  • Antagonists: Opioid antagonists block the opioid receptors while simultaneously blocking the rewarding effects of opioids
  • Agonists: Opioid agonists activate your opioid receptors fully
  • Partial agonists: Partial opioid agonists activate your opioid receptors mildly

Of these medications, these are the most commonly used examples for treating heroin addiction:

  • Naltrexone
  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine


Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist that blocks the action of opioids. This medication is not sedating, and there is no potential for addiction either, so you won’t be replacing one addiction with another. Vivitrol is a monthly injectable form of naltrexone that’s FDA-approved for treating heroin use disorder while removing the barrier of daily dosing.



This is a particularly slow-acting agonist. Methadone takes some time to reach the brain. You need to engage with an outpatient treatment program to receive methadone in a controlled setting. Methadone is also used in residential rehab centers. Successfully used for treating heroin use disorder since the 1960s, methadone often works when others methods have failed.



Buprenorphine is a partial agonist that reduces cravings for heroin without delivering a high. Suboxone is a medication containing buprenorphine in combination with naloxone. Buprenorphine gained FDA approval in 2002. Generic versions were FDA-approved in 2013.



Medication-assisted treatment, then, can be highly beneficial for soothing the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, minimizing cravings, and reducing discomfort.

Beyond this, psychotherapies are also proven effective for treating opioid use disorder.

CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) shows you how to identify the common triggers that lead you to use heroin. During CBT sessions, you’ll also learn how to avoid using substances as a coping mechanism. You can engage with CBT through either inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.

DBT is a highly specific form of CBT. Dialectic behavior therapy can also be effective in the case of heroin addiction.

Contingency management is a form of therapy that incentivizes and rewards healthy behaviors to encourage a clean lifestyle as you ease into recovery and sobriety.

If you need a heroin addiction treatment program, we can help.


Heroin Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If your use of heroin has spiraled out of control and you find yourself addicted to the drug, don’t panic. While this addiction might be tough to beat, we can help you every step of the way.

We use evidence-based treatment combining the best medication-assisted treatment for heroin use disorder with an assortment of tailored psychotherapy. You’ll detox safely and as comfortably as possible. With your system toxin-free, you’ll learn to identify the triggers that caused you to use heroin, and you’ll discover how to cope with these cravings without relapsing.

For help right away and proven, long-term heroin addiction treatment, contact the friendly team at Renaissance Recovery at 866.330.9449.

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Renaissance Recovery Coronavirus Policy Update

As the national pandemic continues to make it increasingly difficult for individuals to receive quality aftercare, The District Recovery Community & Renaissance Recovery has provided a solution to all those seeking long term care. We are proud to announce that we will be offering all aspects of our treatment including intimate groups, one on one therapy, and case management to individuals in all states from the comfort and safety of your home. This is a great option for clients that are in need of continued treatment, but are returning home to be with their families during this time.

The District Recovery Community and Renaissance Recovery will remain in operation during this time and continue to serve our mission of treating those suffering from alcoholism and addiction.

We encourage you all to reach out to learn more about how we can work together to ensure that our clients remain sober, safe, and continue to get the help that they need.