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Finding Treatment For Heroin Addiction

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified heroin as a Schedule I substance.

Schedule I substances have a high potential for abuse and lack any currently accepted medical use. Heroin is an opioid drug that is derived from morphine. It is a white or brown powder or is a black, sticky substance. Heroin can be injected, smoked, sniffed, and/ or snorted. The way heroin works is by rapidly entering one’s brain and binding to one’s opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are neurotransmitters that help to regulate the perception of feelings (i.e. pleasure, pain…etc.) in addition to other functions such as controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. With habitual heroin abuse an individual can actually change the neural pathways in one’s brain. Due to the fact that it is an illegal substance, it is not regulated by any single entity. Therefore, the potency and additives used can vary drastically, as each individual manufacturer of heroin has the full discretion to decide the ingredients and potency of each batch produced. Additionally, the consumer rarely knows exactly what he or she is purchasing, which can exponentially increase one’s risk of overdose. 

needle with heroin

Signs and Symptoms

There are a variety of signs and symptoms that may be exhibited by an individual struggling with heroin addiction. The Mayo Clinic provide the following examples of signs and symptoms exhibited in individuals struggling with heroin dependence: 

  • Slurred speech
  • Constricted pupils 
  • Drowsiness
  • Impaired memory
  • Reduced attention span
  • Sedation 
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Agitation
  • Poor coordination
  • Confusion
  • Lack of awareness of one’s surroundings
  • If injecting heroin: needle marks
  • If snorting heroin: nose sores and/ or runny nose

Every individual is different and will likely display a somewhat unique combination of symptoms, each with varying levels of severity and duration. 

Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

The first step to recovering from heroin addiction is to undergo detox. Detox is the process that rids one’s body of any foreign substances, which is an essential step to achieving sobriety. There are several different detox methods, including supervised detox, medically assisted detox, medically supervised detox, at-home detox…etc. The specific needs of an individual will help distinguish which type of detox will yield the best results. Although detoxing from heroin is rarely lethal, individuals struggling with heroin addiction are recommended to undergo medically assisted detox, or at the very least medically supervised detox. 

Additional supervision and medical intervention, when needed, can help provide some relief from some of the discomforts associated with certain withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s way of reacting to the absence of heroin in its system. The National Institute on Drug Abuse provide examples of some of the common withdrawal symptoms an individual detoxing from heroin may experience, which include any combination of the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Agitation
  • Muscle aches
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Shaking
  • Anxiety 

The severity of one’s experienced withdrawal symptoms will depend on one’s personal health history, length of time he or she abused heroin, potency of heroin, frequency of use, presence of any co-morbid disorders, method of ingestion, and whether he or she abused other substances in addition to actively abusing heroin. 


Heroin is one of the most addictive illicit substances that still circulates and is regularly abused in America. The lifestyle modifications one must make to accommodate his or her addiction during active use can be immense, and while successfully completing a detox program is essential, it is merely the beginning of one’s recovery process. Subsequent to the detox process it is highly recommended for an individual recovering from heroin addiction to attend a formal substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment program. 

Prior to the completion of one’s treatment program, the client along with his or her treatment care team will develop an aftercare plan. Depending on one’s needs, this plan can range from copiously detailed to more vague, generalized suggestions. Wherever an individual’s aftercare plan falls on the spectrum it is imperative to adhere to his or her plan in order to maintain continued success on his or her path of recovery.

woman celebrating recovery

Further Information

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. 

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