Heroin Abuse and Addiction

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Heroin is a highly addictive substance a part of the opioid drug class. Heroin is classified as a Schedule I substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration, meaning that it is illegal to use for recreational and medical purposes. (1) Heroin addiction has recently been on the rise throughout the past few years. Many individuals engage in heroin use without being fully aware of the negative impacts and adverse health effects that it elicits.

If you or someone you love have difficulties controlling heroin use, understanding treatment options may be beneficial. Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer heroin specific detoxification services to aid individuals in the process of removing heroin from the body. Various levels of care such as inpatientpartial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs are available depending on an individual’s treatment needs. Contact us today to receive more information and get started

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What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a fine powder that is often white, but can be gray or brown. There is also a black, sticky form of heroin known as black tar heroin. Heroin is produced from morphine, which is a natural substance found in various poppy plants. (2) Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected intravenously.

Causes & Risk Factors for Heroin Addiction

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the greatest risk factor for heroin use is prescription opioid use disorder. (3) The CDC also found that most people who engage in heroin use also use other substances.

Other risk factors for heroin addiction include: (4)

  • Being 18 to 25 years old
  • Being a Caucasian male
  • Having a household income less than $20,000
  • Being uninsured

The Link Between Heroin Abuse, Homelessness, & Mental Illness

Substance use is often linked to homelessness as well as other mental health disorders. (5) Substance use negatively impacts relationships and can cause poor job performance or loss. Approximately 68 percent of cities within the United States reported that substance use was the biggest cause of homelessness. (6) Research shows that an individual diagnosed with anxiety or mood disorders are twice as likely to experience substance use disorders. (7)

How Addictive Is Heroin?

Heroin is extremely addictive due to how it affects the brain. Heroin floods the brain with dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This causes individuals to experience temporary feelings or euphoria and relaxation. (8)

The Stigma Surrounding Heroin Addiction

There is often a negative stigma, or negative attitudes, towards those dependent on heroin and other substances. Those with heroin and other opioid use disorders often experience discrimination. Many individuals are unaware of the science behind addiction, making it easy for them to pass judgment.

Ways that stigma surrounding heroin addiction can impact people: (9)

  • Individuals who need treatment may not seek it. Approximately 10.4 percent of individuals needing substance use treatment did not seek it due to fear of being judged. (10)
  • Individuals may fear sharing their substance use with others, even medical providers.
  • Individuals may receive poorer quality of care or have reduced access to treatment.

Signs Someone May Be Addicted to Heroin

There are certain signs that can indicate whether or not someone is experiencing heroin use disorder.

Signs and symptoms associated with heroin addiction include:

  • Continuing heroin use despite experiencing negative consequences
  • Being unsuccessful in cutting back or quitting heroin use
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities
  • No longer being interested in activities that were enjoyable before beginning heroin use
  • Experiencing financial issues
  • Social isolating oneself
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Stealing in order to support heroin use
  • Spending extended periods of time obtaining, using, and recovering from heroin use
  • Experiencing intense drug cravings
  • Developing tolerance
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when heroin use is suddenly stopped

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Symptoms & Effects of Heroin Addiction

There are specific symptoms and effects present in the body due to heroin use. Heroin can impact an individual behaviorally, physically, and psychologically.


Behavioral symptoms include

  • Poor social behaviors
  • Deficits in problem solving, learning, and memory


Physical symptoms and effects include: (11)

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm skin
  • Heavy feelings in the arms and legs
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Clouded mental state
  • Going in and out of consciousness
  • Insomnia
  • Heart infection
  • Liver and kidney disease


  • Intense drug cravings
  • Tolerance (needing to ingest greater amounts of the substance in order to reach the desired high)

What to Do if Someone Overdoses on Heroin

If you or someone you know are experiencing a heroin overdose, it is important to seek emergency medical care. Breathing can be slowed down dangerously during a heroin overdose, leading to hypoxia or death. (12)

Signs of heroin overdose include: (13)

  • Slow breathing
  • Unable to stay awake or losing consciousness
  • Choking
  • Blue, pale, or cold skin
  • Limp body

Heroin Use, Addiction, & Overdose Statistics

Approximately 1.1 million individuals, over the age of 11, reported engaging in heroin use in 2021. (14) Approximately 1 million individuals were diagnosed with heroin use disorder the same year. (15) Approximately 9,173 individuals died due to experiencing a heroin overdose in 2021. (16)

The Cost of Heroin Use on Families & Society

The societal cost of heroin use disorder in the United States was found to be approximately $51.2 billion in a 2017 study. (17) This is approximately $50,799 for each individual dependent on heroin. There is also a family cost associated with heroin use, usually one negatively impacting relationships.

Potential Solutions to the Heroin Epidemic

The heroin epidemic continues to be a public health concern. There are several potential solutions that could potentially improve the heroin epidemic.

Harm Reduction Strategies

Providing syringe services and naloxone (a prescription drug that can help individuals with heroin use disorder) distribution programs are harm reduction strategies that can help improve the health and wellbeing of individuals engaging in heroin use. (18)

Increased Access to Treatment

Increasing access to substance use treatment can help improve the heroin epidemic. Making it affordable and covered by insurance companies could make it easier for individuals to receive treatment.

Education & Prevention Efforts

Educating individuals on the short-term and long-term effects of heroin can help individuals understand the risk of heroin use.

Minimizing Risks & Exposure to Heroin

Improving the practices associated with opioid prescriptions and identifying those who are at risk, before they begin their heroin use, can help minimize the risk and exposure to heroin. Tracking trends and targeting prevention techniques could also potentially minimize exposure to heroin.

What Treatment Is Available to Those Who Suffer From Heroin Addiction?

There are different treatment options available for those experiencing heroin use disorder.

Below is a list of some treatment options available for those experiencing heroin use disorder:

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Here at Guardian Recovery, we can provide evidence-based and comprehensive treatment for those experiencing heroin use disorder. With psychoeducation, therapeutic, and life skills training, we can help you or a loved one develop the necessary tools to overcome heroin abuse. Contact us today to speak with a Treatment Advisor and to get started. A free, no obligation insurance benefits check can be provided upon your request. Start your recovery journey with Guardian Recovery.


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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Heroin-2020.pdf
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0707-heroin-epidemic.html
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0707-heroin-epidemic.html
  5. https://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/nchav/resources/docs/mental-health/substance-abuse/Substance-Abuse-and-Homelessness-508.pdf
  6. https://endhomelessness.org/resource/opioid-abuse-and-homelessness/
  7. https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/rrcomorbidity.pdf
  8. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/heroin.html
  9. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/stigma-discrimination
  10. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/stigma-discrimination
  11. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  12. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  13. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/patients/preventing-an-opioid-overdose-tip-card-a.pdf
  14. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
  15. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
  16. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
  17. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0177323
  18. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/syringe-services-programs

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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