Understanding Heroin Addiction

The CDC recently confirmed that there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2021. This number reflects an increase of nearly 15% over the previous year. These reports confirmed that of those people who died due to overdose, 65% of them were killed by opioids like heroin.


Since heroin is a major part of the opioid epidemic in the United States, it’s important to understand what the drug is and how it affects its users. Furthermore, knowing how heroin is treated can help those struggling with addiction seek out the necessary help. We will discuss each of these things in this article.

What is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal, highly potent drug that is classified as an opioid. Opioids are a class of drugs that includes both legal prescription drugs, like oxycodone, and illegal drugs, like heroin. Other opioids include:

  • codeine
  • fentanyl
  • hydrocodone
  • methadone
  • morphine


Like other opioids, heroin can be incredibly addictive.


Heroin is made from morphine. Morphine is a natural painkilling substance taken from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants. These plants are grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia.

What does heroin look like?

Heroin can come in a variety of forms. In its purest form, heroin is a white powder. The most common form of heroin is a black or brown powder. This type of heroin gets its color from different substances that have been added to the drug. The third form of heroin is called “black tar.” As the name suggests, this is a sticky black gel.

How is heroin taken?

There are many different ways that people abuse heroin. Heroin can be injected into veins, inhaled through the nose in powder form, or smoked. All of these methods that people use to ingest heroin allow the drug to quickly enter the brain.

Effects of heroin

Heroin affects both the brain and the body, and it does so very quickly after it’s ingested. Heroin users often feel an initial “rush” of good feelings as heroin reaches the brain. The high from heroin lasts four to five hours.


The common feelings that someone experiences when using heroin include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Relieved tension
  • Apathy
  • Drowsiness


Some short-term physical effects of heroin are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Severe itching


Long-term effects of heroin use include:


With all these possible effects, there’s no doubt that the use of heroin can have catastrophic consequences.

Why is heroin addictive?

Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted into morphine. This chemical binds to opioid receptors that are located in the brain. These receptors are associated with the perception of rewards. Normally, the brain releases feel-good chemicals to reward us for behaviors that aid in our survival. But when heroin or other opioids are used, the reward system is hijacked and those feel-good chemicals are instantly released.


One reason that heroin is so appealing to people is that it isn’t associated with a hangover or comedown the first time someone uses it. While this makes it easy to start, it doesn’t make it easy to stop. Nearly one in four people who use heroin will become addicted.


The continued use of heroin causes chemical changes in the brain that lead to tolerance and dependence. This leads to a cycle of addiction that is hard to escape. When someone who is addicted to heroin stops taking it, it can lead to painful withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes people continue to abuse these substances simply to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

How heroin addiction is treated

As difficult as it is to battle heroin addiction, recovery is possible. Heroin addiction is treated the same way most other substance use disorders are.


Detoxification is the first step in heroin addiction treatment. This is when people stop using heroin and allow their bodies to rid themselves of the drug.


Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of FDA-approved medications, in combination with other treatments, to treat substance use disorders. These medications bind to the brain’s opioid receptors to a lesser degree than the substances that are typically abused. This helps patients to manage long-term symptoms.

Group therapy

Group therapy is a type of counseling that involves meeting with other people who struggle with addiction. This can provide support and allow people to share their experiences.

Individual therapy

This is when a person meets with a therapist one-on-one to discuss their addiction and any other issues that may be going on in their life. Addiction counseling like this can include multiple different types of therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing are two of the most common types.

Heroin addiction treatment at Isaiah House

At Isaiah House, we’ve helped thousands of men and women overcome the grip of addiction and achieve recovery. Our fully-qualified staff is here to walk with you through every part of your recovery journey. If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin or any other kind of addiction, know that help is available. Reach out to us today to get on the road to recovery.




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