Heroin is a highly addictive, illegal substance that is synthesized from morphine 1. It belongs to the family of substances known as opioids, which work by mimicking endogenous opioids (e.g., endorphins) to activate opioid receptors and instigate a cascade of neurological effects. Opioid abuse results in central nervous system (CNS) depression that can lead to significant impairment or even threaten the user’s life 2.
Addiction to heroin can be a life-altering struggle, so it is important to understand:
- Treatment options.
- Treatment medication.
- Cost of treatment.
- How to pay for treatment.
- Symptoms of heroin addiction.
- Why people get addicted to heroin.
- Long-term effects of heroin addiction.
- How to get help for a heroin addiction.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Re-training the brain away from compulsive heroin abuse is a challenging but achievable task, and professional treatment programs can offer invaluable support. When a person is struggling with a heroin addiction, they may sacrifice other aspects of their life that they once found enjoyable and important in order to obtain and use heroin. Those addicted to heroin may display compulsive drug-seeking behavior and escalating patterns of heroin abuse that often lead to a progressive dismantling of the user’s life.
Heroin’s marked potential for abuse and addiction development stem, in part, from its potent psychoactive effects. It is commonly found as either a powder form or as a dark, sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” Heroin can be snorted, smoked, or dissolved and injected, each of which yields different speeds of onset and duration of effects 1. No matter the route of administration, heroin exerts powerful effects in the brain, including its influences on the dopamine reward pathway. This pathway is also activated by life-sustaining and/or pleasurable activities such as eating and sex. Heroin essentially tricks the user’s brain into thinking that heroin is beneficial for survival by activating this reward system, thereby contributing to the development of an addiction.
Fortunately, addiction to heroin is a treatable condition. Re-training the brain away from compulsive heroin abuse is a challenging but achievable task, and professional treatment programs can offer invaluable support. While it is possible to work through detox and recovery without the guidance of an official program, professional treatment may better prepare a recovering heroin user to successfully surmount the sometimes-intense discomforts of withdrawal and, later, the many relapse temptations that come with this journey.
Heroin treatment programs may offer recovering users a long-term advantage by providing:
- Extensive group and individual therapy sessions.
- Medications to help ease cravings and other withdrawal effects.
- 24-hour supervision and support.
- Crisis counseling.
- Medical care.
- A sober safe haven.
Professional addiction treatment comes in many forms, and no two programs will be exactly alike. Each individual will have their own set of needs when it comes to recovery, so it’s unlikely that any single program that will be a good fit for everyone. Some programs specialize in certain populations, such as teen, male-only, women-only, LGBTQ, and veteran programs in order to ensure the patients’ comfort among peers. Beyond client specialization, program varieties include:
- Inpatient treatment, which involves a stay at a treatment facility where the patient can work on recovery in a 100% sober environment.
- Outpatient treatment, which allows the patient to work through recovery while living at home, checking in for treatment sessions on a regular basis.
- Luxury treatment, which is a residential treatment option that focuses on privacy, comfort, and posh, spa-like amenities. Luxury rehabs are frequently set in desirable locations such as beaches or beautiful countryside.
- Executive treatment, which is similar to a luxury program with the emphasis on comfort and amenities, but also allows the patient to continue to work from the treatment center.
- 12-step programs, which host free sobriety support meetings where members are able to share their progress and experiences with recovery peers as they individually work through their steps. For many, the 12-step philosophy is spiritual in nature, however, the concept of a “higher power” is left to individual interpretation.
Medication for Heroin Addiction
Heroin exerts potent effects on the user, and cravings to use can be a constant and difficult challenge for those in recovery. Fortunately, there are several medications approved to help curb these intense cravings and make the recovery process a little easier to work through. Professional treatment programs can properly prescribe and dose these medications to help patients maintain abstinence.
Medications used to treat heroin withdrawal and help ease cravings after detox act upon opioid receptors in the brain similarly to the way heroin does. However, these treatment medications are much more controlled and present less risk for the recovering user. Addiction severities will vary, and each patient will have differing specific medical needs; treatment professionals can ensure that an individual is given the safest, most effective medication to meet these needs.
Medications to help with heroin addiction include 4 :
- Methadone, a daily, relatively long-acting medication that mimics heroin in the brain without the euphoric rush.
- Buprenorphine, a partial opioid agonist that relieves drug cravings by approximating heroin’s effects at the opioid receptor level, yet with a lower risk of dangerous side effects and a blunted opioid high. It is currently available as a daily, oral dose, or as an implant under the skin, known as Probuphine. The implant provides a low, constant dose of buprenorphine for an extended period of time.
- Naltrexone, a daily medication that blocks opioid effects so users cannot get high from using heroin or other opioid drugs. It is also available in a once-a-month injection (as the branded formulation Vivitrol) to help recovering users with treatment compliance.
- Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone aimed at preventing intravenous abuse of buprenorphine on its own. It does this by blocking the euphoric high associated with injection of buprenorphine.
Cost of Heroin Addiction Treatment
There are many different types of treatment payment methods available for those who need to pay for drug addiction treatment.
Heroin addiction treatment approaches vary, as do the costs. The cost of treatment depends on a number of factors, including what type of program you choose (inpatient, outpatient, luxury, executive, standard, etc.) , the length of treatment (30 days, 60 days, 90+ days, etc.), amenities offered by the facility, location of the program, and the extent of treatment coverage an individual’s insurance offers. Inpatient treatment tends to cost more than outpatient treatment, and the more amenities and luxuries that a program offers, the higher the cost tends to be.
Treatment can be expensive, but recovery is life-changing. If you’re without insurance, or if insurance will only meet part of your treatment costs, it may be worth investigating alternate options of payment. Call our helpline at 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? to discuss payment options, insurance coverage, and heroin addiction treatment options.
Paying for Treatment
If an individual does not have insurance, or if their insurance doesn’t cover the majority of treatment costs, there are many ways to finance heroin addiction treatment. Some options are:
- Payment plans: Many programs will allow a client to spread the cost of treatment over predetermined monthly payments so that they are able to get treatment help when they need it and pay it off over time.
- Sliding scale: Some programs offer sliding scale costs that vary based on an individual’s income and ability to pay.
- Credit cards: Paying for treatment on a credit card can also allow the patient to pay for treatment over time.
- Personal loans: Taking out a personal loan from a bank to pay the full cost up front then gradually paying off the loan over time.
- Rehab scholarships: Some facilities have a certain amount of money that they can use to help cover all or part of the cost of recovery.
- SAMHSA grants: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers grants to eligible applicants to help cover the cost of treatment.
- Start a crowdfunding campaign: Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe can allow friends, family members, and even strangers to contribute to a person’s treatment fund.
- Ask friends and family members for help: There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. Loved ones can help you cover treatment costs so you can show them that you’re ready to recover from addiction.
Remember that nothing is more important than health, happiness, and recovery from addiction. The cost of treatment may seem daunting but it is a small price to pay for a life free from addiction.
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction has many different signs and symptoms, from physical signs to psychological and behavioral manifestations. Addiction is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V) as a pattern of substance use that leads to significant impairment or distress in the user’s life 5. A person struggling with a heroin addiction may present with some of these common behavioral indicators 5:
- Taking more heroin than intended.
- Taking heroin for a longer period of time than intended.
- Spending a lot of time obtaining heroin, using heroin, or recovering from heroin use.
- Craving heroin.
- Desiring to cut down on heroin use but failing to do so.
- Neglecting work, school, or home responsibilities.
- Displaying distant, secretive behavior.
- Lying about or denying heroin use.
- Continuing to use heroin despite social or interpersonal problems due to heroin use.
- Using heroin in situations where it is physically dangerous.
- Getting extremely defensive when asked about heroin use.
On top of these behavioral signs, heroin addiction and abuse are associated with a number of physical and psychological symptoms, including 5:
- Neglected hygiene or appearance.
- Poor diet and eating habits.
- Dysphoria, or a general state of unease.
- Psychomotor agitation or slowing.
- Impaired judgment.
- Extreme drowsiness.
- Inappropriate pupil responses (often, tiny or ‘pinpoint’ pupils that don’t react to light).
- Slurred speech.
- Itchy skin; frequent scratching.
- Decreased attention.
- Problems with memory.
- Track marks from needle use.
- Collapsed veins due to needle use.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when unable to use. These withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, sweating, chills, muscle aches, and insomnia.
- Tolerance, or the need for increased doses of heroin to achieve desired effects.
If yourself or someone you love is showing signs of heroin addiction, don’t hesitate to get help. Call 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? to speak with one of our recovery support advisors and get started on the recovery journey today.
Causes of Addiction
Every person struggling with addiction has their own background and reasons for turning to drug use in the first place. Addiction is a multi-faceted condition that arises from many different factors, and there is no single influence that leads to an addiction. Every person struggling with addiction has their own background and reasons for turning to drug use in the first place, and every person suffering from addiction deserves help.
Some factors that may contribute to the development of an addiction include:
- Stress: Individuals facing a high level of stress may turn to heroin to relieve the negative stress feelings, also known as self-medicating 6.
- Adverse childhood experiences: Traumatic experiences during childhood have demonstrated a major effect on subsequent drug problems, potentially even contributing to one-half to two-thirds of serious substance abuse issues 7, 8.
- Psychological disorders: Mental illness is an established risk factor for the development of a substance use disorder, and vice versa 9.
- Genetics: There is some evidence of a genetic component to addiction development, but genes are not destiny. The environment can have a major effect on genetic expression, and there is no single “addiction gene.” The interaction between genes and environment may predispose an individual to addiction, but they do not cement it 10, 11.
Long-term Effects of Heroin Addiction
Addiction to heroin does not generally develop overnight. More commonly, it arises from a long-standing pattern of heroin abuse that progresses, often without the user being fully aware of the extent of their problem until they are heavily embedded in their addiction. When a person falls into a habit of using heroin, they may begin to develop a tolerance to its effects, meaning they need more and more heroin in order to achieve the same high. This can transition into a physical dependence, where the user needs heroin in order to avoid withdrawal, which can lead to the pattern of behaviors that define an addiction.
Many negative consequences, both mental and physical, can arise due to long-term heroin use. Some possible consequences of long-term heroin abuse include 1, 12, 13:
- Brain damage.
- Hormonal imbalances.
- Increased risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.
- Infection in the heart lining or valves (endocarditis).
- Kidney or liver disease.
- Spontaneous abortion.
- Pulmonary complications.
- Gastrointestinal issues.
Heroin abuse can take a toll on a person’s entire life. Beyond these heroin-specific complications, struggling with addiction can have its own set of consequences:
- Financial problems.
- Poor work or school performance.
- Relationship problems.
- Loss of close friends.
- Family or child neglect.
- Losing a job.
- Legal entanglements.
- Decreased sense of self-worth.
Get Help for Heroin Addiction Today
Don’t let heroin addiction ruin your life or the life of a loved one. Call 1-888-439-3435 Who Answers? to learn more about the recovery process and get started in a treatment program today. It’s never too late to start healing.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts: Heroin.
- Holden, J. E., Jeong, Y., & Forrest, J. M. (2005). The endogenous opioid system and clinical pain management. AACN Clinical Issues, 16(3). 291-301.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007). Summary: addictive drugs activate the reward system via increasing dopamine neurotransmission.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). What are the treatments for heroin addiction?
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
- Goeders, N. E. (2003). The impact of stress on addiction. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 13. 435-441.
- Dube, S. R., Felitti, V. J., Dong, M., Chapman, D. P., Giles, W. H., & Anda, R. F. (2003). Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: The adverse childhood experiences study. Pediatrics, 111(3).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Adverse Childhood Experiences.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2010). Comorbidity: Addiction and other mental illnesses. Research Report Series.
- Bevilacqua, L. & Goldman, D. (2009). Genes and addictions. Clinical Pharmacological Therapy, 85(4). 359-361.
- University of Utah. Genes and Addiction.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Heroin.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Heroin.