Heroin Addiction Side Effects, Symptoms, & Treatment

Heroin addiction treatment should be individualized to meet your needs. Reach out to us, as we can help you explore the treatment options.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance is known as black tar heroin. This opioid drug is highly addictive because the excessive use of heroin often develops a tolerance. In other words, users will need higher and/or more frequent doses of the drug to get the desired effects. Given that, a substance use disorder (SUD) may develop when you are abusing heroin. [1]

It is when continued use of the drug causes issues, such as health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home. In this case, there is a range of treatments that are effective in helping people stop heroin use.

However, heroin addiction treatment plans should be individualized to meet the needs of the person and it almost always starts with heroin detox to get rid of the toxic chemicals of the body. Individuals using heroin regularly (for example: daily) over a long period of time are expected to experience heroin withdrawal when stopping or reducing their heroin use. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) [2],

In 2018 in the United States, about 808,000 people reported using heroin during the past year. In the same year, about 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers without a prescription. Careful planning can assist a person with heroin withdrawal, and this requires professional assistance from experts like addiction specialists and therapists.

Heroin is part of a class of drugs called opioids. Other opioids include some prescription pain relievers, such as codeine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Heroin addiction and overdose deaths have dramatically increased over the last decade. This increase is related to the growing number of people misusing prescription opioid pain relievers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Some people who become addicted to those drugs switch to heroin because it produces similar effects but is cheaper and easier to get. 

How Heroin is Used

Heroin is mixed with water and injected with a needle. It can also be sniffed, smoked, or snorted. People who use heroin sometimes combine it with other drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine (a “speedball”), which can be particularly dangerous and raise the risk of overdose.

Effects Of Heroin Addiction To the Brain

When heroin enters the brain, it attaches to molecules in cells known as opioid receptors. These receptors are located in many areas of the brain and body, especially areas involved in the perception of pain and pleasure, as well as a part of the brain that regulates breathing.

Short-term effects of heroin include a rush of good feelings and clouded thinking. These effects can last for a few hours, and during this time people feel drowsy, and their heart rate and breathing slow down. When the drug wears off, people experience a depressed mood and often crave the drug to regain good feelings.

Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain. Using heroin repeatedly can result in:

  • Tolerance: more of the drug is needed to achieve the same “high”
  • Dependence: the need to continue the use of the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Addiction: a devastating brain disease where, without proper treatment, people have trouble stopping using drugs even when they really want to and even after it causes terrible consequences to their health and other parts of their lives. Because of changes to how the brain functions after repeated drug use, people that are addicted crave the drug just to feel “normal.”

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Addiction

Opioid receptors are located in the brain, the brain stem, down the spinal cord, and in the lungs and intestines. Thus, using heroin can result in a wide variety of physical problems related to breathing and other basic life functions, some of which may be very serious. Here are some ways heroin addiction affects the body:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing skin
  • Heavy feeling arms and legs
  • Feeling sick to the stomach and throwing up
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded thinking
  • A temporary feeling of intense happiness
  • Going “on the nod,” switching back and forth between being conscious and semi-conscious
  • Increased risk of HIV and hepatitis (a liver disease) through shared needles and poor judgment while “high” leads to other risky behaviors. (read more about the link between viral infections and drug use)
A specialized treatment facility with medically-assisted detox is the safest method for quitting heroin and avoiding relapse.
A specialized treatment facility with medically-assisted detox is the safest method for quitting heroin and avoiding relapse.

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When mixed with alcohol, short-term effects can include:

  • Coma—a deep state of unconsciousness
  • Dangerously slowed (or even stopped) breathing that can lead to overdose death

Heroin Drug Abuse Statistics

Death rates from heroin overdoses fell by approximately 7% in 2020. 2019 to 2020. But in the United States, heroin overdoses claimed the lives of almost 13,000 people or more than four deaths for every 100,000 citizens. In comparison to 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving heroin was roughly seven times higher in 2020. Heroin was a factor in over 20% of all opioid deaths.


Roughly 626,000 Americans had a heroin addiction in 2016.

Source: NIDA


When someone uses heroin, they have a 50 to 60 percent chance of developing an addiction.

Source: NIDA


More than 13,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States.

Source: NIDA

Heroin Drug Facts


Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

How do people use heroin?

People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing.

What are the effects of heroin?

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Short-Term Effects

People who use heroin report feeling a “rush” (a surge of pleasure or euphoria). However, there are other common effects, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting

Long-Term Effects

People who use heroin over the long term may develop the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver and kidney disease

Heroin Fast Facts Made Publicly Available by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) for Substance Use Disorder Awareness

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Why Is Heroin So Addictive?

Taking heroin floods your brain with chemicals such as endorphins, dynorphins, and dopamine. The brain naturally releases these hormones in response to pain or after activities like running and eating chocolate. The chemicals produce positive feelings that help us cope with pain and find experiences pleasurable.

After you use heroin, you have far higher concentrations of these chemicals in your brain than is natural. This results in much more intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria than you would normally experience.

Your brain connects these euphoric experiences with using heroin, making you want to take the drug again to experience its effects. These new reward pathways are the result of physical changes in your brain cells. They produce urges that are incredibly strong and difficult to overcome.

If you repeatedly use heroin, your body builds a tolerance to the substance, so you need to take more and more to experience the same euphoric feelings. Over time, you develop a physical dependence on the substance. Your brain begins to rely on heroin to produce hormones rather than creating its own. If you stop taking it, you experience a range of debilitating and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

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Causes And Risk Factors For Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an opioid, and it binds to receptors in the brain to release the chemical dopamine. But, this release is only temporary which leaves some people wanting more of the “good” feeling.

Data from 2011 also showed that an estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids—a broad group of pain-relieving drugs—switch to heroin and about 80 percent of people who used heroin first misused prescription opioids. [3] Moreover, these prescription opioid pain medicines may include OxyContin® and Vicodin®.

The misuse of prescription opioids sometimes begins with legal drugs like painkillers that are prescribed after surgery or some other injury. If you become addicted to these prescribed medications and cannot obtain them anymore, you may pursue illegal drugs like heroin to achieve the same pleasurable feeling. Therefore, anyone who takes opioids can be at risk of developing an opioid use disorder or an addiction to heroin.

In addition, addiction is multifaceted and can happen to anyone. It can include genetic, psychological, and environmental factors. Other risk factors are:

  • Drug availability
  • Drug trafficking patterns
  • Association with drug-abusing peers
  • Beliefs that drug abuse can be tolerated

Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Addiction

Users may inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin, for instance. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing. And then, they typically report feeling a surge of pleasurable sensation—a “rush.”

The short-term effects of Heroin Addiction are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Going “on the nod,” a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious

Nausea, vomiting, and severe itching may also occur. After the initial effects, users usually will be drowsy for several hours. And the mental function is clouded. heart function slows, and breathing is also severely slowed, sometimes enough to be life-threatening. Slowed breathing can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage. [4]

The long-term effects of Heroin Addiction are:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women
  • People who inject drugs such as heroin are at high risk of contracting the HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) virus

Heroin Addiction Withdrawal

The National Institute on Drug Abuse also explained that those who are addicted to heroin and stop using the drug abruptly may have severe heroin withdrawal. Heroin Addiction Treatment produces symptoms—which can begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken— Heroin Withdrawal includes:

  • Restlessness
  • Severe muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps (“cold turkey”)
  • Uncontrollable leg movements (“kicking the habit”)
  • Severe heroin cravings

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What Causes Heroin Addiction Withdrawal to Happen?

All opioids, especially heroin, can become habit-forming. When you build a tolerance to heroin, you need to take more of it to feel high. Eventually, you can become psychologically and physically dependent on the drug.

Chronic heroin use changes the nerve receptors in your brain. They come to depend on opioids to function. If you stop using heroin or reduce the amount you take, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms represent your body’s physical response to the absence of heroin.

Heroin Overdose

Overdose is a dangerous and deadly consequence of heroin use. A large dose of heroin depresses heart rate and breathing to such an extent that a user cannot survive without medical help. Labored breathing, seizures, muscle spasms, weak pulse, coma, and spasms of the gastrointestinal tract are all indicators of an overdose. Without medical attention, heroin overdose could result in death.

Heroin Overdose Signs and Symptoms

There are many signs of an overdose, which occurs when a person ingests too much heroin. The primary indication of an overdose is reduced or stopped breathing. Opioid drugs depress breathing rates, especially in large quantities. Depressed breathing looks like this:

  • Shallow breaths
  • Gasping for air
  • Very pale skin
  • Blue tint to the lips and fingertips

Other symptoms of a heroin addiction overdose can include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Discolored tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Disorientation, delirium, or a changed mental state
  • Constipation
  • Spasms or seizures
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Coma
  • Extreme drowsiness or an inability to stay awake

Because an overdose can be life-threatening, it is extremely important to get medical attention as soon as any of these symptoms appear. Symptoms of an overdose from injected heroin will typically begin about 10 minutes after the individual has taken the dose.

How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System?

When heroin enters the body, it is immediately metabolized. This happens so fast that most of the drug is out of the system within 30 minutes. The half-life of heroin is about three minutes. For instance, if someone injects 20 mg of heroin, then 10 mg is left after three minutes, 5 mg after six minutes, etc. This drug will be completely clear from the body in about 15 minutes for many people. However, some individuals metabolize heroin more slowly. In this case, heroin can stay in the system for thirty minutes or longer. Drug tests can measure heroin in blood, saliva, urine, and hair for different lengths of time.

  1. What are the signs of a Heroin addicts?

    Someone can be a Heroin addict if they show signs such as having pale skin or having a blue tint to their lips and fingertips.

  2. What is a Heroin addict personality like?

    Drug and alcohol users typically exhibit high levels of neuroticism, high levels of openness to new experiences, low levels of agreeableness, and low levels of conscientiousness.

  3. What is a functioning Heroin addict?

    Someone who takes heroin but is nevertheless able to lead a normal life and prevents the drug from permeating every aspect of their existence is said to be functional.

  4. How addictive is Heroin?

    Heroin has a high rate of addiction. Regular heroin users frequently acquire a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher and/or more frequent dosages to get the desired results. When drug use persists and produces problems, such as health issues and an inability to fulfill obligations at a job, school, or family, it is called a substance use disorder (SUD). Addiction is the most severe form of a SUD, which can range in severity from mild to severe.

  5. How long does it take to get addicted to Heroin?

    Because heroin is so highly addictive, addiction can develop extremely fast.

How To Help A Heroin Addict

Although caring for someone who is addicted to heroin is difficult, there are many things that families may do to assist. People can:

  • Find out everything you can about how heroin works.
  • Hold a meeting to discuss drug use.
  • Choose an inpatient heroin treatment program.
  • Obtain pre-authorization from insurance providers before receiving therapy.
  • Speak with providers of heroin addiction therapy.
  • Deliver the patient to the medical facility.
  • Attend therapeutic sessions as necessary.
  • Find out when and where local support groups for heroin addiction meet.
  • Watch out for indications of heroin relapse.

Heroin Addiction Treatment And Detox At We Level Up NJ

Seeking Heroin Treatment Center New Jersey? If you are addicted to drugs such as heroin, your very first step in recovery should be to medical detox in a safe and medically supervised setting. That is why We Level Up is here for you. We Level Up NJ Detox center medically assists patients to clear their systems of addictive substances, such as heroin.

For anyone who suffers from addiction, we know that just the thought of having to stop using can cause severe mental distress. Given that, the medical detox center will help you manage the medical detox process. A comprehensive team prescribing medications can alleviate your withdrawal pains while monitoring your health 24 hours. Assuring both your safety and comfort.

At We Level Up NJ, our thorough approach to rehabilitation supports several levels of care to ensure the best possible outcome for every patient who enters our doors. From an intensive and more supportive atmosphere for those in the early days of recovery to a comfortable residential-style living dynamic upon completion of detox, we are here to help guide you down the safe and results-based path to your sobriety.

Once detox is complete, a new doorway in treatment opens up, which is referred to as a residential level of care. Here, our residential care program slowly and effectively introduces the individual into an atmosphere of therapeutic growth, marked by Master’s level therapists, clinicians, group counselors, psychiatrists, and a community of like-minded individuals with the same aim: to attain sobriety and live a great life.

Some of the many modalities applied and practiced within our residential treatment facility are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • 12-Step Groups
  • Group Therapy
  • Biofeedback
  • Alumni Support
  • Stabilization
  • Holistic Therapy

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We Level Up NJ Heroin Addiction Treatment

Here at We Level Up NJ Addiction Treatment, the needs of each patient are specific and personalized, as we aim to provide comprehensive support for mental health, addiction, and dual diagnosis treatment.

There is a strong link between mental health and heroin abuse. Individuals who struggle with mood disorders like depression and anxiety are more susceptible to developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, often to self-medicate symptoms of their underlying mental health condition. These co-occurring disorders can make each other worse without proper treatment.

To determine the most effective ways to treat polysubstance, it’s crucial to first get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When the Heroin addiction symptoms have been evaluated by a mental health professional, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular type of treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional.

Heroin Detox Treatment in NJ

Because heroin abuse involves using multiple drugs, the first step in treatment is detoxification. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment for Heroin addiction helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide the necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.


Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression. 
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment Centers NJ

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorders and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term polysubstance abuse and a co-occurring mental health condition such as anxiety and depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up NJ can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Treatment and rehabilitation from heroin addiction do not happen successfully overnight, but it is one of many steps towards permanent recovery.
Treatment and rehabilitation from addiction heroin do not happen successfully overnight, but it is one of many steps towards permanent recovery.

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[1] NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

[2] NIH –  https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

[3] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28582659

[4] NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use

Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Surratt HL, Kurtz SP. The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of the Past 50 Years. JAMA Psychiatry. 2014;71(7):821-826. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.366.

Carlson RG, Nahhas RW, Martins SS, Daniulaityte R. Predictors of transition to heroin use among initially non-opioid dependent illicit pharmaceutical opioid users: A natural history study. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2016;160:127-134. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2015.12.026.

Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Kasper ZA. Increased use of heroin as an initiating opioid of abuse. Addict Behav. 2017 Nov;74:63-66. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2017.05.030. Epub 2017 May 23. PubMed PMID: 28582659. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28582659

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Multiple Cause of Death, 1999-2015. CDC WONDER Online Database. https://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10.html. Accessed April 4, 2017.

Li W, Li Q, Zhu J, et al. White matter impairment in chronic heroin dependence: a quantitative DTI study. Brain Res. 2013;1531:58-64. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2013.07.036.

Liu J, Qin W, Yuan K, et al. Interaction between dysfunctional connectivity at rest and heroin cues-induced brain responses in male abstinent heroin-dependent individuals. PloS One. 2011;6(10):e23098. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023098.