Heroin Addiction

After years of decline, heroin abuse is on the rise again in the United States. This rise in heroin addiction is likely because it is getting more difficult to obtain prescription opiates.   About a decade ago, calls for improved pain management for patients resulted in an increased number of prescriptions written for pain killers such as oxycodone and related opioid drugs. Reports began to surface that there was a concomitant rise in dependence as well as ER visits due to overdose.   Doctors have become more circumspect about prescribing opiates for too long a period due to the high risk of addiction in some people.  Ironically, it has become easier at times to obtain illegal heroin than prescription opioids. Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.
Heroin is a well-known, powerful opioid drug made directly from narcotic substances found in opium poppy plants. Heroin produces profound changes in the brain’s chemical environment, and anyone who uses the drug runs a very serious risk for the development of a heroin addiction. Doctors diagnose this type of addiction as one specific form of a larger condition called opioid use disorder.

The Basics

Heroin comes from morphine, another powerful opioid that accumulates naturally in certain parts of the opium poppy. It achieves its effects inside the body and brain by activating locations, called opioid receptors, on the surfaces of certain cells. When these receptors are triggered, a person using the drug experiences a highly intense form of a pleasurable sensation called euphoria. Other predictable reactions to heroin exposure include disruption of the brain’s ability to process pain signals and a reduction in central nervous system activity that results in substantial changes in normal blood pressure levels and breathing rates. Forms of heroin use include IV (intravenous) injection, injection under the skin (known as “skin popping”), direct nasal inhalation and inhalation of smoke or fumes.


Opioids have a well-established ability to produce the long-term changes in day-to-day brain chemistry required for the onset of physical dependence and addiction. Heroin is an especially strong opioid, and therefore presents especially prominent dependence and addiction risks. In addition to having a physical reliance on continued intake, people addicted to the drug are affected by telltale symptoms that include repeated heroin cravings outside of periods of active use, lack of control over the amount or frequency of heroin intake, the appearance of withdrawal-related problems when intake falls below the brain’s established expectations and the establishment of a daily routine that puts a premium on heroin-related matters and deemphasizes or entirely disregards other priorities or obligations. Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.

The opioid use disorder diagnosis was established in May 2013 to account for all people impaired by either an addiction to opioid drugs or medications, or non-addicted abuse of opioid drugs or medications. Before the establishment of this diagnosis, heroin addiction and other forms of opioid addiction were addressed separately from various forms of opioid abuse. Doctors base their diagnosis of opioid use disorder on the presence of a minimum of two symptoms that reflect the impact of problematic opioid intake. While some addicted individuals only meet this minimal requirement, others have more severe forms of addiction reflected by as many as 11 total symptoms. The current guidelines for opioid use disorder ask doctors to specifically designate the severity of their patients’ opioid-related problems.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Because of the dangers associated with uncontrolled heroin use, a primary goal in heroin addiction treatment is to discontinue intake of the drug as quickly as possible. However, a heroin addict who suddenly stops taking the drug can experience intense, highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that could easily derail any attempt at recovery. For this reason, doctors typically provide their patients with medications designed to diminish or eliminate withdrawal’s effects. Two of the medications commonly used for this purpose, methadone and buprenorphine, also belong to the opioid family of substances. However, they’re much less powerful and dangerous than heroin, and can therefore act as opioid replacements during the treatment process. While use of these medications is sometimes temporary, many recovering addicts receive ongoing doses of methadone as a long-term replacement for heroin intake.

Recovering heroin addicts also commonly receive some sort of behavioral therapy designed to change their day-to-day relationship to drug use. One notable example of this type of therapy is called contingency management (CM). Speak Confidentially with a Promises Scottsdale Recovery Advisor at 888-478-0036.