Overview of Heroin Addiction


What is Heroin?

Heroin originates from specific varieties of the poppy plant. The poppies produce morphine, which is processed to make heroin, a highly addictive and illegal drug. Different forms of heroin originate from different geographic locations. 

Pure heroin—not cut with sugars, starch, powdered milk or other substances—comes from South America or Southeast Asia and the United States east of the Mississippi River. Heroin that is unadulterated or minimally mixed with other substances is smoked or snorted and appeals to those who don’t want to use needles.

Black tar heroin is similar in texture to roofing tar. This type of heroin is found in Mexico and areas of the United States west of the Mississippi River. Black tar heroin has more impurities because it is produced through a simple processing methods. Users of black tar heroin usually inject it in their veins, muscles or skin. 

Opioid Use Disorder and Heroin Use

Opioids are a type of drug that includes oxycodone, fentanyl, codeine, morphine and others. Heroin is also considered an opioid. Prescription opioids have similar effects as heroin. Some of the effects of opioids are:

  • Euphoria
  • Warmth spreading over the body
  • Heavy feeling in the hands and feet
  • Feeling sleepy for a prolonged period
  • Slowed mental function, heart function or breathing

 People who have a heroin addiction might try to obtain a prescription for an opioid. Doctors, predominantly general practitioners (GP), find themselves in a predicament of identifying those with a heroin addiction versus those seeking relief from pain. The article Overdose in Young People Using Heroin: Associations With Mental Health, Prescription Drug Use, and Personal Circumstances states: 

GPs have difficulty identifying and managing both people who misuse drugs and those with mental health disorders. These difficulties are compounded when drug users attend GPs to obtain prescription drugs to augment, supplement, or substitute for illegal drugs.

Heroin addiction can occur because of the resemblance to the effects of heroin and prescription opioids. People can switch to heroin use because the cost of prescription opioids are often higher. 

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction can develop over time. The urge to use or dependence on the drug sometimes materializes after several uses. Once the signs begin to appear, it is too late to quit because of the addictive nature of heroin. How does someone know they have an addiction? If they can identify one or more of the following signs or symptoms of heroin dependence, they are at risk of addiction:

  • A persistent cough
  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Euphoria
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Weight loss
  • Needle marks

Mental health disorders brought on by heroin addiction can also already be present in a person. While some people use heroin to avoid, mask or control their mental health disorder, they can instead increase their risk of harmful side effects.

Heroin Use and Mental Health Disorders

Heroin users can have mental health disorders connected with their addiction. Mental health disorders can increase with the use of heroin, as well. Some mental health disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive behavior, anxiety and various phobias are associated with heroin use, according to the research article, Comparative Evaluation of Psychiatric Disorders in Opium and Heroin Dependent Patients

People who use heroin to escape from feelings like depression and anxiety risk the harmful effects of combining medications prescribed to alleviate chemical imbalances in the brain. In the article, Overdose in Young People Using Heroin: Associations With Mental Health, Prescription Drug Use, and Personal Circumstances, researchers revealed:

  • Young people using heroin reported high rates of feelings of hopelessness, depression, antisocial behavior, self-harm and diagnosed mental illness.
  • The relationship between overdose and antidepressants is less obvious. The effect found was entirely related to tricyclic antidepressants. 

The relation between depression, antidepressants and heroin is casual, but the potentially deadly combination of heroin and antidepressants remains problematic for GPs and mental health professionals. Hope for recovery from heroin addiction is not wasted. Treatment centers equipped with trained therapists can help a person stop using heroin.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Overcoming heroin addiction is best done under the supervision of trained medical staff. Detoxification from heroin includes decreasing the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. Suboxone or Buprenorphine are often used to help a person with withdrawal symptoms. A thorough pre-treatment assessment by a doctor and a therapist will help determine which medication will work best for the individual. 

When a person enters a treatment program, doctors, social workers, therapists and others will assess their physical and mental state. Then they will talk with a substance dependency counselor to discuss a treatment plan tailored to their needs. Comprehensive treatment is essential for recovery. Treatment centers that offer cognitive behavioral groups, individual psychotherapy and holistic therapies help a person connect with their minds, bodies and spirits. Incorporating activities like yoga, meditation or artistic endeavors build healthy habits. The combination of behavioral groups, psychotherapy and holistic activities teaches a person the healthy coping mechanisms that lead to long-term recovery.


Heroin is highly addictive and but treatable. Casa Palmera provides comprehensive substance addiction treatment to help those in need. We have doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists desiccated to aiding a person through their recovery process. If you think you are addicted to heroin or opioids and want more information, call (877) 384-0342.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.