Heroin is a highly addictive drug. As a derivative of morphine, it is a member of the opiate family. Injection is the most popular means of using heroin. Users who inject the substance regularly over a long period of time are at risk for a number of other negative health effects. The most urgent health problems for injectors are HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. It should be noted that heroin can also be smoked or snorted.

Heroin addiction is a devastating problem for addicts, their families and society as a whole. Heroin addicts crave the drug because of the initial feeling of euphoria that accompanies its use. The short-lived positive feelings are followed by alternating states of wakefulness and drowsiness that may last several hours. The initial rush is often accompanied by a warm flush in the skin, dry mouth and a heavy feeling in the limbs. Additionally nausea, vomiting, and severe itching can occur.

Many heroin users suffer from substance induced depression.  During heroin withdrawal individuals usually experience depression if the drug is suddenly discontinued.  In conjunction with other withdrawal symptoms depression caused by heroin is difficult to treat because of the drugs addictiveness.  Individuals continue to use the substance to relive depressive and withdraw symptoms.  Often they do not realize that the continued use has caused a cycle of abuse.  Most users often just believe the substance is making them "feel good". In addition, the cycle has caused habitual behavior that individuals demonstrate to help them control the "urge" of use and keep withdrawal symptoms at bay.

Treatment for heroin addiction often includes behavioral therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatment to reduce withdrawal symptoms. The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that methadone (a synthetic opiate) and buprenorphine have proven success in treating heroin addiction.  However, most research states that behavioral therapy and pharmaceutical treatment together yield stronger results.

If you or a loved one is addicted to heroin:

  • Seek medical treatment. Due to withdrawal and side effects from use, it might be beneficial to get a medical evaluation. Be sure to seek out someone who has experience with addictive disorders and pharmaceutical treatment as appropriate. 
  • Get support from a mental health care professional that specializes in treatment of addictive disorders.  The right treatment and support can make a significant difference in recovery. 
  • Be sure that you look for treatment that is best for you and your sobriety.  Some do well on an outpatient basis while others need inpatient treatment.  Some individuals think that they have failed at becoming sober if they receive inpatient treatment.  It is important to understand that it is not failure to need added support. It is likely best for your recovery to do what will assist your treatment the most.
  • Attending Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings would likely be beneficial and support any other treatment approaches.