The Facts About Heroin Addiction
Symptoms and Signs
One of the first questions people ask about heroin addiction is “what are the signs and symptoms of the condition?” Those with an addiction, or their loved ones, need to be familiar with these symptoms to better gauge the seriousness of the person’s situation. This will ensure the person can get the help they need.
Common signs and symptoms include:
- Strong drug cravings.
- Poor performance at work or school due to heroin use.
- Spending time and energy obtaining and using heroin.
- Continuing to use despite negative consequences, such as job loss, relationship problems, or legal issues.
- Inability to cut down or control drug use.
- Using more than intended.
- Giving up important activities to use heroin.
- Using heroin in dangerous situations, such as while driving.
- Using despite the development of physical or psychological issues related to drug use.
- Tolerance, or needing to use more of the substance to feel high, or feeling less of an effect with the same dose used before.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you stop using or cut down on your use.1
A person can be diagnosed with a heroin addiction, or opioid use disorder (the clinical term), if they display at least 2 of the above symptoms over the course of a year.1
Many people who have developed patterns of compulsive heroin use have difficulty quitting without professional help. Recovery often begins at a treatment center. At these facilities, the person is able to detoxify from heroin and take part in counseling that addresses the root causes of addiction.
Heroin addiction treatment frequently starts with a detox period.
Detoxification is the process of ridding a substance from the body. Detox programs help users through this often uncomfortable process.
Many inpatient or residential detox programs offer medical detox, meaning that the user is under 24-hour care and supervision and medical professionals are on-hand to assist should any complications arise. Other residential programs provide less intensive medical care, which is known as social detoxification.2
There are also outpatient detox programs. These may take place in an office setting or healthcare or addiction treatment facility and are less supervised. 2
One of the key points to remember about detoxification programs is that while they can help users safely withdraw from substances, it is extremely important to transition into a formal treatment program after the process is complete. In these programs, the user gets the deeper, more comprehensive assistance they need to recover and stay drug-free for the long-term.
Inpatient and Outpatient Programs
There are 2 primary settings for heroin addiction treatment programs: inpatient (or residential) and outpatient.
- Inpatient/residential rehab. In this type of treatment program, the person moves into a facility full time so they may focus solely on their recovery. Many residential programs consist of a formal detox period followed by extensive group and individual counseling and pre-discharge planning for aftercare services. By removing the person from their home environment, residential treatment programs make it possible for the person to see how a safe, sober life will feel.
- Outpatient rehab. Not every person in need of treatment can enter a residential program. For these people, outpatient programs allow some measure of freedom so the person can continue their roles at work, home, or school. Outpatient care has the person attend treatment during the day, but then return home in the evening. These treatment programs are generally less expensive than residential treatment and often to cater to individuals with less severe addiction issues and relatively strong support systems at home.
Peer Support Groups
Twelve-step programs, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Heroin Anonymous, are support groups that tend to be less formal than inpatient or outpatient treatment settings. These groups may or may not be led by a professional. They might also include sharing personal experiences about addiction, finding a sponsor, working the 12 steps, and participating in social activities with others who may have similar experiences and a better understanding of what it is like to struggle with addiction.
Medication-assisted treatment involves the use of medications to manage cravings, minimize withdrawal symptoms, and block the euphoric effects of heroin or other abused opioid drugs. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone are often used to treat opioid dependence and addiction, including addiction to heroin. Methadone and buprenorphine may also be used to help people safely complete withdrawal during a medical detox.3
The use of medication combined with therapy can successfully treat heroin addiction and help those in need achieve successful recovery.3
The Cost of Addiction
In addition to the daily costs of sustaining a drug addiction, there are a number of societal costs as well—specifically, those related to crime, lost productivity, and imprisonment.
In America, addiction costs over $600 billion each year. Treatment can lower these costs. Experts estimate that every dollar put into rehab programs leads to about $4 to $7 in lower rates of crime, criminal justice costs, and theft.4
Additionally, treatment is cheaper than other options, such as imprisonment. For example, one year of methadone treatment costs around $4,700 per person, whereas one year of putting someone in prison costs approximately $24,000 per person.4
The savings are even higher when healthcare is considered.4 For example, approximately 90% of those who inject opioids may contract hepatitis C, up to 60% of users who inject may have HIV, and mortality rates of opioid addiction may be as high as 2%. Suicide is also a serious risk associated with opioid addiction, especially if the user becomes depressed during withdrawal.1
Treatment can also help foster healthier relationships by reducing interpersonal conflict, as well as increase productivity in the workplace. It also reduces the number of accidents, overdoses, and fatalities.4
If you or someone you love is battling addiction, please find a treatment program that fits your needs so that you can overcome your struggles and have a successful recovery.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment: A Treatment Improvement Protocol.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Medication and Counseling Treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).