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Brown Heroin Addiction

Brown heroin is one of the 3 forms of heroin commonly found in the U.S. It is usually smoked, but it can also be injected.

Like all heroin varieties, the drug is very addictive, and signs of an addiction can include increased tolerance, withdrawal, poor hygiene, and continued use despite negative consequences.

Treatment for a heroin addiction includes detox, therapy, and aftercare, and may also involve the use of medications.

What Is Brown Heroin?

Brown heroin is a coarse, powdered form of heroin with poor water solubility.1 Much of it comes from Mexico, and it is ordinarily found in heroin markets west of the Mississippi River.2

Brown heroin is a base, which means that it can be smoked but must be mixed with an acid—such as ascorbic acid (vitamin C)—and heated and dissolved in water to inject. White powder heroin, on the other hand, is known as a heroin salt that dissolves easily in water and can be snorted or injected. Black tar heroin is also usually a heroin salt and can be smoked or injected.3

All forms of heroin are regularly “cut” with other substances such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk. If injected, these substances can clog tiny blood vessels that lead to the lungs, heart, brain, liver, or kidneys—sometimes causing permanent damage. Injection also increases the risk of contracting infections such as hepatitis and HIV.4

How Is It Used?

Most people smoke brown heroin by putting it on aluminum foil, heating the foil until the drug vaporizes, then inhaling the vapors through a straw or tube. This method is known as “chasing the dragon.” 3

While smoking the drug avoids the risk of infections introduced by sharing needles, it doesn’t reduce the risk of becoming addicted. And it can bring on asthma attacks for some users.3

Beyond the risk of blood-borne infections from injecting brown heroin, some studies have found soft tissue infections related to subcutaneous use, or “skin popping.” 1 This method of use can also lead to cellulitis, abscesses, and scarring.5

Is It Addictive?

Like all forms of heroin, brown heroin is highly addictive.4

Signs of chronic heroin abuse and addiction include:4,6

  • Isolating
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Mood swings.
  • Changes in appetite.
  • Unusual sleep schedule.
  • Tolerance, or needing higher and higher doses to get the desired effect.
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as bone pain, goose bumps, diarrhea, and cravings when someone stops using.
  • Continuing to use despite negative consequences to health and personal/professional life.

An addiction can seriously damage a person’s health and well-being. Long-term effects of using brown heroin can include the following, which can vary based on how someone uses the drug:4

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins.
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves.
  • Constipation
  • Liver and kidney disease.
  • Lung complications, such as pneumonia.
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction (men).
  • Irregular menstrual cycles (women).

Treatment for Brown Heroin Addiction

Recovery from addiction to brown heroin or any opioid drug involves dealing with the physical and psychological dependence on the drug. An effective way to do this is to enter a comprehensive drug rehab program that features medical detox, counseling, and aftercare planning for continued recovery work beyond the initial rehab stay.

  • The first step of rehabilitation is detox, which is a process during which the person’s body is allowed to process any remaining heroin of out their system. The safest way to complete detox is through a medically supervised program, where doctors and nurses can monitor the person for complications and prescribe medications to make the process more comfortable and decrease the risk of relapse.
  • Addiction counseling. Individual, group, and family counseling help the person work through any issues that may have led to the addiction and could trigger relapse in the future, such as trauma or mental health disorders. They also help the person build a support network, repair personal relationships, and learn how to manage cravings.
  • In treatment, a person may be prescribed medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone. Methadone and buprenorphine help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while naltrexone blocks the effects of heroin.4 Opioid agonist drugs like methadone and buprenorphine can be used during detox or afterward to help prevent relapse and control any ongoing urges to use. Naltrexone may be started after the detox period ends to further discourage relapse and continued heroin use.
  • Aftercare options such as Narcotics Anonymous or Heroin Anonymous meetings, follow-up counseling, and sober living all help the person ease back into their daily lives—while helping them put the lessons learned in heroin rehab into practice. Aftercare provides support and accountability during the challenging weeks and months following professional treatment.

All of these treatment elements are critical in the recovery process. Heroin is a powerfully addictive drug, and a person recovering from addiction needs the guidance of professionals and the love and support of family and friends, who can educate themselves about the drug in order to better understand what their loved one is going through.

If you’re ready to start your rehab search, you can use the directory on this site to begin looking for programs.

Let’s verify your coverage for treatment at an American Addiction Centers location. Your information is always confidential.


[1]. Ciccarone, D. (2009). Heroin in brown, black and white: Structural factors and medical consequences in the US heroin market. International Journal of Drug Policy, 20(3), 277-282.

[2]. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017). 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment.

[3]. Harm Reduction Coalition. (2001). H Is for Heroin.

[4]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Heroin.

[5]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association Publishing.

[6]. State of New Jersey Facing Addiction Taskforce. About Addiction and Know the Signs.

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