Heroin Addiction | Effects, Signs, Withdrawal, & Treatment

In 2016, nearly 2,000 people died of an opioid overdose in Massachusetts. 85% of those people were found to have heroin, fentanyl or both in their blood. Heroin use is still prominent in Massachusetts. If you or someone you know is using, it's time to get help.

Heroin is an opiate made from the opium poppy plant. You can find it as a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance (black tar heroin). A highly addictive drug, heroin was involved in over 14,000 overdose deaths in 2019.

But there is hope for people who struggle with heroin abuse and addiction. Substance abuse treatment programs—such as those offered by Northeast Addictions Treatment Center—can help you or a loved one heal from the devastating effects of heroin.

Effects Of Heroin

When you use heroin, it activates opioid receptors throughout your body that increases the dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is a hormone that makes you feel pleasure, which reinforces the use of heroin.

As a central nervous system depressant, heroin slows down your breathing and heart rate, which can ease anxiety and make you feel relaxed. But heroin can cause a lot of short-term and long-term adverse effects as well.

Short-Term Effects

Short-term effects of heroin include:

  • flushing
  • dry mouth
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • itching
  • foggy thinking
  • heaviness in limbs

A prolonged period of heroin use can damage your physical and mental health.

Long-Term Effects

Some long-term effects of heroin are:

  • liver disease
  • kidney disease
  • pneumonia, tuberculosis, or other lung problems
  • clogged blood vessels from additives
  • constipation
  • stomach cramps
  • changes in menstrual cycle (women)
  • sexual dysfunction (men)
  • insomnia
  • mental disorders (like depression)
  • impaired decision-making skills
  • lack of behavioral control

Different methods of heroin abuse come with additional risk factors. If you snort heroin, it can damage or destroy your nasal tissue, ruining your senses of smell and taste. Heroin injection can lead to collapsed veins, abscesses (swollen, pus-filled tissue), and heart infection (endocarditis).

Under the influence of heroin, you may not have the best judgment. You’re more likely to engage in risky behavior such as unprotected sex or sharing needles. Using dirty heroin paraphernalia, such as needles, can spread infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C.

Signs Of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction can take over your life. When you’re in it, it’s hard to hide. But if a loved one is struggling with addiction, it may take some time for you to pick up on it. Knowing the signs can help.

Signs of heroin addiction include:

  • distancing from family and friends
  • financial issues from buying heroin
  • borrowing or stealing money to pay for drugs
  • losing interest in things you once loved
  • spending a lot of time getting, using, and recovering from heroin
  • needing heroin to get through the day
  • often seeming sedated

People who abuse heroin heavily may go “on the nod,” a state in which they drift between consciousness and semi-consciousness.

Heroin Overdose

Another sign of addiction is heroin overdose, which may be indicated by:

  • blue skin or nails
  • slowed or stopped breathing
  • loss of consciousness or coma

A heroin overdose can be deadly. If your friend or family member overdoses on heroin, it’s possible that they’re addicted to the drug.

They may also have accidentally come across heroin laced with fentanyl (a highly potent opioid). Either way, heroin overdose is a cause for concern.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

As an opioid, heroin causes physical dependence as well as a mental addiction. If you use it regularly then suddenly stop, you’ll have withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can be dangerous.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms may be:

  • severe cravings
  • bone pain
  • muscle aches
  • sweating
  • sleep disturbances
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • uncontrollable leg movements
  • goosebumps and cold flashes
  • anxiety
  • agitation

Heroin withdrawal typically starts within 24 hours of your last dose. Withdrawal symptoms are likely to be most intense in the first three days, gradually subsiding over a week or so. Some mental health symptoms, such as depression and anxiety, may linger for months.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction can affect all areas of your life, so a treatment program should be comprehensive. You need to heal from substance use disorder both mentally and physically.

Treatment may begin with detox to rid your body of drugs before therapy begins. Once you’re safely through the withdrawal process, you can engage in a combination of therapies that target your unique needs.

Some heroin addiction treatment options are:

  • contingency management (rewarding sobriety with cash or vouchers)
  • one-on-one counseling
  • group therapy
  • support groups
  • medical care
  • yoga
  • exercise
  • meditation
  • recreation
  • nutritional support

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is effective for some people with heroin addiction. In MAT, you receive a medication that reduces opioid cravings. Fewer cravings mean you can focus on therapy sessions rather than thinking about how much you want to use heroin.

MAT medications for heroin include methadone, Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone), and Vivitrol (naltrexone). Some substance abuse treatment centers only offer one option, while others may prescribe a medication that fits best in your treatment plan.

To learn more about heroin abuse and addiction treatment options, reach out to a behavioral health specialist at Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today.


Can I afford heroin addiction treatment?

Often times, your health insurance plan can cover a majority of the cost of your treatment from heroin addiction. Not sure where to start? We can help verify your insurance plan and point you in the right direction, even if it’s not with us.

Can I force a loved one to go to rehab for heroin abuse?

If you live in the state of Massachusetts, there is a law that passed, known as Section 35. Under this law, it “allows a qualified person to request a court order requiring someone to be civilly committed and treated involuntarily for an alcohol or substance use disorder”.

How can I stage an intervention for heroin addiction?

If you have tried talking to your loved one about their issue with heroin and still can’t get them into treatment, give us a call. We can talk you through the steps needed to hold an intervention and can even send a certified interventionist to help assist you during this process. There is some planning that goes into place in order to conduct a successful intervention.

How do I talk to a loved one about heroin addiction?

Talking to a loved one about heroin addiction treatment can be tough. It’s important to go about it in a healthy way, without them feeling judged or pressured. Here are some tips on talking to a loved one about addiction treatment.

What does heroin treatment look like?

Treatment for heroin abuse often comes in multiple stages. Typically, treatment consists of detox, inpatient/residential treatment and/or intensive outpatient treatment. This process usually takes on average 90 days. An individualized plan will be made for each patient by their clinician and therapist.

Ready to make a change? Talk to a specialist now.