Heroin Abuse & Treatment

With opiate use on the rise, so too is heroin addiction. Heroin is a street drug that comes from the milky substance of the poppy plant.

It may be sold as a fine white powder, but less pure forms can range anywhere from a pink-gray or brown powder to a black, tar-like substance.

The practice of cutting, or mixing, heroin with other drugs is common and may include:

  • Caffeine
  • Starch
  • Painkillers
  • Talcum powder
  • Fentanyl

Heroin can be smoked, snorted or injected; but no matter which way it is used, it is highly addictive.

At Northeast Addictions Treatment Center, located in Quincy MA, we tackle heroin addiction by creating a treatment plan customized to an individual's needs. Click here to contact a treatment specialist today.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Heroin is consumed in a variety of ways, and the following may help you know what to watch for if you suspect a loved one is using.


  • Finding small, plastic bags with an obvious powder residue may be a clue that heroin was purchased.
  • Watch for pipes and aluminum foil (even gum wrappers) or straws with burn marks as well as spoons with black soot or burn marks.
  • Missing shoelaces may be an indication one is using the lace to tie a limb for injection.
  • Needles and syringes that are not for medical use (such as for a diabetic) is a cause for concern.

Of course, any one of these may not be a cause for concern; but there are other negative behavioral and physical changes to also watch for.

Behavioral Changes

Some behaviors change as the addict feels the need to conceal their habit. 

  • They may become distant, paranoid and avoid eye contact.
  • They will spend more time sleeping since heroin is a depressant, and eventually may lose interest in things they once really enjoyed.
  • You may notice slurred speech, decreasing hygiene or hostility.
  • When addiction gets even more out of control, the addict may begin lying and stealing to covertly support their habit.

Physical Symptoms

Some physical symptoms are commonly associated with heroin use. The most recognized physical sign being needle tracks from frequent injections of heroin, often called mainlining.

Tracks are needle marks at injection sites on the body. Tracks may be found on the arm, inner thighs, lower legs and even the feet.

The user may attempt to hide them by wearing shirts with long sleeves in warm weather, or socks or long pants even during hot spells.

Some users snort the powder and will often have a runny or leaky nose. They may appear to have allergies or seem to get colds quite often.

Others smoke heroin and seem to have chronic respiratory problems and coughing, or they may experience shortness of breath for no apparent reason. 

Long-Term Heroin Use Symptoms

Longer term use can lead to other common symptoms and signs of heroin abuse such as:

  • Dry mouth
  • Hallucinations
  • Scabs & bruising
  • Weight loss
  • Pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Constricted pupils
  • Flushed skin
  • Heaviness of the legs and arms

Street Names for Heroin

Heroin addiction is a subculture; therefore, users have a wide variety of nicknames or street names for heroin. This makes it easier to hide when they use, buy or sell heroin.

Knowing some of these street names and jargon can help you identify when a loved one may be on a path to self-harm. The following is a list of some street names used for heroin:

  • Big H
  • H
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Dope
  • Dragon
  • Crystal
  • Hell Dust
  • Smack
  • Black Tar
  • Black Pearl
  • Black Eagle
  • Black Stuff

  • Brown Sugar
  • Brown Crystal
  • Brown Tape
  • Brown Rhine
  • Mexican Brown
  • Mexican Mud
  • Chiva
  • Skag
  • China White
  • Snow
  • Snowball
  • Skunk

When heroin is combined with other street drugs, it will take on their own set of street names, some of which are below:

  • Marijuana mixed with heroin – Atom bomb, Woola or Woo-woo
  • Heroin with Cold medicine – Cheese
  • Heroin with Ecstasy – H Bomb
  • Cocaine mixed with Heroin Goofball, Boy-Girl or He-She
  • Heroin with Crack – Chocolate Rock, Dragon Rock, or Moonrock

Still not sure if a loved one is using? Give us a call and our treatment specialists can help guide you to getting the answers you need.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Because heroin abuse changes personality and alters brain and body chemistry, heroin withdrawal symptoms can be harsh.

Withdrawal symptoms may begin shortly after the last use of heroin, possibly within hours and grow to intensity over the next few days.

Some immediate heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Perspiration
  • Muscle cramps
  • Watery discharge from eyes and nose
  • Diarrhea

More severe withdrawal symptoms occur after long term heroin abuse, such as:

  • Rapid heart rate
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Overall lethargy
  • Muscle spasms
  • Hypertension
  • Impaired breathing
  • Anxiety

Knowing these are symptoms and only temporary may help someone in recovery keep going since there is an end to their pain in sight.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction treatment may begin with drug replacement therapy under the supervision of one of our licensed clinicians.

“Stepping stone drugs” such as methadone or suboxone can help alleviate the severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms. Using this method of detoxification may help reduce discomfort, but recovery will take longer.

Choosing to not use stepping stone drugs is also a viable option. Some prefer this quicker method to avoid the temptation of having another drug to become dependent on.

Since heroin is a fast-acting opioid, it can leave the body quickly so the worst of the physical symptoms may subside over a period of about 7-10 days.

Rapid Detoxification

Rapid detoxification is a controversial method for treatment of heroin addiction and is carried out while patients are under general anesthesia.

Physicians administer medications called opiate blockers to immediately stop the effects of heroin on the system. The entire process lasts less than 10 hours and the patient can leave merely 48 hours later.

Critics of rapid detox say with great promises come great risks. The physical risk may lead to heart attack, aspiration and even death because such rapid detoxification may shock the organs.

But advocates believe it is necessary in today's world where heroin addiction and abuse are rampant, with the rate of new addicts still climbing every year.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment programs are effective in breaking the cycle of addiction.

This is considered the safest method since serious side effects such as respiratory problems, infection from scratching scabs, and even cardiac problems may arise during the initial detoxification stages.

If medications are given, they can be safely monitored in this setting. If no medications are preferred then there can be patient oversight to ensure they rest, take care of their needs and avoid relapse during this time.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is for those who may not need the higher level inpatient treatment clinics, or for those who have social responsibilities they cannot leave behind (such as jobs or children). Intensive Outpatient Programs like ours offer a more flexible schedule for individuals who are in need of one.

Group and individual therapy is vital with this method to help avoid relapse. Luckily most insurance companies will help cover the cost of heroin addiction treatment. To find out what your insurance provider covers, click here to verify your insurance plan today!