Heroin Addiction and Abuse

Whether you decide to indulge in heroin from time to time with friends or you move to the drug after using opioid pain pills, you might not be thinking you could end up with a heroin addiction. Nonetheless, that’s exactly what could happen.

It’s not so hard to get addicted to this drug, yet heroin addiction can create a web of ongoing consequences to your life.

This section of our heroin guide could help you understand whether you or someone you care about has a heroin addiction. If you haven’t quite made it to the addiction phase yet, maybe this section could help you see what’s in store if you continue using heroin and become addicted to it.

By all accounts, it’s not a place where you want to be.

How Heroin Addiction Begins


Just experimenting with heroin can quickly and easily turn into an addiction. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World quotes a teenager, Sam, who became addicted to heroin.

This teen said, “When you first shoot up, you will most likely puke and feel repelled, but soon you’ll try it again. It will cling to you like an obsessed lover. The rush of the hit and the way you’ll want more, as if you were being deprived of air – that’s how it will trap you.”

Starting With Opioid Painkillers

In many people, however, a heroin addiction comes on slower and from a different path than experimentation. There is a pattern of people starting with opioid pain pills, often in a legitimate way by following a prescription and a doctor’s recommendation. They then develop the abuse of or addiction to painkillers, which inevitably leads them to heroin as a replacement for the pills.

This progression happens because doctors limit prescription opioids. These drugs become harder to get while, at the same time, people discover that heroin is a cheaper and easier alternative to obtain.

There are also people who take opioid pain pills with the intention of getting high instead of with the goal of relieving pain. This group could start out taking them to achieve a rush or could end up enjoying the effects of the pills when they take their prescription pills for pain.

When using opioid pills to get high, many people use the pills in a different way than swallowing them, such as snorting or injecting the crushed pills. It’s possible that as opioid pain pill users become tolerant to the pills or look for a different experience, they could move to using heroin.

“Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers,” says the American Society of Addiction Medicine, or ASAM, so you can see that this is the far more travelled path to heroin use compared to experimentation.

The Resulting Heroin Addiction

No matter which path you take to trying heroin – experimentation or transitioning from opioid pills – you can end up addicted to the drug.

Using heroin is a risk factor to addiction. Approximately 23 percent of the people who use heroin end up becoming dependent on the drug, cites ASAM. So a large percentage of people who start using heroin develop an addiction to it. And opioid painkiller abuse and addiction are also risk factors for heroin addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, explains that the group of people who show abuse or dependence of prescription opioids have a risk of developing abuse or dependence of heroin that’s 40 times higher.

Heroin Statistics on Addiction

In 2014, there were 586,000 Americans of the ages of 12 and up with a heroin substance use disorder. That’s far less than the 1.9 million Americans with a substance use disorder of prescription opioid pills, but is a large problem nonetheless. And as we just covered, the large number of people with an opioid pill substance use disorder are at a higher risk of developing a heroin substance use disorder.

If you enter a drug treatment program to address heroin abuse or addiction, you will be part of a large group of people. Out of publicly funded treatment programs in 2008, 14.1 percent of admissions were for heroin, cites the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This only falls below marijuana (17 percent) for admission amounts broken down by different drugs.

The number for heroin treatment admissions is much higher than admissions for other opioids, which make up 5.9 percent of admissions. Together, both types of opioids make up the highest percentage of admissions for drugs at 20 percent.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

The signs of an addiction to heroin are very similar to the signs of an addiction to any other type of addictive substance, with differences in the withdrawal symptoms you could expect.

Abuse and dependence are both part of the recent classification of substance use disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5. Instead of separating abuse and dependence as separate problems, this diagnosis considers them differing degrees of the same problem.

In the case of heroin, we are referring to opioid use disorder. How do you know if you have this disorder, or if someone you know does? You could fit this diagnosis if you have shown two or more of these signs and symptoms within the past year:

  • You needed more heroin to get the same high you had before with less.
  • You had cravings for heroin.
  • You used more heroin or used it for longer than you meant to.
  • You focused a significant amount of your time focusing on heroin, including time getting heroin, using it and getting past its effects.
  • You wanted to cut back or stop using heroin but you didn’t try or weren’t able to stop.
  • You used heroin when its use made another activity more risky.
  • You stopped or cut back on activities you used to engage in.
  • Your heroin use got in the way of your home, school and/or work responsibilities.
  • You kept using heroin even though it continued to cause or worsen problems with other people.
  • You kept using heroin even though you knew it most likely caused or worsened a physical or mental problem you have.
  • You needed to keep taking heroin to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or you experienced withdrawal symptoms when you tried to suddenly cut back or stop using heroin.

There are different levels of substance use disorder. You could have a mild case of opioid use disorder if you fit two or three of the criteria. Your case would be considered moderate if you fit four to five or severe if you fit six to seven.

So if you continue to use heroin, your body could become dependent upon it. When this happens, you face withdrawal symptoms if enough time goes by between heroin uses or if you try to quit. These withdrawal symptoms can come on just a few hours after you use heroin, so they can keep you continuously using it to prevent the symptoms. The withdrawal process can be a barrier to getting help, but we cover more about withdrawal and treatment later in this guide on heroin.

As is the case with any kind of substance use disorder, abuse and addiction with heroin can create or worsen a variety of problems in your life. Not only do you experience health problems, which we went over in the last part of this heroin guide, but you can also face problems with relationships, work or school, finances and other aspects of life. Addiction to any drug, including heroin, makes life more difficult in many ways despite it being something you might turn to with the goal of escaping problems.

Now you know more about how an addiction to heroin begins and what the signs and symptoms of a heroin addiction are.

Heroin can be a difficult addiction to beat but recovery is possible especially with the help of a quality treatment program and a customized treatment plan. As you continue with our guide, you’ll learn more about the problems of heroin, as well as getting through the withdrawal process, finding the right type of treatment and handling relapse.

When you’re done with our guide, we hope you have a much better handle on how heroin is affecting your life – or the life of someone close to you – and how you can overcome it.

If you have any questions on heroin addiction, call Lumiere Healing Centers today at 513-909-2225.


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