Futures Recovery Healthcare

Heroin Addiction & Risks


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Heroin is one of the most widely used substances in the United States. It has powerful effects making it incredibly dangerous. Heroin is used to relieve pain and to achieve a state of euphoria. Heroin turns into morphine once it enters the blood-brain barrier and influences areas which process pain and pleasure by activating the opioid receptors.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opiate class drug made from morphine.

Heroin comes with a host of dangerous side effects. Some of the more immediate effects of heroin may include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Feelings of heaviness in the hands and feet
  • Clouded cognitive functioning
  • Oscillation between consciousness and semi-consciousness

Some of the more long-term health effects of heroin use include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including various types of pneumonia

Why is Heroin so Addictive?

One of the most prescient dangers of heroin lies in its addictive qualities. The body builds a tolerance to heroin after continued use, making it more difficult to achieve the desired effects from heroin use.

Heroin addiction is a growing epidemic in the United States. Heroin use has increased in the US among both men and women in most age categories, and at every income level. Heroin use has even increased among certain demographics, such as the privately insured and people with relatively higher incomes, which have historically shown low heroin use rates.

The rate of heroin overdoses and deaths caused by these overdoses have also risen. From 2002 to 2013, deaths from heroin overdose nearly quadrupled in the United States. The dramatic increase of heroin use demonstrates the need for effective heroin addiction treatment and recovery programs.

Heroin Misuse Treatment & Detox

Detoxification is usually the first step in the recovery process. Detox gradually purges heroin and other toxic chemicals from the body, which allows the individual the ability to adapt to a heroin-free lifestyle in a way that mitigates withdrawal symptoms. Once the presence of heroin is completely eliminated, the client can receive continued treatment and begin the development of healthy habits in order to abstain from heroin use in the future.

It’s important for heroin detoxification to be medically supervised since it is a delicate process. Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and dangerous, causing unhealthy reactions in the body and increasing the chances of relapse. However, in an inpatient program, medical professionals can monitor detoxification, and with the teamwork of clinical professionals, can help ensure that treatment is a healthy and empowering experience that equips the client for a life of recovery.

Medication in Heroin Addiction Treatment

One treatment option for heroin addiction involves the use of medication to help the body become free from heroin while avoiding the withdrawal symptoms. The medications used for the treatment of heroin addiction activate the same opioid receptors as heroin, but are far less likely to produce the harmful effects which lead to addiction.

These medications generally fall into three categories: agonists, partial agonists, and antagonists. Agonists activate opioid receptors, partial agonists activate opioid receptors, but produce a smaller response than agonists, and antagonists block the opioid receptor and interfere with the rewarding effects of opioids.

Therapeutic Treatment Options

There are different forms of therapy available to help overcome heroin addiction. Some of the most common therapies include:

  • Behavioral: Behavioral therapy helps a person cultivate healthy expectations and behaviors. Behavioral therapy equips clients with the ability to handle life’s complications without resorting to drug misuse. There are many types of behavioral therapy, including:
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on the relationship between a person’s cognitive life and actions. It analyzes how someone’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions influence their behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy primarily addresses how to overcome current obstacles in recovery and how to develop healthy patterns of thought and behavior.
    • System Desensitization: System desensitization utilizes the practice of classical conditioning in order to condition particular responses to stimuli. Clients who undergo this behavioral therapy will learn how to manage their bodily and psychological response to threatening objects and difficult situations.
    • Aversion therapy: Aversion therapy is a popular form of behavioral therapy when dealing with substance use disorder. In the case of heroin, aversion therapy teaches the client to associate heroin with an unpleasant memory, sensation, experience or emotion. By developing a negative response to heroin, the client is better equipped to abstain from heroin and avoid relapse.
  • Contingency Management: Contingency management therapy is a rewards-based approach to encouraging heroin abstinence. Utilizing contingency management principles, this therapy provides tangible rewards to clients in response to healthy, heroin-free choices. The rewards can take on many forms, including vouchers and cash. Contingency management therapy has proven to be effective in encouraging effective, drug-free behavior.

Residential vs. Outpatient Treatment

Since every person is different, it is important to understand all of the options available for heroin addiction treatment.

Residential Inpatient: Residential inpatient treatment incorporates medical supervision, a healthy environment, activities for both groups and individuals, and other forms of therapy. Clients temporarily live in a facility that is designed to help people recover from heroin addiction. Private inpatient treatment takes place in a controlled, 24-hour setting so that it can best address the plethora of factors that are involved in heroin use, such as medical, emotional, relational, physical and mental.

Outpatient/Extended Care: Outpatient/extended care often takes place after inpatient therapy and helps the client adapt to the everyday struggles of recovery after completing a treatment program. Outpatient services help clients recovering from heroin addiction through programs that develop skills, build a supportive network, help clients identify and achieve goals, evaluate progress with a designated case manager, and address the daily struggles involved in relapse prevention.

Preventing A Heroin Relapse

Relapse prevention is vital to recovery, but it is not easy. Research has shown that the heroin relapse rate can be as high as 91%. Needless to say, avoiding relapse requires the utmost dedication and perseverance.

Here are some helpful tips for cultivating effective relapse prevention:

  • Stay in treatment for as long as necessary
  • Never stop taking prescribed medication
  • Continue to attend counseling and group meetings
  • Look for new hobbies and friend groups
  • Assess and seek treatment for any underlying mental health issues
  • Avoid harmful relationships and tempting situations
  • Exercise regularly
  • Engage your mind through reading and/or writing
  • Set attainable goals
  • Continually reward yourself for your progress

Getting Help

Struggling with heroin addiction can lead to feelings of hopelessness and isolation, but there are many resources available for support. Comprehensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs are available to people struggling with substance use disorder.

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, contact us at Futures to learn about our inpatient addiction treatment plans, the innovative tools we use and the ongoing support that we provide for a healthy life of recovery.


Our team is here to guide you through your path to recovery.

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(866) 351-7588
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