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Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of heroin addiction will vary on a person-to-person basis and depend heavily on various factors such as genetic predisposition, co-occurring disorders, and the severity of the addiction.

Heroin addiction has taken the country by storm over the past several decades. Heroin addiction is a chronic brain disease that frequently results in serious – often permanent – interpersonal consequences. Heroin is also one of the most deadly illicit substances on the market and is responsible for thousands of avoidable deaths every year. Unfortunately, those addicted to heroin will continue using the chemical substance compulsively, despite the accumulation of serious consequences. Heroin can be used in various ways, but it is most commonly used intravenously – injected directly into the veins in liquid form.

When this specific substance enters the bloodstream and, ultimately, the brain, it is converted into morphine. Once heroin enters the brain, it attaches to opioid receptors, slowing down the central nervous system and often leading to serious health-related concerns like respiratory depression and shallow breathing. In addition, when heroin is introduced to the brain repeatedly, tolerance will slowly begin to develop. This means that the user will begin taking greater quantities of the drug to experience the same physical results, which leads to an even greater risk of overdose.

Heroin Addiction – Statistics and Signs

From 2010 to 2014, heroin-related deaths more than tripled. Since then, rates of heroin-related overdose have only continued to climb. It was reported that in 2014 alone, there were well over 47,055 drug-related overdose deaths in the United States. Roughly 61 percent of these fatalities involved heroin (or another potent opioid narcotic). During the same year, over 300,000 American citizens aged 12 or over reported using heroin at least one time.

The symptoms of active heroin addiction will vary on a person-to-person basis and depend heavily on various factors such as genetic predisposition, co-occurring disorders, and the severity of the addiction. For example, an individual that uses heroin intravenously and daily is significantly more likely to suffer more severe consequences within a shorter time frame than someone who uses the drug occasionally and nasally (snorts heroin rather than injecting it). Some common symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction include:

  • Short-lived feelings of euphoria
  • Intense shifts in mood
  • Feelings of anxiety or depression
  • Drowsiness/nodding off
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Avoiding friends and family members
  • Lying about heroin use/defensiveness
  • Bruised inner arms (common with intravenous drug use)
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • A general lack of motivation
  • Decreased attention paid to personal hygiene
  • Constricted pupils
  • An inability to focus
  • Slurring words

Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal

Those who are abusing heroin and suddenly cease will experience symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal can result when the drug is no longer readily accessible or when an individual decides to get clean and sober. Many individuals who struggle with heroin addiction will attempt to get clean on their own accord, without the help of medical professionals. Withdrawing at home is rarely successful. Cravings will be extremely intense, and withdrawal symptoms will often be so physically uncomfortable that they lead the individual back to use before the complete detoxification. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are rarely life-threatening and resemble bad flu symptoms- cold sweats, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe muscle aches, cramping in the extremities, runny nose, and insomnia.

Those struggling with heroin addiction must admit themselves to a medical detox facility, where a team of licensed and compassionate professionals will work around the clock to provide quality care. These professionals will work to alleviate cravings and physical symptoms, making each patient as comfortable as possible. For more information on heroin addiction or withdrawal or to learn more about our program, contact us anytime.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heroin DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published December 16, 2022. Accessed January 21, 2023.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose Death Rates. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published January 20, 2022. Accessed January 21, 2023.
  3. Rudd RA. Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm655051e1
  4. O’Donnell FT, Jackson DL. Opioid Use Disorder and Pregnancy. Mo Med. 2017;114(3):181-186.

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