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Heroin Addiction: Signs, Effects and Treatment

Heroin addiction is a progressive, chronic disease characterized by physiological changes and drug cravings without regard for their negative effects. Heroin is an opioid analgesic made from the opium plant and synthesized. Street names are tar, brown, smack, or black tar and it has unfortunately gained traction as a recreational drug. People using heroin for the first time report a dash of pleasure, joy, and wellbeing. As expected, the user may want more, so they continue to experience these feelings, leading to tolerance, withdrawal, and the cycle of addiction that comes with chasing the highs and trying to avoid the lows. 

If you or someone you know is looking for heroin detox in Richmond to treat their addiction, The McShin Foundation has partnered with leading doctors around Henrico, Richmond, Hanover, and Chesterfield to provide you quality medical care. 

What Causes Heroin Addiction?

While there is no single proven cause of heroin addiction, the factors discussed below play significant roles in the development of addiction;


Genetics has no say over whether you start using heroin or not, but they may determine if you are predisposed to using addictive substances to the point of experiencing negative effects. People whose first-degree relatives or family members have addiction disorders are at a higher risk of developing an addiction themselves.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as friends, attitudes of one’s peers, and family beliefs can influence your choice to start using a substance like heroin. For instance, if drug use was used to escape negative emotions in your household growing up, you may be more desensitized to substance use than others.

Brain Chemistry

Continued use of a drug such as heroin changes your brain’s perception of pleasure and causes physical changes to your brain’s nerve cells. Heroin addiction disrupts communication, causing you to use more of the substance to compensate for the missing neurotransmitters.

Psychological Health

If you are struggling with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness, you may feel tempted to self-medicate with recreational drugs such as heroin.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

While there are several similar signs and symptoms for most, if not all, heroin addicts, your signs may vary based on the amount of substance used, your genetic makeup, dependency on the substance, and frequency of use. Common signs and symptoms of heroin addiction include;

  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Hallucinations and disorientation
  • Paranoia
  • Disregard for personal hygiene
  • Possession of glass pipes, missing shoelaces, needles, and syringes, or burned spoons
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • A decline in academic or career performance
  • Frequent shortness of breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Bouts of hyperactivity followed by utter exhaustion

Effects of Heroin Addiction

Like any other drug or abused substance, heroin has short-term and long-term effects, all of which are determined by the frequency of use. They include;

Short-term effects

  • Itchy skin
  • Being “on the nod” – refers to drifting in and out of drowsiness, especially during conversations
  • Arms and legs feeling heavy
  • Euphoria
  • Frequent vomiting and stomach upsets
  • Flushed skin
  • A dry mouth

Long-term effects

  • Insomnia
  • Mental disorders
  • Skin infections like cellulitis and abscesses
  • Collapsed veins
  • Lung illnesses like tuberculosis and pneumonia
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Miscarriage and menstrual problems in women
  • A higher risk of contracting Hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Treatment Options

Heroin addiction develops both physically and psychologically. So, you can expect to experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. There are two different options for heroin addiction treatment that address both symptom types while taking into account the patient’s needs;

  • Inpatient, Residential Care, and Recovery Community Organizations

Inpatient heroin addiction treatment is comprehensive care and support, including psychological support, medical care for the more physical symptoms, and a drug-free and safe environment where you can nurture yourself into sobriety. This is a higher level of care and aims to help the individual by coupling medical care in house or with partners and combining them with housing and therapy.  

You can expect medication-assisted treatment such as suboxone combined with family therapy and intensive treatment, all of which are proven to reduce the risk of reoccurrence of use.

  • Outpatient Treatment

If you can maintain a drug-free environment without supervision, outpatient heroin addiction treatment may be a suitable option.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT teaches the patient to recognize situations, thoughts, and moods that trigger drug cravings. Your therapist will teach you how to avoid these triggers by replacing negative feelings and thoughts with p[ositive ones that reinforce your choice to stay clean.

Contingency Management Therapy

This therapy involves offering patients incentives to stay clean such as privileges and vouchers for goods or services.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

DBT aims to control substance abuse and the behaviors that cause it and to promote healthy behaviors and relationships that curb using.

Individual and Group Therapy

Counseling therapy, whether group or individual, is essential in addiction treatment. However, group therapy is most encouraged because you get the support and challenge of peers going through addiction recovery just like you.

If you have mental conditions such as bipolar disorder or depression, individual therapy may be more accommodating. This is mainly because you may need separate treatment to address your mental health.


Withdrawal from Heroin Addiction

The frequent use of heroin is bound to elicit a high tolerance in your body. While a high tolerance doesn’t negate heroin’s negative effects, it prompts you to use more substances to attain the same level of high. Once your body becomes dependent on heroin, you may experience the following withdrawal symptoms when you start to quit;

  • Cold flashes
  • Chills and jitters
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Drug cravings
  • Hypertension
  • Runny nose and tearing

Whatever may have led you to start using heroin in the first place, we are certain you did not sign up for the negative effects it has on your social, financial, and work-life. Want to get your life back on track with a heroin addiction treatment option that complements your lifestyle? Reach out to us at Mcshin Foundation for more info.

Mcshin Foundation, 

2300 Dumbarton Road Richmond VA 23228, 



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