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Medically Reviewed

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

- 13 sections

Medically Verified: January 23, 2024

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.


Finding help for heroin addiction can make the difference between life and death. There are many serious health risks associated with heroin abuse but, once a person is addicted, it’s difficult to stop without treatment. Although drug addiction is a medical disease that can’t be cured, it can be treated with extensive rehabilitation and ongoing care. Treating heroin addiction typically involves medical detox, behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, aftercare programs, and support groups.

The drug is so addictive and so deadly that it is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans every year. After prolonged heroin abuse, the drug chemically changes the brain leading to cravings, risky behaviors, impaired reasoning, and painful withdrawal symptoms. The low cost and vast availability of the drug make it the last resort for people who suffer from opioid use disorder and first abused prescription drugs. Sadly, the longer someone abuses the drug, the stronger their addiction becomes. That’s why it’s so important to seek help for heroin addiction before its too late.

Heroin Addiction

Heroin (Diacetylmorphine) is an illicit opioid that is known by several slang terms such as boy, dope, or smack. The substance is derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance in opium, and is known for its narcotic and pain-relieving effects. The drug directly affects the areas of the brain responsible for pleasure and relaxation, so it produces a euphoric high that people crave.

Although the drug has no medicinal use today, it was originally marketed as a cough medication in the early 1900s. However, by 1912, heroin emerged as a popular recreational drug, and addicts began desperately seeking treatment just two years later.[1] Today, heroin is completely illegal and is classified as a Schedule I substance indicating no medical use and a high potential for drug abuse and addiction. Despite the dangers of the drug, thousands of people abuse it and seek addiction treatment for it every year.

Facts & Statistics

Heroin abuse is a public health crisis and a leading player in the opioid epidemic that continues ravaging the nation.[2][3]

  • In 2018, nearly 15,000 people died from a heroin-related overdose.
  • Between 4-6% of people who abuse prescription opioids ultimately end up abusing heroin.
  • 80% of people who are addicted to heroin were addicted to prescription opioids first.
  • Opioid use disorder increases the risk of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome, HIV, hepatitis C, and other long term health effects.

Signs of Addiction to Heroin

Narcotics like heroin over-stimulate reward systems in the brain which is why the drug is so addictive. When a person becomes addicted to it, they will typically put heroin at the top of their priorities. Similarly, people will continue to get high regardless of any consequences they are facing. Since the drug is so deadly, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction so you can catch it in its early stages. Signs that someone is addicted to heroin include:

  • Constricted pupils and flushed skin
  • “Nodding out” or fading in and out of consciousness when high
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug
  • Using the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about the drug, obtaining it, getting high, and recovering from its effects
  • Weight loss and track marks on arms
  • Mood swings, dishonesty, risky behaviors, and criminal activity
  • Paraphernalia like spoons, foil, and syringes
  • Using the drug even after experiencing consequences

Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected. IV heroin use is by far the most dangerous method of taking the drug because the full dose hits the brain all at once – increasing the risk of overdose. In most cases, people start initially smoking or snorting heroin before they begin injecting it. As their tolerance builds up, injecting the drug becomes more and more appealing for attaining the instantaneous rush.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

Heroin withdrawal is similar to opioid withdrawal as people exhibit flu-like symptoms. The severity of symptoms and duration of withdrawal depends heavily on a variety of factors, including:

  • How long someone has been abusing the drug
  • How much of the drug someone is used to taking
  • Age, weight, and gender
  • Mental health conditions
  • Pre-existing health conditions

Heroin dependence can occur after as little as one week of abusing the drug. Once a person is dependent on the drug, they will experience some degree of withdrawal when they stop taking it.

Withdrawal Timeline

Since heroin is a short-acting opioid, it leaves the bloodstream quickly. As a result, withdrawal symptoms typically begin between 6-12 hours after taking the last dose. You can expect the most severe withdrawal symptoms during days 2-3. However, most symptoms subside after 5-10 days.[4]

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

If someone is addicted to heroin, they may experience any or all of the following symptoms during withdrawal:[4]

  • Anxiety, depression, irritability
  • Goosebumps
  • Cold sweats
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Excessive yawning
  • Over-active tear ducts
  • Body aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Shaking
  • Fever
  • Fast heartbeat and rapid breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Although seizures and hallucinations are rare during heroin withdrawal, detoxification is unpredictable. In addition, these flu-like symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and daunting, so it’s difficult to get sober without medical assistance. Even though heroin withdrawal typically isn’t fatal, people should always seek help from a drug detox near them.

Medically-Assisted Heroin Detox

Getting help from a medical drug detox is the best option for people who are ready to turn their lives around. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) involves the use of FDA-approved medications to help alleviate physical withdrawal symptoms and reduce psychological cravings. The three drugs approved to treat opioid use disorder are buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Numerous studies have proven the efficiency of MAT drugs in people seeking help for heroin addiction. Not only does MAT make the heroin detox process easier, but it is known to help support long-term recovery.

Medications like Suboxone and Subutex are the standard for care when it comes to detoxing from heroin and other opioids. These medications contain small, weak amounts of opioids that bind to opioid receptors in the brain and prevent the body from going into withdrawal. In most cases, people are tapered off of these drugs while they are in an inpatient detox setting. However, some people pursue early recovery while on these medications.[5]

In addition to administering medications, inpatient detox programs offer around-the-clock care and support for people who need help for heroin addiction. Professional detox programs consist of medication-assisted treatment, counseling, behavioral therapy, and support groups. While under this medical supervision, the staff is ready to intervene in the event of a medical complication. This ensures the safety and comfort of patients who are beginning their journey of recovery.

Treatment Programs and Aftercare

Although medication-assisted detox is an important part of rehab, this type of treatment must be accompanied by behavioral therapy, counseling, and aftercare. There are many types of therapies available for treating substance use disorders and they are usually delivered in either inpatient or outpatient programs. Overall, the most important aspect of drug or alcohol rehab is evidence-based therapies that are individualized to meet each patient’s needs.[6]

Inpatient Rehab for Heroin Addiction

Most recovering heroin addicts attend a residential or inpatient rehab program. Inpatient programs require patients to live at the treatment facility while they receive long-term intensive care. This is usually the best option for people with serious substance abuse problems because it eliminates people, places, and things that drive people to get high.

Furthermore, residential programs provide patients with a structured routine, 24/7 support, and an array of behavioral, holistic, and experiential therapies. In addition to therapy, most heroin rehabs offer additional programs for mental health, life skills, exercise, spirituality, and leisure.

Inpatient addiction treatment lasts anywhere from 30 to 90 days, but programs should be tailored to meet each person’s unique needs. Most of these programs begin with detox and end with outpatient programming and aftercare support.

Outpatient Programming

Intensive outpatient programming (IOP) and outpatient programming (OP) are the next levels of care recommended for people seeking help for heroin addiction. IOP and OP are similar in the way the groups are run and types of therapies that are used, except IOP typically requires more hours of treatment and helps ease the transition from inpatient treatment to aftercare.

These groups focus on relapse prevention, expanding coping skills, building relationships, and facilitating support group participation. Outpatient programs help reinforce the skills taught in residential rehab and provide ongoing support. Early recovery isn’t always easy, so it’s important to participate in a continuum of care until your clinician suggests otherwise.

Outpatient programs are usually accompanied by sober living, alumni programs, and 12-step groups. Depending on the person’s individual needs, their outpatient rehab may last anywhere from one to several months.

Aftercare Support

After people in recovery complete their treatment plan, many find it helpful to join a support group. Examples of support groups range from alumni programs and 12-step fellowships like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Heroin Anonymous (HA) to ongoing counseling or alternative recovery groups. Everyone is different and has unique needs, so it’s important to find the support group that is right for you.

Aftercare support provides a way for addicts to relate to and seek help from other people in recovery. They learn from each other’s experiences, offer advice, provide emotional support, and life-long fellowship. Evidence shows that the longer a person actively participates in their recovery by taking advantage of a full continuum of care, the more likely that person is to stay sober.[7]

Find Help for Heroin Addiction Today

If you or a loved one is addicted to heroin, don’t wait any longer. Our heroin detox in Charlotte, North Carolina is here to help. As a family-owned and operated treatment provider, we have no higher priority than ensuring the safety of our patients and their loved ones.

“Our skilled and experienced medical and therapeutic staff are trained to provide care and support for sufferers of substance use disorders as well as their families. This support includes education on the realities of addiction that de-stigmatize this overwhelmingly common disease.”

We’re here to help you with addiction every step of the way. From detox to treatment and aftercare, our team will be by your side and make recommendations based on proven clinical expertise. Contact us today to find help for heroin addiction.