Heroin is an opioid drug synthesized from morphine — a naturally occurring substance derived from the Asian opium poppy plant’s seed pod. It is also referred to as diamorphine base, diamorphine hydrochloride, or black tar. As with other opiates, such as prescription painkillers, heroin has an extremely addictive quality. When consumed, it stimulates and mimics the brain’s natural processes and chemicals for producing pleasure and reducing pain (i.e., the brain’s pleasure center and opioid receptors, as well as endorphins and dopamine). This simulated rewarding process affects individuals’ cognitive processes and how they think and feel about pain and pleasure, which adds a complicated layer to the likelihood of developing a heroin addiction.

Heroin is an illegal, non-prescription opioid or street drug that can be injected, smoked, used as a suppository, or swallowed. It can depress the central nervous system and produce several short-term effects, such as euphoria, sedation, reduced pain, decreased anxiety, breathing complications, and nausea. There are also multiple potential physical effects associated with opiate and heroin addiction, including HIV/AIDS, bacterial infections, viral infections, skin infections, collapsed veins, lung infections, and death from overdose. The Drug Enforcement Administration places heroin on the list of Schedule I drugs, indicating this drug has a high potential for abuse and dependence.

Chronic heroin use results in the body producing an increasing amount of opiate receptors to meet the needs of the flood of opiates in the system, at which point the body ceases its natural production of pleasure-giving and pain-reducing chemicals. This is the point at which an individual is physically dependent on the drug, as the body can no longer function at a normal level without it. This dependence is among a wide range of severe heroin addiction symptoms that lead to painful withdrawals. During this time, the body begins to figure out how to survive without the increased presence of opioids to which it has become accustomed.

The brain’s reaction to stopping the use of opiates is immediate. As with most opioid withdrawal symptoms, heroin withdrawal symptoms begin anywhere from 48-72 hours after an individual stops using heroin and can last for 1-2 weeks. Many factors dictate the severity of withdrawal symptoms, including how frequently the patient abused heroin and the length of their dependence on the drug.

The following comprises common psychological withdrawal symptoms from opiate addiction.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood Swings
  • Clouded Thinking
  • Impulsivity
  • Psychosis
  • Muscle


The following includes common physical heroin withdrawal symptoms.

  • Muscle, Bone, Or Joint Pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Involuntary Leg Movement
  • Restlessness
  • Abdominal Pain/Cramps

For many patients, heroin use leads to addiction, a form of substance use disorder. The effects of heroin addiction and withdrawal are intense. While a patient who has taken opioids for several days or weeks may be able to quit using through sheer willpower alone, the safest way to stop heroin use is by tapering off the drug, using gradually smaller amounts over an extended period.

However, individuals addicted to heroin for any amount of time may struggle to quit using it by themselves. While tapering off from heroin can suppress some withdrawal symptoms, a person with a high tolerance and significant cravings for the drug may find it impossible to taper off heroin. Additionally, for those with substance use disorders, such as heroin addiction, their sense of control and decision-making power is held hostage by their addiction.

Those dependent on heroin, and other opioids, require assistance from addiction specialists and doctors, who often recommend a two-pronged treatment plan comprising buprenorphine medication as well as a form of counseling or therapy. As part of a multi-pronged approach to heroin addiction treatment, the use of SUBOXONE, a prescription medicine used to treat patients who are addicted to opioid drugs, administered by buprenorphine doctors offer positive outcomes to patients committed to recovering from their addiction.

Today’s medical professionals consider addiction to be a chronic disease that affects brain function. At Lake Substance Abuse Solutions, we treat substance use disorder just as we treat any other type of medical condition. Individuals with heroin addiction, or a dependence on other drugs or alcohol, are affected by a chronic disease. In many cases, substance use and addiction are genetic and become passed down from parents to their children. Additionally, behavioral triggers within a patient’s life, such as those coming from friends or partners, can likewise exacerbate addiction. Heroin addiction can be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, including the following.

  • Misuse of prescription opioids, such as morphine or oxycodone
  • Family history of substance use disorders or addiction
  • Experimentation or personal experience with drug use
  • History of mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety
  • Thrill-seeking and risk-taking behaviors
  • Severe stressors or pressures at home or work
  • Emotional trauma or abuse
  • Stressful life, family, or relationship situations


Regarding how it affects the brain, when heroin enters the brain, it is converted back into morphine, which then activates mu-opioid receptors (MORs). The activation of MORs in the brain’s reward center results in a release of dopamine, causing a rush or sensation of pleasure. MORs are likewise located in the brain stem, which controls respiration, blood pressure, and arousal. A heroin overdose deregulates MORs in the brain stem, often causing suppressed breathing, which can be fatal.

Through medicated assisted treatment with buprenorphine and outpatient therapy, among several additional treatment methods, Lake Substance Abuse Solutions helps patients recover from their addictions and regain control over their lives.

As with other types of chronic diseases, heroin dependence has no cure, but its symptoms can be controlled. A person with substance use disorder can recover from heroin addiction through a combination of treatments, such as counseling and buprenorphine medication. While proclivities toward addiction are often inherited and last throughout patients’ lifetimes, those with substance use disorder can pursue addiction treatments to cease recurring heroin use, or any other abused substance, and take steps to abstain from future impulses to use.

The duration of treatment for alcohol or drug addiction varies from person to person. But research findings point to extended periods of heroin addiction treatment for yielding higher recovery rates than treatments with shorter lengths. To treat heroin addiction or any other type of opioid dependence, one year of counseling and medicated assisted treatment is considered the minimum.

Some patients take SUBOXONE or other buprenorphine medications for a lifetime, while others take these medications for several years. Patients may taper their doses of these medications during treatment and with the doctor’s approval and supervision. Opiate addiction is a chronic disease that never goes away for many patients. However, with the right treatment plan, an individual can stop using altogether, preventing withdrawals and staving off cravings, and learning to live a productive, healthy, and addiction-free life.

Treatment outcomes differ from patient to patient. Substance use disorder is a highly complex disease that typically affects each patient uniquely, based on their history of drug use, genetic predisposition towards addiction, and other factors. However, even those with the highest risk factors for addiction can gain the ability to stop using drugs or alcohol and reclaim control over their life by finding and pursuing the best treatment for their needs.

When combined, intensive outpatient therapy and medicated assisted treatment prove to be the most effective approaches to treating opioid addiction. Our multi-pronged approach comprises buprenorphine treatment (either with SUBOXONE or a pharmacological equivalent, such as Subutex®️) and services, including mental health assessments, physician visits, targeted case management, individual and family therapy, peer counseling, educational support services.

Along with the right treatment plan, positive, sustained outcomes are primarily contingent on both the length of treatment and a patient’s commitment to recovery. Patients tend to enjoy the best results when they take buprenorphine as prescribed and attend counseling regularly for a minimum of a year.

Many indications suggest heroin or other drugs or alcohol has taken hold of an individual. Signs of addiction may be indicated in cases in which a person becomes obsessed with obtaining opioids and spends much of their time using or recovering from heroin use. Unexplained shifts in social values, thrill-seeking behaviors, or the deterioration of relationships with friends and family can also indicate substance use disorder.

Admitting to and coming to terms with one’s own substance use disorder is often one of the most challenging tasks a person can experience. Those with heroin addiction might struggle to ask for or seek help even when the addiction and the resulting consequences of the addiction are evident to everyone else. For those struggling with substance use disorder, support from peers and family members go a long way toward encouraging those with addictions to seek treatment. Please contact Lake Substance Abuse Solutions for more information about assisting another person with a substance abuse disorder.

In treating opioid addictions, SUBOXONE is the most commonly used drug for heroin addiction. Buprenorphine, the primary ingredient in SUBOXONE, is a partial agonist that produces partial side effects compared to an agonist opioid. These side effects may include nausea, dizziness, and sedation, among other side effects. Naloxone is a secondary ingredient in SUBOXONE used to block opioid receptors in the brain. It can cause side effects that mirror slight or moderate withdrawal, such as headaches, lightheadedness, and difficulty sleeping. Naloxone in medication can cause severe feelings of withdrawal if SUBOXONE is taken in conjunction with another opioid. However, in most cases, SUBOXONE side effects dissipate after a few days, and once the patient adjusts to taking the drug.

SUBOXONE has significantly lower rates of abuse and addiction than other opiates when used in heroin addiction recovery and treatment. This medication is a partial agonist opioid, meaning it has limited psychoactive effects and (when taken as prescribed and while overseen by a medical professional) SUBOXONE delivers just enough pain relief and euphoric feelings to mask opioid cravings and withdrawals. However, if the medication is abused, it may create a slight high that is immaterial compared with the effects of full-agonist opioids. SUBOXONE offers such low risk of abuse and, as such, is deemed highly effective for medicated assisted treatment of heroin addiction and dependence on other types of opioids. To learn more about substance abuse treatment in Franklin, KY, and Jeffersonville, IN, please contact Lake Substance Abuse Solutions.