Heroin Addiction

Heroin is among the most addictive substances and, while relatively inexpensive, those who develop an addiction to heroin can spend hundreds of dollars every day on this illicit narcotic.

This guide outlines how heroin addiction develops and shows you how to connect with science-backed heroin addiction treatment.

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What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid and Schedule II controlled substance that’s derived from the morphine found in the seed pods of Asian opium poppies. These poppies are native to southern Asia, but they are also found in Afghanistan, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin is also known as brown, smack, or dark.

More pure forms of heroin come as white powder with a bitter taste. Most of this heroin is produced in South America. Black tar heroin is prevalent in Mexico. This darker and less pure form of heroin is processed using less refined techniques. The largest market for Mexican black tar is found among the western states.

Today, heroin is routinely cut with fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Heroin traffickers adulterate batches of the drug with fentanyl as it is cheap to produce and increases the potency of the product. Regrettably, this has contributed to a spike in opioid overdoses.

Pure forms of heroin are often smoked and sometimes snorted. Most street heroin is dissolved, diluted, and intravenously injected.

When heroin is mixed with cocaine, this is known as a speedball, an especially deadly combination.

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How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin is an addictive semi-synthetic opioid that triggers intense effects on the reward system of the brain. The intensity of these effects is the primary reason why heroin abuse and addiction and abuse are so widespread. According to the latest SAMHSA data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 1 million U.S. adults met the DSM-5-TR criteria for heroin addiction in 2021–more on this below.

Heroin use disrupts the reward system of the brain – the nucleus accumbens – by increasing the production of neurotransmitters or chemical messengers like dopamine. Ordinarily, the brain releases dopamine to reward behaviors associated with survival – eating, for instance. Neurotransmitters are also released to help counter pain.

The brain quickly starts associating heroin with the activation of chemicals like dopamine in the reward system. Over time and as addiction develops, you will require heroin to function normally and to prevent the presentation of withdrawal symptoms.

Some signs that a heroin addiction might be developing include:

  • Continuing use of heroin despite problems triggered by the drug.
  • Trying and failing to stop using heroin.
  • Tolerance to heroin forming.
  • Experiencing cravings for heroin.
  • Withdrawal symptoms manifesting in the absence of heroin.

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Signs of Heroin Addiction

Here are some common signs of heroin addiction:

Constricted pupils, sudden weight loss, needle marks or scars on the arms, legs or feet, and frequent nosebleeds.

Decline in personal hygiene, social withdrawal or isolation, changes in sleeping patterns, and mood swings.

Depression, anxiety, paranoia, and irritability

Those struggling with heroin addiction often experience financial difficulties as a result of spending money on the drug.

Heroin addiction can negatively affect personal relationships, including those with family, friends, and romantic partners.

Not everyone struggling with heroin addiction will exhibit all of these signs, and some people manage to hide their heroin addiction well. If you suspect that a loved one may have developed a problem with an opioid like heroin, consider assessing them according to the symptoms of heroin addiction. You should also voice your concerns with your loved one and suggest that they engage with professional help.

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Heroin Addiction Symptoms

Heroin addiction (opioid use disorder) is diagnosed according to the symptoms outlined in DSM-5-TR (the revised fifth edition of APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

The DSM symptoms of heroin addiction are as follows:

  1. Using heroin in larger amounts than intended or for longer than planned.
  2. Trying and failing to reduce or discontinue use of heroin.
  3. Spending lots of time obtaining and using heroin.
  4. Experiencing intense cravings for heroin.
  5. Neglecting personal and professional commitments due to heroin use.
  6. Ongoing use of heroin even though it is creating problems in your relationships.
  7. Giving up social and recreational activities due to heroin use.
  8. Using heroin in dangerous situations.
  9. Tolerance developing so that you require more heroin to achieve the same effects.
  10. Withdrawal symptoms presenting in the absence of heroin.
  11. Continuing to use heroin even though it is triggering or inflaming a physical or mental health condition.

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Signs of a Heroin Addict

Signs of a heroin addiction can vary from person to person and can be grouped as follows:


  • Needle marks or track marks on arms or legs
  • Wearing long-sleeved clothing to hide needle marks
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and grooming
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms
  • Financial problems, such as borrowing money or selling personal items


  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Secretive behavior and lying
  • Decreased interest in activities once enjoyed


  • Absenteeism or lateness at work or school
  • Decline in work performance or grades
  • Difficulty completing tasks or assignments
  • Problems with coworkers or classmates
  • Increased accidents or mistakes on the job

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How to Help a Heroin Addict

Helping an addict addicted to any drug can be challenging, but there are some steps you can take to support them in their ongoing recovery from opioid use disorder. Here’s how to help a heroin addict and stop drug cravings.

Educating yourself about addiction can help you better understand what your loved one is going through and how you can best support them.

It is vital to encourage your loved one to seek professional help from a medical or mental health professional who specializes in addiction treatment. This will typically involve detox followed by medication-assisted treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.

Let your loved one know that you care about them and are there to support them throughout their recovery journey. Be a good and active listener while offering encouragement, empathy, and understanding without judgment or confrontation.

Encourage your friend or family member with a heroin addiction to connect with others in recovery, perhaps by attending support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous).

Remove any drug paraphernalia from your home and make sure your loved one is not exposed to triggers such as people or places that they associate with drug use.

How to Get Help for Heroin Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, it is beneficial to seek help as soon as possible due to the progressive nature of heroin addiction. Like all addictions, opioid use disorder typically gets worse if untreated. Here’s how to connect with help for heroin addiction:

The first step to getting help for heroin addiction is to speak with a healthcare professional such as your primary care physician, an addiction specialist, or a mental health professional. They can provide information about treatment options and refer you to appropriate resources.

There are many addiction hotlines and helplines available for those seeking help for heroin addiction. These services can provide information, support, and referrals to treatment resources.

Inpatient treatment involves remaining at a residential rehab facility while engaging with intensive treatment for heroin addiction. Evidence-based treatment will include MAT (medication-assisted treatment), counseling, and psychotherapies like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Outpatient treatment involves attending treatment sessions at a rehab center while continuing to live at home. Both types of treatment can be effective for heroin addiction, and the best option depends on your circumstances and the severity of your heroin addiction.

Support groups like NA can provide a supportive community for those in recovery from heroin addiction. Attending support groups can help you to stay motivated and connected to others who are undergoing similar experiences.

Remember that recovery from heroin addiction is an ongoing journey, and it may take time and effort to achieve lasting sobriety due to the high relapse rates of addictions. With the right treatment and support, though, you can overcome heroin addiction and thrive rather than merely survive in sober living.

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Heroin Addiction Recovery at Ohio Recovery Centers

If you are addicted to heroin, we can help you fight back at our Cincinnati rehab. At Ohio Recovery Centers, we can help you overcome heroin and other forms of drug addiction through our partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient programs, and outpatient rehab centers in Ohio.

Call now to learn more.







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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn