Understanding Heroin Abuse and Addiction

The personal cost of using heroin can be devastating. You may lose your job, your savings, even your friends and family. In time, you may lose your health or even your life. But heroin abuse and addiction can be treated. If you or a loved one has a drug problem, there is help. The first step is to admit the problem, then talk to someone you trust.

What is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug made from certain types of poppies. It's often sold as a powder or a black, tarry substance. Users may inject, smoke, sniff, or even eat the drug. This produces a feeling of intense pleasure that may last for several hours. Heroin is highly addictive. This means your body and mind develop a strong need for it. As a result, you spend more and more time seeking and using the drug. In fact, using heroin can become the main purpose of your life. And you may not be able to give it up on your own.

What are the risks of heroin use?

Addiction is one of the biggest risks of trying heroin. Other risks include:

  • Exposure to HIV and hepatitis. Using shared needles to inject the drug can spread these diseases which can affect your health. And you may pass them on to your sexual partners and children.

  • Overdose or death. The heroin you use may be stronger than you think. This can lead to an overdose, which can be fatal. In fact, from 2014 to 2015, heroin death rates increased by over 20%. Nearly 13,000 people died from heroin overdoses in 2015. Overdose deaths have quadrupled since 2010.

  • Pre-term or stillbirths. Babies born to women using heroin may be born early. They also may not survive birth. Or, they may be born addicted to heroin.

  • Scarred or collapsed veins, or infections of the veins or skin

  • Lung disease, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis

  • Clogged blood vessels

  • Damage to your brain or heart