The Most Appalling Symptoms of Heroin Addiction – and How Opioid Withdrawal Treatment Will Improve Your Life

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As one of the fastest growing addictions in the United States, heroin addictions take a tremendous toll on the brain and body. Heroin, the strongest of the opioid drugs, takes hold of the brain’s regulatory processes quickly, creating a state of physical dependency in little to no time.

More often than not, fear of withdrawal keeps many people from even considering going through opioid withdrawal treatment. Not surprisingly, many of the most appalling symptoms of heroin addiction appear in full force during the opioid withdrawal treatment process.

Without needed treatment help, symptoms will only get worse in severity making it all the more difficult to follow through on any desire to get well. Opioid withdrawal treatment programs work to reduce symptom severity and equip you with the tools needed to maintain abstinence and improve your daily life.

Heroin Effects in the Brain

Heroin interacts with the brain in the same way as most all opioid drugs, slowing chemical processes throughout the brain as well as most all major bodily systems. In effect, heroin attaches to opioid brain cell receptor sites and forces the release of endorphin chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

With repeated and frequent drug use, these interactions cause damage to cell receptor sites. In the process, these sites grow dependent on heroin’s effects to produce neurotransmitter chemicals on their own and regulate the body’s functions.

Before long, chemical imbalances start to develop throughout the brain and body. Ultimately, symptoms of heroin addiction begin and end with the brain’s ability to manage neurotransmitter production processes.

Heroin Addiction Effects

With frequent heroin use, the brain’s state of chemical imbalance reaches a point where problems start to develop within the brain’s reward system. This critical area relies on stable levels of dopamine to function normally. This area of the brain also determines what types of things motivate a person’s behaviors and priorities.

Over time, heroin’s effects on dopamine levels reconfigure reward system functions, making heroin a primary motivation in a person’s daily life. Once heroin addiction set in, users become obsessed with getting and using the drug, which accounts for the obvious changes in behavior, priorities and overall lifestyle addicts make.

Ways of Using Heroin

More than a few of the appalling symptoms of heroin addiction develop out of the various ways the drug is used. Heroin can be smoked, snorted and injected. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, over time, any one of these routes of ingestion cause considerable damage to the areas most affected.

The different ways of using heroin also produce varying effects in terms of how quickly addiction sets in. As injecting produces the most intense “high” effect, addiction sets in more quickly when using this route on a regular basis. From there, smoking and then snorting produce less intense effects.

Appalling Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

hostility heroin addiction

Hostility is a common symptom of heroin addiction.

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms of heroin addiction can vary depending on the method of use:

  • Smoking – hacking cough, burn marks on the mouth and fingers, sores on the lips or nostrils
  • Snorting – nosebleeds, persistent nasal congesting
  • Injecting – needle marks, bruises, abscesses, infections

In general, heroin’s effects on the body can bring on frequent flu-like symptoms, such as vomiting, fever and achiness. Heroin’s effects can also leave the skin itchy and dry, which leads to sores and scabs from constant scratching and skin picking.

Behavioral Symptoms

The more appalling behavioral symptoms of heroin addiction entail how a person treats others as well as how one treat’s his or herself. Heroin’s effects in the brain essentially “fry” a person’s emotions causing mood swings, angry outbursts and hostility towards others in general. Someone addicted to heroin will also tend to neglect personal hygiene and grooming practices and may not bathe or change his or her clothes for days on end.

Opioid Withdrawal Treatment

While heroin withdrawal can be quite uncomfortable, opioid withdrawal treatment works to reduce symptom discomfort, and help you start the process of working through the underlying issues that drive addiction behaviors. Using a combination of medication therapies, behavioral treatment interventions and support group work, patients leave opioid withdrawal treatment with a solid footing in the recovery process.

Medication Therapies

Heroin addiction can cause considerable damage to brain cell structures that persists for months or years into the recovery process. Consequently, recovering addicts stand to experience residual withdrawal effects and strong drug cravings for as long as it takes for the brain to return to normal. Under these conditions, a person remains at high risk of relapse.

For these reasons, opioid withdrawal treatment programs offer medication therapies to help support damaged cell structures and restore a normal chemical balance in the brain, according to the U. S. National Library of Medicine. Medications commonly used include:

  • LAMM
  • Methadone
  • Suboxone
  • Subutex
  • Clonidine

In effect, medication therapies help a person feel more like his or herself and better able to re-engage with everyday life, such as resuming work, attending to family and enjoying life overall.

Behavioral-Based Treatments

While medication therapies treat the physical effects of heroin addiction, opioid withdrawal treatment programs use behavioral interventions to address the psychological aftereffects of addiction.

Behavioral interventions help you replace addiction-based thinking and behavior with healthy behaviors, habits, routines and an overall drug-free mindset. This line of treatment also helps you develop coping strategies for managing everyday stressors and overcoming urges to use heroin.

Behavioral-based treatments commonly used include:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual psychotherapy
  • Drug education
  • Drug counseling
  • Motivational therapy

Support Group Work

Support group work plays a vital role within the opioid withdrawal treatment process, providing day-to-day guidance and instruction on how to overcome the pull of heroin addiction. Most support groups employ the 12-Step model, which incorporates a step-by-step personal development plan that acts as an overall roadmap for recovery. In addition, support groups provide opportunities for talking through the challenges of staying drug-free and receiving support and guidance along the way.


Opioid withdrawal treatment provides you with the much needed time and space to focus on getting well. Time in treatment also creates a needed distance between you and the people, places and activities that “support” or encourage drug-use.

If you’re struggling with a heroin addiction and considering opioid withdrawal treatment, please feel free to call our toll-free helpline at 800-442-6158 Who Answers?  for more information on treatment programs in your area.

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