The perception of addiction among the general public is often very different from the reality of the condition. Even when accepting it as a disease, many still point to the voluntary nature of substance abuse and the subsequent development of addiction. While many addictions do begin with experimental use, there are some that occur as unintended consequences. One example is the use of prescription painkillers, which starts innocently enough because of an injury, but often ends in debilitating heroin addiction.

What is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal, highly addictive drug. It is a powerful painkiller and sedative which makes heroin abuse appealing to many. Heroin is made from the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. Its color and look are determined by the production and other ingredients used to produce heroin. The substance might consist of white or brown powder instead of black sticky substance known as black-tar heroin.

Heroin belongs to the class of opiates which is common for drug abuse. Other opioid drugs are prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone or morphine.

How is heroin used?

Heroin can be injected, sniffed/snorted, or smoked. The most common way to abuse heroin is by using  drug injection equipment. Injecting heroin into a vein or muscle produces the fastest and most intense high. The effects of injecting heroin can be felt within 10-15 seconds as opioid receptors react faster. Snorting or smoking heroin produces a more gradual high that peaks in 30-60 minutes.

What are the effects of heroin?

  • Euphoria
  • Pain relief
  • Relaxation
  • Slowed heart rate and breathing
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Collapsed veins (if injection drug use)
  • Liver disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Kidney disease
  • Brain damage
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves (if injection drug use)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles in women

Heroin overdose

Heroin overdoses can be caused by using too much of the drug at once, or by using it more frequently than usual. Because heroin overdose can cause breathing difficulty, it is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the number of fatal heroin overdose deaths has doubled since the mid-1990s, which increase was caused primarily by mixing heroin with other substances. People who abuse heroin often mix it with other drugs or alcohol, which can increase the chances of overdosing. and death.

Overcoming an addiction from substances or alcohol can be a very hard journey, and it’s important to have a trusted facility and staff by your side while you do it. Behavioral Health Centers is here to offer all our resources so you can live a happier and healthier life.

National Institutes of Health chart

America, The Land of Prescription Painkillers

At some point over the last 20 years, the U.S. became completely obsessed with prescription opioids. Physicians are prescribing them at record rates, and patients are relying on them for relief more than ever before. The combination of rampant chronic pain in America,[1] incessant drug marketing, and overloaded healthcare providers has led to a full-blown national opioid substance abuse epidemic.

U.S. Prescription Opioid Use and Abuse by The Numbers 

  • The number of opioids prescribed grew from approximately 76-million in 1991 to 207-million in 2013
  • According to a drug abuse website, Americans makeup 4.6 percent of the world’s population but consume 80 percent of opioid prescriptions.
  • In 2012, physicians wrote 260 million prescriptions for painkillers, which was enough for every adult in the nation to have his or her own bottle
  • 46 Americans die every day from opioid overdose or prescription painkillers
  • There were 1.9 million Americans addicted to prescription painkillers in 2014
  • In 2014, there were 4.3 million nonmedical users who misused prescription opioids.
  • Prescription drug use disorder is the leading cause of drug overdoses nationally

While prescribing opioids is the most common strategy used to treat pain, it is not always the most effective. With physicians spending mere minutes with each patient during visits, the simplest and quickest treatment for pain is an opioid prescription. The problem is that painkillers only mask the sensation of pain; they do not eliminate its cause, which means that ongoing use of prescription opioids is often a necessity. Ongoing use leads to dependency and then substance abuse problems.

Painkillers are extremely effective at bringing short-term relief for severe injuries, pain associated with cancer, and post-surgical pain. However, there is little information known about the benefits of long-term opioid use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that most clinical studies into the long-term impact of opioid use end at six weeks or less. The organization also notes that with 8 million Americans currently using prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic pain, the gap of knowledge into its impact and efficacy over extended periods of time is problematic.


The Road from Prescription Painkillers to Heroin Addiction

Growth in US Opioid prescriptions chart

A recent heroin research report shows that the spike in opioid prescriptions has led to an increase in heroin abuse, addiction, and overdoses. Prescription opioids and illicit heroin are both derived from the poppy plant, giving them similar chemical structures, analgesic properties, and potential for abuse and heroin use disorder. The chief differences between the two types of drugs are part of what has led to an increase in heroin use, following a crackdown on the prescribing of painkillers:

  • Heroin is cheaper
  • Heroin does not require a prescription
  • Heroin is often more potent

The path from the responsible use of prescription painkillers to heroin addiction is one that we are seeing played out all too often across the United States. When a person is injured playing sports, in a car accident or any other way, they are often prescribed powerful opioids for the pain. As a patient continues to take a prescription opioid, he or she may develop a tolerance that will require more pills to produce the same effects.

When a prescribing physician refuses to increase the dosage or write another prescription, many patients are forced to find other alternatives. For individuals who either still need pain relief, have become dependent on prescription opioids, or have begun to use them for non-medical purposes, the loss of access to the prescription can be quite devastating, leading to a host of painful withdrawal symptoms. Faced with the choice of fighting withdrawal symptoms or finding an alternative, many choose heroin as a substitute. Heroin use not only relieves pain, but it also satisfies the opioid addiction.

How Prescription Opioids Are Linked to Heroin


  1. People who are addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to abuse heroin.
  2. The rise in opioid prescriptions during the 21st century mirrors the 286 percent increase in heroin users overdose deaths during the same period
  3. Of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug
  1. 1.
  2. 2.

Exploring Drug-Free Pain Treatments

Infographics showing the research data from the NIH

Pain relief is not exclusively available in a bottle. Long before the advent of modern medicine, civilizations relied on a number of different pain-relieving methods that are still in use today. The problem for most of these drug-free options is that they don’t work as quickly as opioids – something that does not always sit well with our microwave-oriented society. We want results as quickly as possible, and drug-free options don’t provide instant relief.

What they can provide, however, is long-lasting relief. Researchers from the NIH examined the efficacy and safety of alternative treatments, reviewing 105 randomized controlled trials from January 1966-to-March 2016. Based on a “preponderance” of positive outcomes versus negative ones, researchers determined that yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, cognitive behavioral therapy and massage therapy could be effective in treating specific types of pain. Researchers admitted that there were gaps in data and that more research needs to be conducted to determine the efficacy of a broader population.

People who take prescription opioids according to doctors’ orders can still develop a destructive addiction to heroin as a result. Unfortunately, by the time it gets to that point, the addicted individual needs help to overcome dependency in addition to education about drug-free pain relief.

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

The National Institutes of Health discuss the various causes of addiction to heroin.. According to these factors and others, addictions may also lead to and contribute to other disorders.

Using heroin to overcome anxiety or depression can cause addiction. This can create a nasty cycle in which the person uses heroin to self-medicate their depression, which only serves to make the depression worse. As the depression worsens, the person is more likely to turn back to heroin in an attempt to make themselves feel better.

Heroin use may result in other mental problems. In particular, the use of heroin could lead to decreased enjoyment because chemical systems affect their ability to react to rewards and induce reactions. It can easily result in depressed feelings, anxiety, etc.

Heroin addiction treatment

If you’re stuck in a never-ending cycle of pain and drug abuse, it’s time to ask for help and look at treatment centers. The addiction care professionals at Behavioral Health Centers are experts in pain management, compassionate detoxification, retraining of life-skills, and all of the other rehab services a person in recovery requires.

If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin, there are a few different addiction treatment options available at treatment centers in the US:

  1. Inpatient addiction treatment: This type of treatment involves staying in a facility for a period of time, usually 30 days or more. During this time, you will receive 24-hour care and supervision from medical staff. This can be a good option if you have a severe addiction or if you need more support to recover.
  2. Outpatient addiction treatment: This type of treatment allows you to live at home while attending treatment sessions during the week. This can be a good option if you have a less severe addiction or if you have a strong support system at home.
  3. Medication-assisted treatment: This type of treatment uses medication to help reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It is often used in combination with other forms of treatment, such as counseling and therapy.
  4. Holistic addiction treatment: This type of treatment focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit. It may include yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and other alternative therapies.

Stop letting addiction control you, and get the help you need to turn your life around by calling us right away at 772-774-3872.

Overcoming an addiction from substances or alcohol can be a very hard journey, and it’s important to have a trusted facility and staff by your side while you do it. Behavioral Health Centers is here to offer all our resources so you can live a happier and healthier life.

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