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What Is Heroin, and Why Is It So Addictive?

By Mikayla Price
Heroin is an extremely addictive drug. If you or someone you know is struggling with a heroin addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug that is made from morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Morphine is a naturally occuring substance taken from certain poppy plants in Asia, Mexico or Colombia. Opioids affect the opioid receptors in the brain and make you feel relaxed, pleasurable and even relieve pain, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF).

Heroin is sold as a white or brown powder that is mixed with sugars, starch or powdered milk, according to NIDA. When heroin isn’t cut with something else, it is a white powder and tastes very bitter. 

The drug can also come in a black sticky substance, called “black tar”, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Black tar is made from unrefined processing methods, which results in many impurities in the drug, according to NIDA. This type of heroin is typically dissolved and then injected into the body. Heroin can also come in granules or tiny pieces that look like rocks.

Heroin can be injected, snorted or smoked, according to the ADF. After the drug is taken, a person experiences a “rush” of euphoria and a period of wakefulness, according to the DEA. Although there is no safe level of heroin to use, the drug’s impact depends on a person’s weight, health, and if the person has taken it before. For the next three to five hours after use, users usually experience:

  • intense pleasure
  • slowed breathing and heartbeat
  • decreased appetite

Signs Of Heroin Use 

A person will act and appear different when they are using heroin. Some short term signs to look out for:

  • slurring or speaking slower than usual
  • tiny pupils
  • flushed skin
  • shorter attention span

Long-term heroin use can lead to severe health problems and can change the makeup of the user’s brain. Some signs of long term heroin use are:

  • Depression
  • Chronic constipation 
  • Skin infections
  • Severe itching 
  • Vomiting 

Other long-term side effects of heroin use include:

  • Lung infections
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Higher risk of exposure to HIV

Get Help Now

A person with a heroin addiction might show these behavioral changes: can no longer meet obligations, quickly change their emotions, self isolate and deny having a problem with drugs. 

There are different types of treatment centers to help people who are addicted to heroin. People who have long histories with a drug addiction are recommended to try a residential treatment center. There, people are in a safe space to recover without any past triggers.  

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug. If you or someone you know is struggling with a heroin addiction, WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help.

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Treatment & Resources for Heroin Addiction