drug abuse

Drug abuse has the power to destroy lives and send shockwaves throughout an entire family, sometimes even a whole community. People who are addicted to heroin are at a particularly high risk of complications related to addiction due to it being an opiate.

As a street drug, its production is unregulated, so it’s usually laced with other substances such as fentanyl and rat poison, making it potentially even more harmful.

If you’re concerned that someone you love has a substance use disorder, it’s important that you take a measured approach when dealing with it. Flying off the handle and getting emotional is likely to make the situation worse. Keep reading for advice on how to help someone you suspect is struggling with heroin addiction.

Before You Speak to a Heroin Addict

When you’re worried about someone you care deeply about, emotions run high. It’s difficult to take a step back and plan when all you want to do is shake them up and snap them out of it. Unfortunately, substance abuse is very complicated, and you won’t be able to talk your family member out of addiction or use reason to make them see sense and logic.

Heroin Addiction Changes the Brain

Addiction affects practically everything a person does, as psychoactive drugs attach to receptors that are present in every nerve cell in the brain and body. Opioid receptors, which heroin attaches to, control our response to pretty much all stimuli by regulating hormones and neurotransmitters that govern pain, perception, motivation, movement and more. Once you understand this, it’s easy to see why reasoning with a heroin addict won’t cure them.

The best way to help your family member is to learn about their condition, avoid arguments and gently encourage them to seek treatment. In some cases, they might be struggling with such a severe addiction that an intervention is required. Either way, the following advice can assist you in preparing to help your loved one get the treatment they need to end the cycle of drug abuse.

Practice Self-Care

It’s common for parents and spouses of someone struggling with heroin addiction to lose themselves in the battle to help their family member. They’ll lose sleep, stop eating properly and might even turn to legal drugs to help them manage their own stress. While it might seem impossible to think about yourself at a time like this, it’s absolutely the only way you’ll be able to help.

First, setting an example is often a much more effective way of inspiring change than lecturing or persuading. If you’re telling the affected person to look after themselves but aren’t doing the same for yourself, they have an easy escape clause.

What’s more, you won’t function at your best unless you’re practicing a healthy lifestyle. A healthy sleep, diet and exercise routine are crucial for keeping your mind and body healthy, and you’ll need to be firing on all cylinders to truly affect change.

Learn Everything There Is to Know About Heroin Addiction

By learning everything there is to know about addiction, you’re far less likely to fall into the trap many families that are struggling with addiction do. For example, heroin addiction makes most people dishonest, and a sufferer can go to any lengths to acquire their drug of choice. If you don’t understand that the disease is what’s causing this dishonesty, you might get angry at the person who’s addicted to heroin.

While this seems perfectly legitimate, it’s counterintuitive. The individual isn’t fully in control of themselves, so reason won’t change a thing — no matter how forcefully you express it. In fact, getting angry and having fights feeds into the addiction by stoking feelings of guilt and shame, giving the individual an excuse to feel upset and seek solace in heroin abuse.

Avoid Armchair Psychology

Once you’ve done your research, you’ll feel like an expert, but try to avoid wielding your newly gained knowledge as a weapon.

Heroin addiction often occurs alongside mental health problems, so it’s important that you avoid amateur diagnoses and strictly encourage seeking professional help. If you or your family member start diagnosing, you might feel like you’ve got it covered and not get the help your loved one desperately needs.

Consider an Intervention

For some individuals, hearing the right advice from one person simply isn’t enough to pierce through the barrier of heroin addiction. In such instances, experts recommend carefully planning an intervention. This involves bringing together the loved ones of the addicted person, writing letters that speak to them about how much everyone misses the person underneath the addiction and planning every step of the recovery journey for them.


Encourage Ongoing Care Once They Complete Substance Abuse Treatment

One of the most important things you can do for someone with heroin addiction is to continue to encourage them to seek help once they complete rehab. Addiction is a chronic disease that requires ongoing maintenance to help reinforce what’s learned during rehab.

There are many choices of treatment plans: Outpatient Treatment Programs, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Inpatient Therapy, Residential Treatment, etc.

Why Do People Use Addictive Substances?

To understand addiction as a disease and not something any individual or family is at fault for, it’s crucial you understand the causes and risk factors for heroin addictive tendencies. There’s no single environmental factor or gene that’s responsible — instead, a complex mixture of factors creates a perfect storm for the condition to develop.


Genes play a major role in how likely a person is to become addicted to heroin, accounting for as much as 50% of the risk factors. People who are related to someone who’s addicted to heroin are significantly more prone to addiction than those without drug use in family.

Genetics form the blueprint for who we become, and our childhood and the choices we make as adults affect the way genes are expressed.


There are a number of environmental risk factors and health problems that are thought to trigger people who have the genetic potential to engage in compulsive heroin abuse. These include early exposure to addictive substances, lack of supervision during childhood and peer pressure.

It’s thought that using substances like alcohol or cigarettes at an early age primes the brain for addiction in later life, so people who use drugs (legal or illegal) as young people are significantly more likely to abuse heroin and get addicted.


While personality is arguably a result of a mixture of genes and environment, it plays a key role in the onset of heroin addiction and is not under our control in the short term. Most people develop their personality and form lifelong habits as children and adolescents. If they happen to be maladaptive, behaviors such as addiction and other unhealthy coping mechanisms are likely results.

We can work towards thinking, acting and behaving differently, slowly changing our personality over time, but this is impossible to rush. What’s more, traits such as impulsivity and a propensity for sensation-seeking are thought to be hard-wired. So, instead of your loved one trying to change part of their temperament, they become aware of it and learn how to manage it.

Once aware, your loved one can act mindfully and put protective and preventive measures in place. This might include different, healthy outlets for impulsivity and sensation-seeking, such as creativity, sports and entrepreneurship. Stress-managing techniques such as meditation, breath work, yoga and immersion in nature can also help manage impulsivity.

You might suspect that someone you’re close to is using heroin but aren’t sure. If this is the case, learning about what heroin looks like and how it affects people can offer insight and help you make a decision about what to do next.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate drug that’s chemically processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance in opium poppies. The way it’s engineered means it passes through the blood-brain barrier rapidly, leading to effects that are felt almost immediately. Heroin is usually injected, smoked or snorted, with injecting creating the most dangerously powerful effects. The use of syringes also puts the addicted person at a major risk of illness beyond that of the substance alone.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Pure heroin is a white powder that tastes bitter and readily dissolves in water. Street heroin varies a lot in appearance due to being cut with various substances dealers use to bulk it out and make it more addictive. Common appearances include brown powder, white powder and a tar-like black or brown gum.

How Does Heroin Abuse Make People Feel?

When injected, heroin causes an instant rush of euphoria that slowly eases into an all-consuming sense of well-being. Smoking and snorting heroin don’t lead to such an intense rush, which is why many heroin addicts eventually progress to IV use. The period of sedation following the hit can last for several hours and offers the user a release from physical and emotional pain.

Emotional Pain

How Addictive Is Heroin?

Heroin is highly addictive because of how it affects the user. It attaches to receptors that are responsible for a wide range of functions in the brain and body, which is why the effects are so all-consuming. Because it’s so similar to naturally occurring chemicals the body produces, tolerance and physical dependence happen swiftly.

Tolerance occurs when the body adapts to continued use of an addictive substance like heroin. The immune system is constantly fighting to maintain equilibrium, and it quickly adjusts in the presence of opioids. This is why users require the substance in increasing quantities to get the desired effects, until eventually they need to use heroin just to feel normal.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

Heroin addiction often occurs more quickly than addiction to other addictive substances, often within a few weeks or a month. This is why using heroin even once is incredibly risky. Initial use tends to not cause a hangover and seems relatively harmless compared to substances like MDMA and amphetamines, which cause major come-downs. This honeymoon period soon ends as the user starts requiring increasing amounts to get the same effects as when they first started.

Below is an explanation of the physical and psychological signs of heroin use.

Physical Signs of Heroin Addiction

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Slow reflexes
  • Collapsed veins
  • Slurring
  • Drowsiness
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Needle marks
  • Paraphernalia such as needles, foil, glass pipes, razor blades and straws

Psychological and Behavioral Signs of Heroin Addiction

Intense Mood Swings

  • Intense mood swings
  • Changes in friendship groups
  • Sudden drop in work or school performance
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Taking risks
  • Withdrawing from daily life
  • Neglecting physical appearance

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal is a major roadblock for people who want to stop using heroin but can’t. Going through the withdrawal process without medical supervision can be risky and isn’t advised. Furthermore, when going through withdrawal symptoms in a treatment facility, the individual has access to medical care and medication that can help minimize discomfort.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme cravings
  • Mood disturbances
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Overproduction of tears, mucus and sweat
  • Stomach pain and diarrhea
  • Insomnia and nightmares

What Happens During a Heroin Overdose?

One of the reasons heroin addiction is so dangerous is the potential for overdose. As a depressant of the central nervous system, large quantities of heroin can cause the body to shut down completely as breathing, blood pressure and heart rate slow to a near stop. Overdose can be life-threatening, so you should seek medical advice immediately in case any of the following symptoms are present:

  • Gasping for breath
  • Shallow breaths
  • Blue-tinged lips and fingertips
  • Pale skin
  • Discolored tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Delirium
  • Seizures or spasms

Treatment for Heroin Use Disorder

Getting help for your loved one is easier than you might think, and modern addiction treatment centers are better equipped than ever to help people going through heroin addiction. Some of the paths to long-term sobriety include:

  • Medical detox for heroin abusers
  • Outpatient detox treatment programs
  • Inpatient treatment programs
  • Aftercare

Therapy for Drug Addiction

No matter which type of treatment program is best for your addicted family member, they’ll get access to the following formal treatment options:

  • Individual counseling sessions
  • Group therapy
  • 12-step support groups
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Psychoeducation

Heroin Addiction Treatment in Kentucky

If you need help deciding whether an inpatient treatment program or outpatient care program is best for your loved one, get in touch with Brookside Treatment today at (606) 342-7089.