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Heroin Addiction Treatment

The Alo House program uses “connection, not control” as a way to empower and inspire our clients through their addiction recovery.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 86% of heroin users interviewed in 2009 said their addiction started with prescription pill abuse.

Today, heroin addiction has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and around the world. Much of the problem began with doctors overprescribing pain medications to their patients.

In the beginning, routine prescriptions for pain were the norm. Doctors prescribed Vicodin, Oxycodone, and other medications for pain after surgery or for an injury.

Doctors, not knowing how dangerous these medications could be, kept prescribing refills to patients without much oversight. Over time, people taking these pain medications began to build up a tolerance and needed more and more to have the desired effect.

Eventually, a patient’s tolerance outpaced the amount of medication the doctors were willing to prescribe. When their prescriptions ran out, for many it was too late and they were already hooked.

Now physically addicted to the medication, pain patients turned to the street or friends to get more painkillers. But with such a high demand for pain pills, the prices were extremely expensive. Patients weren’t able to afford the medication they relied upon and turned to heroin as a cheaper alternative for the same high.

The Heroin Epidemic by the Numbers

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 130 people die from opioid-related drug overdoses every day. That’s slightly less one person every ten minutes.

In 2016, the number of overdose deaths in the United States involving opioids (prescription or otherwise) was five times higher than it was in 1999.

In fact, since 1999, 350,000 Americans have died from opioids. The deaths began with a wave of prescription opioid deaths in the 1990s. That was nearly the same time that pharmaceutical companies came out with studies saying patients wouldn’t become addicted to painkillers.

With that assurance, doctors began to prescribe pain medications at much greater rates. This led to the misuse of those medications. In 2016, 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids in the U.S. with two million of those people doing so for their first time.

In 2016, 2.1 million Americans were living life with an opioid use disorder and many of those people wouldn’t be able to continue feeding their addiction with pain pills. Eventually, their tolerance would outpace their prescription and they would turn to heroin.

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Causes of Heroin Addiction

A multitude of factors can lead to heroin addiction. Some people are predisposed to it with addiction running in their family. Children who grow up with a parent who uses substances to deal with their struggles may turn to the same treatment for their own woes.

Once someone uses heroin for a period of time, their brain begins to stop producing feel-good chemicals on its own. That means that when someone tries to stop using, they experience intense depression and the inability to properly feel pleasure.

Most heroin addictions begin when someone who had a prescription for opioids in the past and whose tolerance has grown to be so big that they need more powerful drugs in order to have the same effect.

When that happens, the structure and function of the brain changes and dependence escalates to addiction.

Heroin is readily available in all U.S. cities and is much cheaper than prescription medications, which further fuels the widespread use of heroin.

Causes of Heroin Addiction

How to Know When a Loved One is Using Heroin

If you have a loved one who is using heroin, they will display some of the common behaviors listed below.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Inability to catch their breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Abnormally small pupils
  • Disoriented behavior
  • Becoming highly alert and then falling asleep
  • Being unable to hold themselves up
  • Itching
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Loss
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Track marks from needles on arms and feet
  • Malnutrition
  • A runny nose
  • Scabs from picking
Psychological Symptoms:
  • Personality changes
  • Disorientated behavior
  • Jumbled thoughts
  • Intense euphoria
  • Frequent memory loss
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Inability to display emotions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
Behavioral Symptoms:
  • Abnormal Behavior
  • Loss of self-control
  • Spending much of their time seeking drugs
  • Increase in secrecy
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Loss of productivity
  • Continued use despite consequences
  • Stealing to fuel their habit

The Heroin High

Heroin gives its users a feeling of intense euphoria, but that doesn’t mean everyone would find the substance pleasurable. The heroin high for most users is all about numbing away the pain they are already experiencing.

When a person in a misfortunate situation takes heroin, their brain floods with dopamine and they begin to have feelings of calm and warmth.

For someone whose mind has been predisposed to opioids by prescription pill use, heroin can feel like a relief. It makes them feel safe and gives them a calming sense of well-being.

These feelings are false and unrelated to the actual situation the heroin user is in. Historically, this meant that people who were in unfortunate circumstances, such as the homeless, or people working in prostitution, were more likely to use than others.

Today, the circumstances have changed, and anyone from students to professionals will use opioids and heroin to escape from the daily stress of financial or emotional pain.

Immediate Side Effects of Heroin Use

Many of the side effects of heroin are extremely unpleasant. Most first-time users decide to never use again.

Heroin sometimes causes users to vomit and it frequently causes constipation. It also has the effect of reducing sex drive and making it more difficult to reach an orgasm.

Heroin is rarely found in its pure form, so it is impossible to know what other substances may be mixed in with the drug. Because of the introduction of other elements and impurities, there are a whole host of unknown potential side effects waiting inside that needle.

Long Term Effects of Heroin Use

What are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use?

When someone uses heroin for an extended period of time, their brain structure will change and both their neural pathways and hormone levels can become damaged.

Over time, heroin might deteriorate white matter in the brain, as some studies have shown. This has the effect of limiting your brain activity, making it more difficult to make decisions, giving you less control over your behavior, and preventing you from being able to have a natural response in a stressful situation.

Once a tolerance builds up, more heroin is necessary to produce the same effect. As the body becomes more dependent, users will begin to experience intense withdrawal symptoms if they stop using.

These users develop a severe heroin dependence disorder and they will do whatever it takes to find more of the drug without caring about the consequences. A user increases the risk of developing a heroin dependence disorder if they begin smoking or injecting the substance since it enters the bloodstream more quickly with a higher intensity.

What Are Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

The reason that the majority of heroin addicts continue to use is to avoid the painful withdrawal symptoms.

Someone who has recently stopped using heroin might experience severe mood symptoms, intense muscle aches, body pain, and they’ll be nauseous and have vomiting episodes.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, withdrawing addicts face periods of intense sweating and their body wreaks with chills. During this time the addict will be unable to sleep and intensely crave the drug.

Once a person’s addiction has become severe enough, they can have seizures, irregular heartbeat, respiratory distress, or even a stroke.

The withdrawal typically sets in a few hours after the drug has worn off and will reach its peak within 24 to 72 hours. After about a week, the symptoms will subside, but in some users, withdrawal symptoms can last as long as months.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Options

Since heroin is such a physically addictive drug, treatment options have to include both behavioral and pharmacological approaches.

During initial detox, patients sometimes receive medications meant to reduce the effects of withdrawal and ease cravings.

Once the initial symptoms have subsided, other medications are sometimes prescribed. Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) is one of the most effective treatment options and may include some of the following options:


Methadone is the most common agonist. It works by giving the user a much slower, dampening high. This helps them to slow their usage over time and help wean them off heroin. Methadone is only used by Methadone clinics and not addiction treatment centers.

Partial Agonist

Buprenorphine (Suboxone or Subutex) is a partial agonist. It works by relieving drug cravings, but without producing a high like methadone. To cut down on opioid use, nurse practitioners and physician assistants have the ability to prescribe this medication until October 1, 2021.


Naltrexone is an antagonist that blocks the actions of opioids. It’s meant to prevent relapse by preventing the heroin from having an effect if it’s injected. New forms of this medication can be administered once a month so a decision to continue the treatment doesn’t occur daily throughout treatment.

Treatment For Heroin Addiction

As mentioned above, detox is usually the first step for treating heroin addiction. At Alo House, we offer a safe and comfortable detox facility that is medically supervised in-house. Heroin detox often takes at least five to seven days to complete.

After detox, our 30 to 90-day residential treatment program has shown to be the most effective way to treat heroin addiction.

We recognize the importance of combining supervised detox with addiction treatment in a comprehensive program for our clients to have the most success in their recovery.

We use evidence-based practices in our non 12 step program to treat all forms of substance use addiction, including heroin and opioids.

We Use Some of the Following Treatment Modalities for Heroin Addiction:

  • Motivational Therapy
  • Cognitive and Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  • Relapse Prevention Therapy

The Alo House program uses “connection, not control” as a way to empower and inspire our clients through their addiction recovery.

To learn more about our Heroin Addiction Treatment Program in Los Angeles and Malibu, California, call us toll-free at (888) 595-0235

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