Heroin Addiction Health Risk Factors

Learn about heroin addiction health risk factors, symptoms, effects, and treatment methods in this informative article.
Heroin Addiction Health Risk Factors

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Table of Contents

What Is Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction (an opioid use disorder) is a chronic medical health condition characterized by compulsive heroin use or abuse even in the face of adverse health consequences. Heroin addiction occurs due to prolonged exposure of the brain to high levels of heroin. This eventually results in alterations in the structure and function change of the brain, which leads to heroin dependence and tolerance.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine, obtained directly from the opium poppy plant, that can either be sniffed, smoked, or injected. It has major potential for abuse and is responsible for millions of addiction-related mental health conditions and deaths globally.

In 2020 alone, 13,165 heroin-related deaths were reported in America. This comes as no surprise seeing as it has very strong addiction-causing effects. In fact, of all substances of abuse with a tendency to cause dependency, opioids rank among the most frequently occurring and are associated with severe side effects. 1 

Risk Factors of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a drug of abuse with a high addiction-causing profile, meaning that people easily get addicted to it. Nonetheless, some heroin addiction health risk factors can predispose people to heroin addiction, essentially making them more vulnerable to developing an addiction to heroin. These heroin addiction risk factors include:

History of Drug Use

History of drug use ranks among the most significant heroin addiction health risk factors. When people have a history of another drug addiction, it makes them vulnerable to heroin use. This is because heroin exhibits similar brain chemistry and activity to most other drugs of abuse. As a result, it will be relatively easy for a person with a history of drug use to slip into heroin addiction after a short period of use.

Opioid Prescriptions

Opioid prescription drugs, like morphine and oxycodone, are commonly prescribed for pain due to their strong analgesic and sedative effects. Unfortunately, due to these same effects and the ability to cause euphoria (in some), they are potential drugs of abuse.
Addiction can easily develop if treatment with opiates is not properly managed. For example, a study found that 86% of people abused prescription opioids prior to using heroin. 2 

Peer Pressure

This is the most common heroin addiction risk factor. The strong need to be accepted by friends makes people susceptible and willing to do what their friends do or ask them to do.


It is more likely that people will try heroin if they live in a community where heroin abuse is prevalent.

High Levels of Stress

Stress can also be a heroin addiction health risk factor. Heroin is known to relieve stress and pain, thanks to its analgesic and sedative effects. As a result, people with high pain or stress levels eventually turn to heroin use for relief.

Mental Illness

Mental health conditions like anxiety and depression can make people turn to heroin. An estimated 9.2 million adults in America have a co-occurring disorder, meaning they simultaneously have a mental health and substance use disorder. 3 

Family History of Heroin Addiction

This is one of the most significant biological risk factors for heroin addiction. Children with parents who have a history of heroin abuse are at a higher risk of developing a heroin addiction themselves. Genes are a major driving factor here, as it affects the brain chemistry, making people susceptible to heroin.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction are classified under physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms, usually varying on the individuals, their health conditions, and their heroin abuse history. Signs and symptoms common in heroin addiction will be detailed below.

Physical Symptoms

There are various physical side effects that will occur when a person is using or addicted to heroin. These symptoms include:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Appetite change and weight loss
  • Tremors
  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy and red skin
  • Impaired coordination

Behavioral Symptoms

Heroin use and dependency can influence how a person behaves. Indicators of this behavior include:
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Neglecting official duties and responsibilities
  • Interpersonal relationship problems
  • Wearing thick clothes in warm weather to hide injection marks

Psychological Symptoms

Those who partake in heroin consumption will experience psychological symptoms. Heroin affects how a person’s brain perceives reality. Examples of these psychological symptoms include:
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Attitude change
  • Lack of motivation

Health Consequences

Heroin has been linked with many health consequences, ranging from mild to severe, in both short-term and long-term use. The consequences of heroin abuse include the following:


The short-term effects of heroin abuse are usually obvious a few hours to a few days after use. The short-term effect of heroin include:
  • Severe itching
  • Slow breathing 
  • Slow heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss


The long-term effects of heroin abuse are commonly very severe and develop gradually over a long period. They include:
  • Skin disease
  • Septicemia
  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of the valves and lining of the heart
  • Liver disease


The most severe health effect of heroin addiction is the risk of death due to heroin overdose. Overdose can happen quickly and easily, as the potency, contents, and dose are typically unknown. Therefore, people are vulnerable to consuming too much or injecting unknown substances into the body that could affect their normal dose, increasing the risk of overdose.
Another factor implicated in heroin overdose is tolerance. Tolerance to heroin’s effects will increase the dose consumed per time, thereby significantly increasing the risk of overdose.

Risk Factors for Heroin Overdose

Risk factors associated with heroin addiction include the following:
  • Using prescription opioids without doctor supervision
  • Injecting heroin of unknown concentration or composition
  • Ingesting heroin via injection routes
  • Combining heroin with alcohol

Signs of Heroin Overdose

Heroin overdose frequently results in fatalities, especially when it is not quickly identified and treated. The most common heroin overdose symptoms include:
  • Pale skin
  • Blue tint on fingertips and lips
  • Shallow breathing
  • Mental changes
  • Unresponsiveness 
  • Discolored tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Very constricted pupils

What to Do During an Overdose

Prompt medical attention is vital in heroin overdose treatment. So, if you notice or suspect that a person is experiencing heroin overdose, here are a couple of things you can do to help:
  • Try to wake the person
  • Call 911
  • Turn the person’s body on their side to help them breathe better and prevent choking if vomiting occurs


Withdrawal symptoms of heroin addiction can be as dangerous as the addiction itself if they are not managed properly. Ideally, these symptoms can be divided into early and late withdrawal symptoms:

Early Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Abdominal pain
  • Sweating
  • Shaking and nervousness
  • Depression
  • Nausea

Late Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Aches and pain
  • Fever
  • Drug craving
  • Mental health problems

Social Consequences

Another factor that makes heroin addiction so devastating is the negative social outcomes. Some of these social consequences include:


Heroin addiction causes a downturn in people’s finances. This is because their entire focus is on how to get more heroin for consumption. So, they will spend all they have and even borrow more than they can hope to repay to obtain the drug.


Heroin addiction places a strain on family relationships. It is common for people suffering from heroin addiction to begin withdrawing from family members and loved ones, resulting in isolation. In addition, drug use and risky behaviors associated with heroin addiction can lead to damaged relationships.


Heroin addiction could also result in legal issues. For example, possession of heroin will likely result in jail time because heroin is illegal. Heroin use also leads to risky and reckless behaviors, resulting in theft, violence, and other criminal activities.

Treating Heroin Addiction

Effective heroin addiction treatment usually involves personalizing treatment plans to suit each patient’s specific needs. Irrespective of the details, treatment plans will include the following:


This treatment program involves using medication like naltrexone to block the effects of heroin addiction. Medications are used to ease weaning off heroin and decrease cravings. Research has shown that pharmacological treatments for heroin addiction effectively increase treatment retention and decrease drug cravings.4 

Group Therapy

Patients participate in group therapy sessions in a safe environment, supported by peers, family members, and significant others. This is where they are usually taught and equipped to live addiction-free lives.


This is a residential solution in which patients receive supervised treatment and adequate care in a facility to recover from heroin addiction. This treatment program lasts between a few weeks and a few months.


This program allows patients to attend therapy and receive treatment according to a schedule, permitting them to go about their daily routine and check into the treatment center on appointment days. Thus, the patients do not need to live at the facility to receive treatment. Outpatient heroin addiction treatment programs may occur at a clinic or treatment center.

Find Help at Arrow Passage Recovery

Heroin Addiction Health Risk Factors
If you or someone you know has or is developing addiction or dependency on heroin, seek treatment at a treatment facility as soon as possible. Arrow Passage Recovery is a treatment facility that offers high-quality care and treatment needed to recover from addiction.

At Arrow Passage Recovery, your recovery is our priority, so we assure you have access to treatment plans tailor-made for your specific health condition. These treatment plans will be coordinated by licensed, well-trained, and experienced medical health providers to ensure maximum treatment benefits.

Our Programs

We have a selection of several different programs, giving you the opportunity to choose one that suits you the most. Our programs include:
In addition, we offer treatment options like faith-based programs, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and a 12-Step model to get you through recovery. Are you ready to leave that addiction behind and become the best version of yourself? If you are, reach out immediately, and let’s help you turn your life around!

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