While abuse of the drug dates to at least the 13th century, heroin remains a scourge among young people in the U.S. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), drug overdose deaths involving heroin rose from just under 2,000 in 1999 to more than 13,000 in 2020.

Fortunately, addiction to heroin can be effectively treated, and countless people have “kicked” heroin and gone on to lead happy and fulfilling lives. Nonprofit Discovery Place offers comprehensive, Nashville-based heroin addiction treatment. Read on to discover the effects of long-term heroin use, and to find out what effective treatment looks like.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine. Morphine is a natural substance from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants grown in and around Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and South America. Heroin can be a white powder, a brown powder, or a sticky dark substance known as “black tar heroin.”

People snort, smoke, or inject heroin. Some people mix heroin with cocaine to create a “speedball” to achieve a more intense “high” than either drug provides on its own. Being an opioid, heroin can be classified in a category that also includes morphine, fentanyl, opium, and prescription painkillers like oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and methadone. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug in the U.S., meaning it poses an elevated risk for addiction and has zero legitimate medical use.

How Heroin Affects the Brain

Heroin works by triggering the brain’s dopamine receptors, causing these receptors to grow reliant on the drug to feel good. However, the brain produces its own opioid chemicals in response to pain. Synthetic opioids like heroin threaten to halt production of these natural opioid chemicals. This makes it difficult for the body to soothe itself in response to pain. Other side effects can occur in both the long- and short-term.

The Dangers of Heroin Abuse

Like most other opioids, heroin affects the body’s respiratory system, the network of organs and tissues that help one breathe. If not monitored, a slowed respiratory system can out a person into a coma. Moreover, they can also get permanent brain damage due to the deprivation of oxygen. This is a condition called hypoxia.

Heroin also decreases the body’s heart rate. The opioid also carries a considerable risk of overdose, as well as infectious diseases, collapsed veins, heart infections, liver and kidney disease, and other possibly fatal risk factors.

The most common effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Addiction
  • Pericarditis
  • Infection of heart valves
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Cellulitis
  • Abscesses at injection sites
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Accidental overdose

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Symptoms of heroin addiction tend to vary among users. Variations are based on the user’s genetic makeup, the amount of heroin used, the frequency of heroin usage, and the user’s physical dependency on the drug. While some symptoms are readily noticeable, other symptoms are less easy to spot.

Some of the most common symptoms of heroin addiction include:

Physical Symptoms

  • Lack of hygiene
  • Track marks on legs and/or arms
  • Infections on the skin from injection sites
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Poor coordination
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Constant runny nose
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Missing work or school
  • Not fulfilling daily responsibilities
  • Hyperactivity followed by fatigue
  • Behavioral changes (more anger, moodiness or sadness)
  • No longer participating in things that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Frequent lying
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants, even during hot weather
  • Increased amount of time spent sleeping

Getting addicted to heroin can wreak havoc on the lives of not just the addict but the addict’s loved ones. Heroin addiction can quickly consume all aspects of a person’s life, preventing them from fulfilling work or school duties or functioning appropriately at home or in social situations.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Using heroin for even a short length of time can lead to a physical dependence on the substance. When someone stops using heroin—either because of unavailability or because they are attempting to quit “cold turkey”—their body will feel the absence. This can cause mood swings and personality changes. In addition to this, someone will experience mild, moderate or severe physical symptoms of withdrawal.

Mild withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Chills
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Exhaustion

Moderate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Tremors

Severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Trouble breathing
  • Intense cravings

While withdrawal from heroin is not life-threatening, certain combinations of withdrawal symptoms can have dangerous, even fatal consequences. For this reason, solo detox is a bad idea. Instead, those living with heroin addiction in middle Tennessee may want to seek Nashville-based heroin addiction treatment.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

  • Eight to 24 hours. Users feel withdrawal symptoms just three hours of the last use. Sweating and body aches are common during this time.
  • 24 to 36 hours. Withdrawal symptoms intensify while the risk of psychological and physical complications increase.
  • Days four through six. Heroin may have left the system, but the effects of withdrawal remain. Withdrawal symptoms begin to improve, but long-term users, or those with other health complications may still feel some effects.
  • Day seven and onward. The most severe withdrawal symptoms have almost fully subsided. Those addicted can start addressing the addictive behavior and contributing factors.

The Heroin Addiction Treatment Process

The most effective Nashville-based heroin addiction treatment is a medically supervised detoxification period of three to five days. This should be followed by an individualized treatment plan. This treatment plan must address not just the addiction but any possible co-occurring mental health disorders. It should also impart coping and life skills so that the addict can avoid relapse.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Oftentimes, heroin detox involves medication-assisted treatment, or MAT. MAT involves the use of prescription drugs to counter the most severe symptoms of heroin withdrawal. Several drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to treat symptoms of heroin withdrawal during detox. These drugs include Buprenorphine (commonly known as Subutex), Suboxone, Methadone, and Naltrexone. In some cases, these medications can be used for longer periods of time.

Find Nashville-Based Heroin Addiction Treatment Today

Ending heroin addiction is vital to regaining a sense of value in one’s life. At Discovery Place, we provide a safe environment to recover from substance abuse and flourish in recovery. Our team of professionals will help guide you to living a happy and drug-free life.

Contact us today and start your journey toward Nashville-based heroin addiction treatment.


  • Discovery Place was the answer for my son. He did the 90 day and then the step down program and sober living. We give this organization 10 stars. They met my son where he was …emotionally, mentally, physically. They helped him put his life back on track. Discovery Place employees care about their guests. If your son, brother, nephew, grandson or husband needs excellent supportive care THIS is indeed the facility.

    Kim Morton
    Alumni Parent
  • I have remained sober and it is because of DP. DP is the best place there is, hands down. I keep everyone there in my prayers, and I encourage everyone there to take what they are practicing and do it in their lives, after.

    Roy Mantelli
  • Over the past year, I’ve been putting into actin what Discovery Place taught me, and I have experienced a complete perspective change of the world, and the people in it. I get to be a man of service and love today, and for that I am grateful to Discovery Place.

    Matt Kassay
  • Discovery Place means the world to me. They showed me the tools that I’ve tried to use everyday in my life to think less often of myself, and more frequently of others. I am learning to lend a hand when I am able and to have a honest and humble relationship with God and the people around me. Not only am I clean and sober, but also I am happy and fulfilled.

    Tommy Parker
  • Discovery Place and the men who work there made recovery attractive, and more importantly, fun. There is strength in the struggle. I am forever grateful for my time at Discovery Place.

    Creed McClellan
  • When I got to Discovery Place my whole life was in shambles, but I didn’t know it. I spent 6 months in their programs, participating in all three phases, and was met with kindness and love all along the way. It is unbelievable to me, where I am now relative to where I was when I arrived at DP.

    Lance Duke
  • I can never say enough good things about Discovery Place and the people who work there. Before checking in to DP, I was out of options and out of answers. Fortunately, Discovery Place has a solution. Taking suggestions from the staff at DP saved my life, and as a result, I’m now more content and hopeful about life. I’m grateful for Discovery Place showing me how to live a healthy life so that I can become a better man and help the next guy.”

    Tyler Buckingham

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