Is heroin addictive?

Yes, heroin can be very addictive. In 2016, about 626,000 in the U.S. had a heroin use disorder. That means they had serious problems with the drug, including health issues, disability, and problems meeting responsibilities at work, school, or home. Of the people with heroin use disorder in 2016, only 1,000 were teens (ages 12 to 17) and 152,000 were young adults (ages 18 to 25).This suggests that once teens leave home or high school, they are more likely to start using heroin.

Heroin enters the brain quickly, causing a fast, intense high. Using heroin repeatedly can cause people to develop tolerance to the drug. This means they need to take more and more of it to get the same effect. Eventually they may need to keep taking the drug just to feel normal. For those who use heroin over and over again, addiction is more likely. Once a person becomes addicted to heroin, seeking and using the drug often becomes the main goal guiding their daily behavior.

When someone is addicted to heroin and stops using it, he or she may experience extremely uncomfortable and painful withdrawal symptoms, which is why it is so hard to quit. Those symptoms typically include:

  • muscle and bone pain
  • cold flashes with chills
  • throwing up
  • diarrhea
  • trouble sleeping
  • restlessness
  • strong craving for the drug

Fortunately, treatment can help an addicted person stop using and stay off heroin. Medicines, including buprenorphine and methadone, can help with cravings that occur after quitting, helping a person to take control of their health and their lives. 

There are also medicines being developed to help with the withdrawal process. The FDA approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD, 2017. Available at: https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm.