The 10 Most Addictive Pain Killers

Most Addictive Prescription Drugs

The 10 Most Addictive Pain Killers

While many people believe that a prescription medication is safer than illicit drugs or excessive alcohol consumption, this is not the case. Abuse of these prescription drugs can lead to various mental and physical health problems- including addiction and overdose.

Highly Addictive Prescription Drugs

According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, the most commonly abused classes of prescription drugs are opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants and stimulants.

The increasing rate at which these drugs are being prescribed is partially to blame for their spike in popularity in recent years.

While America accounts for around 5 percent of the world’s population, they consume about 75 percent prescription drugs. The number of prescriptions being written makes these highly addictive drugs easily accessible in medicine cabinets across the country- and the consequences of this are starting to make themselves clear.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, over 50 percent of Americans get their prescription drugs for free from a family member or friend. Another 17 percent of people buy prescription medications off of a family member or friend.

As prescription drug abuse rates continue to rise, it’s essential to know the risks associated with the most addictive behind-the-counter drugs.

Xanax (alprazolam)

Xanax falls into a class of drugs called benzodiazepines- more commonly called benzo. It is commonly used to treat panic disorders, severe anxiety and insomnia.

Benzos, Xanax, are central nervous system depressants that work by actively slowing down brain activity to reduce levels of excitement and create a calming effect on the brain and body. While these effects are what makes the drug so effective at combating insomnia and panic disorders, the blissful high is also what makes Xanax so addictive.

Abusing Xanax can lead to lowered blood pressure, slowed pulse and shallow breathing. When mixed with alcohol, which is common among those who are addicted to Xanax, the risk of respiratory distress and death increases.

Although commonly called Xanax, this benzo also goes by a collection of street names including candy, zannies, downers, bars and tranks. Other prescription medications that produce similar effects are Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, Librium and Halcion.

Ambien (zolpidem)

Ambien is a fast-acting barbiturate that is typically prescribed to treat insomnia. benzos, barbiturates work by suppressing the central nervous system to produce a calming, almost tranquilizing, effect on its user.

When taken in high doses, Ambien can create feelings of euphoria and excitement. These feelings are what make Ambien such an addictive substance.

As users continue to chase the high produced by Ambien, their tolerance for the drug will increase and force them to use higher dosages to generate the same euphoric effects. Unfortunately, Ambien can also produce feelings of irritability, fever and a life-threatening withdrawal process when used in extreme dosages over an extended period.

A variety of other prescription sleeping pills will also produce similar effects including Sonata and Lunesta.


Adderall is a stimulant drug primarily used to treat ADHD. In some cases, it is also prescribed to help people who suffer from extreme and chronic fatigue.

The amphetamine in Adderall causes hyperstimulation throughout the brain and body and makes users feel stronger, more self-assured and energized.

The extra confidence and energy allows those who abuse Adderall to accomplish more than they usually would without the drug.

Due to this, it has become increasingly popular among college students looking to boost mental and physical performance. Adderall also suppresses appetite and is abused by those looking to lose weight.

Long-term Adderall abuse can lead to addiction, hallucinations, tremors, dizziness, heart palpitations, depression, anxiety and headaches.

OxyContin (oxycodone)

OxyContin is an opioid-based prescription painkiller. It is often used to treat patients with acute or chronic pain. While it is very effective at treating pain, OxyContin has a high potential for abuse and addiction. Due to this, it is generally prescribed only as a short-term pain management solution.

OxyContin doesn’t necessarily reduce pain, but it changes the central nervous systems’ perception of pain. It can also trigger an emotional response due to a release of the feel-good chemical in the brain- dopamine. This change in brain chemistry can make users feel a euphoric, pleasant high, and is also what makes OxyContin one of the most highly addictive drugs.

When abused, OxyContin can lead to coma, respiratory distress, overdose and death.

OxyContin in the brand name for a drug called oxycodone. Users also refer to it as cotton, oxys, O.C., or kickers.


Codeine is a narcotic pain reliever that is commonly used in cough medicine to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms of upper respiratory infections and severe colds. It is also prescribed to help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. When the codeine is broken down by the liver, it reverts to morphine.

Prescription-strength cough syrup that uses codeine has increased in popularity since the 90’s as hip-hop artists began glamorizing purple drank- a mixture of codeine cough syrup, lemon-lime soda and a Jolly Rancher hard candy for extra sweetness.

Codeine is responsible for making users feel blissful, relaxed and light-headed, but it can also cause coma, dizziness, weight loss and depression. When mixed with alcohol or taken in large doses, codeine can lead to coma and death.

Common prescription cough syrups that use codeine are Robitussin A-C and Empirin with Codeine.

Vicodin (hydrocodone)

OxyContin, Vicodin is an opioid painkiller. It is often used to treat chronic and post-operative pain. However, un OxyContin, Vicodin also contains acetaminophen to help reduce swelling and fever.

Vicodin changes the way the body feels and responds to pain.

While it can give users a pleasant high, it’s the change to the brain chemistry that occurs when using Vicodin that keeps people coming back to this drug time and time again.

Despite its euphoric side effects, long-term use of Vicodin can cause sedation, impaired coordination, slow heart rate, respiratory distress, paranoia, brain fog and depression.

While Vicodin is the most common name for hydrocodone mixed with acetaminophen, other brand names include Lortab and Lorcet.

A drug is not automatically less dangerous because it has been prescribed by a doctor. In most cases, drugs prescribed by a physician can be equally as harmful as illicit drugs when abused- and the current state of America’s opioid crisis serves as a painful example of this.

With over 100 people dying every day due to an opioid overdose, patients must be made more aware of the highly addictive and deadly nature of the drugs they are being prescribed.


Top 10 Most Addictive Drugs

The 10 Most Addictive Pain Killers

February 11, 2020

Do you know what the Top 10 Most Addictive Drugs are? You might be surprised at what is on the list. If you need help with addiction, call 1-833-510-HELP. The disease of drug addiction should be taken very seriously. In the United States alone, there are millions of Americans struggling with some form of drug addiction.

That does not even take into account worldwide drug abuse. The disease of addiction starts with substance abuse. What may start out as simply a bad habit, can quickly turn into addiction when the brain becomes dependent on that substance abuse to raise dopamine levels in the body.

  The most addictive substances and deadliest drugs that people become dependent on can be broken down into the following categories: 


Heroin is an opiate drug that is made from morphine. This highly addictive drug can be injected, snorted or smoked.

Heroin can be found in the form of a powder that is either white or brown, along with a sticky black substance known as “black tar.

” The United States is currently facing a serious epidemic related to heroin addiction and other opioid drugs (painkillers), including prescription opioids. 


Cocaine is an addictive stimulant. This common street drug is derived from the coca plant, which grows native in South America. The drug is distributed as a white powder.

Unfortunately, the drug is commonly mixed with other substances such as starches, flours, or even other drugs amphetamines and opioids. Cocaine is typically taken by snorting and quickly delivers the brain with dopamine, creating an intense high that is short-lived.

This results in the drug’s addictiveness because users want to keep recreating the high. Cocaine can also be manufactured in rock form, which is known as “crack” cocaine. 

Crack Cocaine

As noted above, crack cocaine is a form of cocaine that has been manufactured into rock form. The drug is smoked in order to reach a high. Crack cocaine is similar to its derivative, however, it is quite potent and creates an intense high that kicks in faster.

The chemical high lasts less time than cocaine (usually only about 10 minutes), so addicted persons typically seek higher and more frequent doses to regain their high. While the high from crack creates feelings of excitement, energy, and happiness, coming down from the drug creates the opposite feelings.

Addicted persons can experience extreme depression, anxiety, and anger. 


People often do not consider alcohol to be a drug, but alcohol abuse is an extremely common condition. Alcohol is a legal substance that is widely available. Similar to other drugs, alcohol takes effect by releasing dopamine into the brain.

It is often called the “social drug,” because it tends to decrease anxiety which relaxes people in social situations. Alcohol use can quickly become control when people rely on it to help them release endorphins. It is all too common to “just have a few drinks” in order to relax.

Sadly, alcohol can also cause severe withdrawal symptoms, so it is important that those addicted to alcohol seek treatment for their condition. 


Similar to alcohol, nicotine is a legal drug that is readily available in many over-the-counter tobacco products and now e-cigarettes and vaping devices that contain nicotine in chemical form. Despite increased health warnings and crackdowns on the tobacco industry, in the United States, Americans who are 18 years of age or older can purchase nicotine and tobacco products.

Unfortunately, it is all too common for these products to also end up in the hands of minors, who are becoming addicted to nicotine at an early age. A 2018 National Survey that was conducted on drug use and health showed that 55% of individuals 12 or older have tried cigarettes in their lifetime, while over 17% of those same individuals had tried cigarettes in the past year.



Barbiturates are a type of prescription drug that used to be commonly prescribed by physicians to treat conditions such as anxiety. These depressants can be used in the treatment of epilepsy as well, although they are prescribed far less often than they used to be due to their addictive nature.

Barbiturates are illegally distributed on the street and are quite addictive. Often referred to as “downers,” these drugs are used to counteract the effects of stimulant drugs cocaine and methamphetamines.

Withdrawal symptoms from these drugs are similar to those related to alcohol and can be very serious and even include death. 


Methadone is an opiate drug that is often used in the treatment of heroin addiction. Ironically, this drug can also be highly addictive on its own. For this reason, any time that the drug is being used to ease the symptoms of withdrawal, the patient should be closely monitored in a medical setting.

Doses should be slowly tapered to decrease withdrawal symptoms while trying to avoid creating a secondary addiction to the methadone itself.

It is also important to note that other drugs such as Vivitrol and Suboxone can also be used for Medication Assisted Treatment, without many of the concerns associated with methadone.

Crystal Meth

Crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine. This entire class of drugs is man-made and extremely harmful. All varieties of meth are stimulants and crystal meth is known for being the most potent and dangerous.

The crystal rock is typically smoked similar to crack cocaine, but can also be snorted or injected. This harmful drug creates an intense high and sense of euphoria. It creates excitability and pleasure, and can increase focus.

It can also evoke psychosis and aggressive or violent behavior at higher dose levels. The drug is very addictive. It causes the brain to become reliant on the increased dopamine and norepinephrine that it creates.

Sadly, over time, this also makes the brain less able to produce these chemicals on its own. This often causes a long-term inability for addicts to focus or feel pleasure on their own. 


Similar to their illegally manufactured cousin the methamphetamine, amphetamines are stimulants. However, these drugs are legally prescribed and used for treating common disorders ADD and ADHD. Adderall is one such variety that has become illegally distributed on the street.

When amphetamines are not used for their prescribed purpose, not only can they be very addictive, they can also cause a variety of side effects. These can include but are not limited to trouble speaking, dry mouth, constipation, trouble sleeping, dizziness and heart problems.



Benzodiazepines are a classification of prescription drugs that are often prescribed to patients dealing with anxiety. Pharmaceuticals such as Xanax are included in this classification. These drugs have largely taken the place of Barbiturates for most medical use.

Despite being a prescribed medication, Benzodiazepines can be addictive, particularly when abused for purposes other than their intended use.

Detox from these types of drugs should be managed in a controlled environment, tapering the patient to avoid complications with withdrawal. 

If You Or A Loved One Are Suffering From The Disease Of Drug Addiction

There is help available to you if you or a loved one has a physical dependence or psychological dependence on drugs. It does not matter if the addiction is to illegal drugs or common legal drugs alcohol, this is a disease that can take over your life. BrightView addiction treatment programs focus on providing a comprehensive, outpatient approach to drug treatment.

We offer Medication-Assisted Treatment, or MAT, along with a combination of individual and group counseling. Our treatment center’s proven approach helps patients achieve the best chance at long-term recovery while maintaining as many of their normal daily activities as possible. If you need help, contact us today. Our friendly staff answers our phone 24 hours a day.



CDC VitalSigns — Opioid Painkiller Prescribing

The 10 Most Addictive Pain Killers

Where You Live Makes a Difference


Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers* in the US.

259 M

Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills.


10 of highest prescribing states for painkillers are in the South.

Health issues that cause people pain don’t vary much from place to place—not enough to explain why, in 2012, health care providers in the highest-prescribing state wrote almost 3 times as many opioid painkiller prescriptions per person as those in the lowest prescribing state in the US.

Or why there are twice as many painkiller prescriptions per person in the US as in Canada. Data suggest that where health care providers practice influences how they prescribe. Higher prescribing of painkillers is associated with more overdose deaths.

More can be done at every level to prevent overprescribing while ensuring patients’ access to safe, effective pain treatment. Changes at the state level show particular promise.

States can

  • Consider ways to increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which are state-run databases that track prescriptions for painkillers and can help find problems in overprescribing. Use of these programs is greater when they make data available in real-time, are universal (used by all prescribers for all controlled substances), and are actively managed (for example, send alerts to prescribers when problems are identified).
  • Consider policy options (including laws and regulation) relating to pain clinics (facilities that specialize in pain treatment) to reduce prescribing practices that are risky to patients.

* “Prescription painkillers” refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone+acetaminophen), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.

Health care providers in some states prescribed far more painkillers than those in other states in 2012.

  • Southern states had the most prescriptions per person for painkillers, especially Alabama, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
  • The Northeast, especially Maine and New Hampshire, had the most prescriptions per person for long-acting and high-dose painkillers.
  • Nearly 22 times as many prescriptions were written for oxymorphone (a specific type of painkiller) in Tennessee as were written in Minnesota.

What might be causing this?

  • Health care providers in different parts of the country don’t agree on when to use prescription painkillers and how much to prescribe.
  • Some of the increased demand for prescription painkillers is from people who use them nonmedically (using drugs without a prescription or just for the high they cause), sell them, or get them from multiple prescribers at the same time.
  • Many states report problems with for-profit, high-volume pain clinics (so-called “pill mills”) that prescribe large quantities of painkillers to people who don’t need them medically.

Some states have more painkiller prescriptions per person than others

SOURCE: IMS, National Prescription Audit (NPATM), 2012.

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  • Supporting states that want to develop programs and policies to prevent prescription painkiller overdose, while ensuring patients’ access to safe, effective pain treatment.
  • Improving patient safety by supplying health care providers with data, tools, and guidance for decision making proven practices.
  • Increasing access to mental health and substance abuse treatment through the Affordable Care Act.
  • Consider ways to increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which are state-run databases that track prescriptions for painkillers and can help find problems in overprescribing. Use of these programs is greater when they make data available in realtime, are universal (used by all prescribers for all controlled substances), and are actively managed (for example, send alerts to prescribers when problems are identified).
  • Consider policy options (including laws and regulation) relating to pain clinics to reduce prescribing practices that are risky to patients.
  • Evaluate their own data and programs and consider ways to assess their Medicaid, workers’ compensation programs, and state-run health plans to detect and address inappropriate prescribing of painkillers.
  • Identify opportunities to increase access to substance abuse treatment and consider expanding first responder access to naloxone, a drug used when people overdose.
  • Use prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who might be misusing their prescription drugs, putting them at risk for overdose.
  • Use effective treatments such as methadone or buprenorphine for patients with substance abuse problems.
  • Discuss with patients the risks and benefits of pain treatment options, including ones that do not involve prescription painkillers.
  • Follow best practices for responsible painkiller prescribing, including:
    • Screening for substance abuse and mental health problems.
    • Avoiding combinations of prescription painkillers and sedatives unless there is a specific medical indication.
    • Prescribing the lowest effective dose and only the quantity needed depending on the expected length of pain.
  • Avoid taking prescription painkillers more often than prescribed.
  • Dispose of medications properly, as soon as the course of treatment is done, and avoid keeping prescription painkillers or sedatives around “just in case.”
  • Help prevent misuse and abuse by not selling or sharing prescription drugs. Never use another person’s prescription drugs.


Opiates Addiction | Pain Killers

The 10 Most Addictive Pain Killers

Legally prescribed painkillers can be very addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the term “prescription painkillers” refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers.

Patients who took these medications initially with no intention of misuse often find themselves in a place where pain control is less important than the euphoria provided by the pills.

From this place, addiction grows.

The more someone takes opioids, the more the brain adapts to having them around.

Having a tolerance to opioids means that someone has taken enough over time to require more frequent or higher doses in order to achieve the same feeling.

Unfortunately, pain medications prescribed for legitimate medical use often end up in the hands of the recreational user because they are relatively easy to attain.

The most common opiate painkillers can be found in the list below:


Less potent but easily obtained through medicines for the treatment of mild to moderate cough, it is commonly used among young adults.


Though now banned by the FDA, these propoxyphene-based painkillers responsible for thousands of hospitalizations and deaths. A black market still exists for these drugs.


An addictive narcotic used to treat moderate to severe pain, Demerol (meperidine) has euphoric effects similar to morphine.


Sometimes referred to as “hospital grade heroin,” Dilaudid is a powerful painkiller. Available in extended-release tablets, it can quickly lead to breathing problems or even death.


A synthetic painkiller up to 100 times as potent as morphine, it is only prescribed in cases of severe pain. Used in conjunction with painkillers such as heroin, overdose death is common.


The main ingredient in many powerful painkillers such as Vicodin. Typically combined with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, the FDA has also approved pure hydrocodone medications.


Prescribed for moderate to severe pain, it is also used to curb cravings for addiction to other substances, including heroin. Despite this, it is still an addictive substance in its own right.


Morphine is prescribed for people suffering from severe chronic pain. It is one of the most addictive substances and responsible for numerous unintentional deaths nationwide.


Oxycodone is sold under the brand names OxyContin and Percocet. It is a widely prescribed painkiller and has a high potential for addiction.

With over 30 years of experience, Origins programs have a long history of treating people with painkiller addiction. Along with care for co-occurring mental health conditions, our multidisciplinary team of physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, and licensed therapists offer assistance with chronic pain management.

Addiction Risk factors

Addiction has a genetic component, and individuals with first-degree relatives who struggle with addiction are more prone to develop a substance use disorder later in life.

Since prescription painkillers stimulate the reward system of the brain by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, individuals who are genetically wired with deficiencies in dopamine levels often turn to prescription painkillers in order to correct this imbalance.

Individuals born into chaotic home environments in which drug use is prevalent are more at risk to develop an addiction later in life, as are people with emotional trauma. wise, people who are experiencing low moods from an untreated or undiagnosed co-occurring mental disorder, such as depression or bipolar disorder, are at greater risk for developing a painkiller dependence.

People who begin to use painkillers at a younger age are more ly to develop an addiction to serious drugs later in life.

Conversely, older adults may find themselves in the grips of addiction as the result of a completely legal prescription that later spiraled control.

Origins is skilled at treating all generations, including young adults, mid-life, and older adults that may have found themselves addicted.

Painkillers and chronic pain

Those with chronic pain are more ly to be prescribed opioid medications to manage their symptoms for longer periods of time. As a result, they are at a higher risk or painkiller addiction.

Many people with chronic pain begin taking these drugs with no intention of misusing them. As the drug takes hold, they find themselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of addiction that requires professional help.

Origins offer a number of modalities that assist in the management of chronic pain as a component of our programs.

Signs of use

The symptoms of prescription painkiller use will vary among individuals based upon genetic makeup, length of the addiction, and frequency of use. There are some common symptoms that are seen in most who use prescription painkillers. These include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Mood swings
  • Euphoria
  • Lying
  • Social isolation
  • Stealing
  • Doctor shopping

Physical symptoms:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constricted pupils
  • Sedation
  • Slurred speech
  • Itchy, flushed skin
  • Increased risks for cardiovascular complications
  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Overdose

Psychological symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Psychosis

Prescription painkiller overdoses are an under-recognized and growing problem for men, women, and older adults, regardless of status or walk of life. Our team understands the varied dimension of personality, age, and gender that contribute to addiction. To learn more about our age and gender-specific programs that treat painkiller addiction, visit us here.

Withdrawal symptoms

When painkillers are abruptly discontinued or cut way down, people who are physically dependent upon these drugs will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

The most common withdrawal symptoms for prescription drug addiction can include:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Craving
  • Increased respirations
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tremors and shaking
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Involuntary leg movements
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps

Medical detox

It’s strongly advised that individuals attempting to detox from prescription painkillers do so under the skilled care of a physician so that they can be medically monitored for safety.

Supervised medical detox from painkillers is a critical part of sustainable recovery. It often medication-assisted therapy that alleviates the uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal.

When the medical detox for painkillers is delivered in tandem with the services of licensed therapists and addiction counselors, positive outcomes are maximized.

Treatment modalities for painkiller addiction

Therapies administered under the care of licensed professionals are an essential part of recovery from substance use disorders involving painkillers. Origins’ treatment modalities include:

Effects on the brain

The changes associated with a substance use disorder involving painkillers can rewire the way the brain works on a functional level for the rest of the user’s life. Because of this, people are encouraged to continue with their rehabilitation efforts after detox to avoid relapse.

For this reason, we founded the Origins Center for Brain Recovery to ensure we remain on the leading edge of mind-body research and care. We incorporate principles from the growing and interrelated disciplines of health psychology and psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which focus on studying the many ways that mental and physical health interact.

Contact Origins Behavioral HealthCare

Origins Behavioral HealthCare provides world-class, cutting-edge care that enacts real, lasting change for our patients.

If you are struggling with painkiller addiction, we can help you lead a healthier, more confident, and more purposeful lives.

Today is the day you break the cycle of addiction for good – start your journey to freedom and fulfillment by calling Origins Behavioral HealthCare at 844-843-8935.


Heroin DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse

The 10 Most Addictive Pain Killers

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

How do people use heroin?

People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing.

What are the effects of heroin?

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Prescription opioid pain medicines such as OxyContin® and Vicodin® have effects similar to heroin. Research suggests that misuse of these drugs may open the door to heroin use.

Data from 2011 showed that an estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids switch to heroin1-3 and about 80 percent of people who used heroin first misused prescription opioids.1-3 More recent data suggest that heroin is frequently the first opioid people use.

In a study of those entering treatment for opioid use disorder, approximately one-third reported heroin as the first opioid they used regularly to get high.4

This suggests that prescription opioid misuse is just one factor leading to heroin use. Read more about this intertwined problem in our Prescription Opioids and Heroin Research Report.

Short-Term Effects

People who use heroin report feeling a «rush» (a surge of pleasure, or euphoria). However, there are other common effects, including:

  • dry mouth
  • warm flushing of the skin
  • heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • nausea and vomiting
  • severe itching
  • clouded mental functioning
  • going «on the nod,» a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious

Long-Term Effects

People who inject drugs such as heroin are at high risk of contracting the HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) virus.

These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, which can occur when sharing needles or other injection drug use equipment.

HCV is the most common bloodborne infection in the Unites States. HIV (and less often HCV) can also be contracted during unprotected sex, which drug use makes more ly.

Read more about the connection between heroin and these diseases in our Heroin Research Report.

People who use heroin over the long term may develop:

  • insomnia
  • collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • infection of the heart lining and valves
  • abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • constipation and stomach cramping
  • liver and kidney disease
  • lung complications, including pneumonia
  • mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
  • sexual dysfunction for men
  • irregular menstrual cycles for women

Other Potential Effects

Heroin often contains additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage. Also, sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis (see «Injection Drug Use, HIV, and Hepatitis»).

Can a person overdose on heroin?

Yes, a person can overdose on heroin. A heroin overdose occurs when a person uses enough of the drug to produce a life-threatening reaction or death. Heroin overdoses have increased in recent years.5

When people overdose on heroin, their breathing often slows or stops. This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term mental effects and effects on the nervous system, including coma and permanent brain damage.

How can a heroin overdose be treated?

Naloxone is a medicine that can treat an opioid overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs.

Sometimes more than one dose may be needed to help a person start breathing again, which is why it’s important to get the person to an emergency department or a doctor to receive additional support if needed.

Read more in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit.

Naloxone is available as an injectable (needle) solution and nasal sprays (NARCAN® Nasal Spray and KLOXXADO®). Friends, family, and others in the community can use the nasal spray versions of naloxone to save someone who is overdosing.

The rising number of opioid overdose deaths has led to an increase in public health efforts to make naloxone available to at-risk persons and their families, as well as first responders and others in the community. Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription from a person’s personal doctor.

Read more about naloxone in Naloxone DrugFacts.

Is heroin addictive?

Heroin is highly addictive. People who regularly use heroin often develop a tolerance, which means that they need higher and/or more frequent doses of the drug to get the desired effects.

A substance use disorder (SUD) is when continued use of the drug causes issues, such as health problems and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.

An SUD can range from mild to severe, the most severe form being addiction.

Those who are addicted to heroin and stop using the drug abruptly may have severe withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms—which can begin as early as a few hours after the drug was last taken—include:

  • restlessness
  • severe muscle and bone pain
  • sleep problems
  • diarrhea and vomiting
  • cold flashes with goose bumps («cold turkey»)
  • uncontrollable leg movements («kicking the habit»)
  • severe heroin cravings

Researchers are studying the long-term effects of opioid addiction on the brain. Studies have shown some loss of the brain’s white matter associated with heroin use, which may affect decision-making, behavior control, and responses to stressful situations.6–8

How is heroin addiction treated?

A range of treatments including medicines and behavioral therapies are effective in helping people stop heroin use. It’s important to match the best treatment approach to meet the particular needs of each individual patient.

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

Medicines to help people stop using heroin include buprenorphine and methadone. They work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin, but more weakly, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Another treatment is naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors and prevents opioid drugs from having an effect.

A NIDA study found that once treatment is initiated, both a buprenorphine/naloxone combination and an extended release naltrexone formulation are similarly effective in addiction.

Because full detoxification is necessary for treatment with naloxone, initiating treatment among active users was difficult, but once detoxification was complete, both medications had similar effectiveness.

Behavioral therapies for heroin addiction include methods called cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps modify the patient’s drug-use expectations and behaviors, and helps effectively manage triggers and stress.

Contingency management provides motivational incentives, such as vouchers or small cash rewards for positive behaviors such as staying drug-free. These behavioral treatment approaches are especially effective when used along with medicines.

Read more about drug addiction treatment in our Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.

  • Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of various opium poppy plants.
  • Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.
  • People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, called speedballing.
  • Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.
  • People who use heroin report feeling a «rush» (or euphoria). Other common effects include dry mouth, heavy feelings in the arms and legs, and clouded mental functioning.
  • Long-term effects may include collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valves, abscesses, and lung complications.
  • Research suggests that misuse of prescription opioid pain medicine is a risk factor for starting heroin use.
  • A person can overdose on heroin. Naloxone is a medicine that can treat a heroin overdose when given right away, though more than one dose may be needed.
  • Heroin can lead to addiction, a form of substance use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms include severe muscle and bone pain, sleep problems, diarrhea and vomiting, and severe heroin cravings.
  • A range of treatments including medicines and behavioral therapies are effective in helping people stop heroin use. However, treatment plans should be individualized to meet the needs of the patient.


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    Epub 2017 May 23. PubMed PMID: 28582659.

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    White matter impairment in chronic heroin dependence: a quantitative DTI study. Brain Res. 2013;1531:58-64. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2013.07.036.

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Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

NIDA. 2021, June 1. Heroin DrugFacts. Retrieved from

NIDA. «Heroin DrugFacts.» National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 Jun. 2021,

NIDA. Heroin DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. June 1, 2021


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