The Cycle of Heroin Addiction

The Cycle of Heroin Addiction

The cycle of heroin abuse and addiction always begins in the presence of underlying issues from which the opiate drug is used as a means of escape.

For friends and loved ones of addicts who have witnessed opiate abuse in full force, it can be frustrating, stressful and emotionally taxing to try and understand why someone would subject himself/herself to such destruction through substance abuse.

Understanding the cycle of heroin addiction can provide answers, alleviate frustration and give a better sense of what steps to take to resolve the problem.

Such a cycle is not complex or difficult to grasp, but can make a great deal of difference in a family who struggles to understand exactly what their loved one is going through.

Why Do People Use Heroin?

All people encounter problems, discomfort, conflicts or emotions that they do not know how to resolve or cannot confront easily. Such issues could vary from person to person widely, but might include:

  • Difficulty “fitting in” as a child or teenager
  • Anxiety due to peer pressure or work expectations
  • Identity problems
  • Family troubles or conflict in the home
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Relationship issues (such as divorce or a serious breakup)

One might also experience physical discomforts, such as back pain or an injury of some kind, which produces negative feelings both physically and emotionally. Many of us have experienced such a scenario in life, at least to some degree. An addict will choose alcohol or drugs, such as heroin, as a means of escaping these unwanted feelings or issues.

The Heroin Addiction Life Cycle

Individual cases of drug use, dependency and addiction can and do vary widely. However, a general life cycle of a heroin addiction could be summarized as follows:

0. An individual experiences some personal issues (ranging from boredom to severe depression or chronic pain) for which he seeks an escape through drugs. Note that these underlying issues may be related to a long or pre-existing chain of drug use over several years.

1. Heroin is ingested, providing an intense, euphoric rush. Some users report habitually “chasing” that initial high, which is overwhelming for many. Heroin’s interaction with the opioid receptors in the brain is what causes this initial brief but intense episode.

2. After the user continues smoking, snorting or injecting heroin somewhat regularly, the brain activity begins to show signs of adaptation to the presence of opiates. The production of natural “pain relievers” in the body (called endorphins) begins to shut down as opiates (heroin) are detected to be doing the job, so to speak.

3. The body begins to adapt to heroin, requiring increasing doses of the drug in order to feel high.

4. Concurrently, the individual begins to feel ill with flu-like symptoms when he/she waits too long before taking a hit of heroin. This is known as opiate withdrawal and is a key factor in the establishment and persistence of a heroin abuse problem.

5. Mentally and emotionally, strong indications of a need for heroin begin to manifest–drug cravings, drug-seeking behavior, severe mood swings, etc.


Drug addiction manifests as a result of continued use of physically habit-forming substances in an attempt to resolve some underlying symptom(s) of discomfort, pain or unhappiness.

An individual, upon trying heroin or other drugs, may find that these substances appear to solve problems and alleviate stress, pain and other issues. This is only an apparency, and once a drug high wears off, these problems will still be present, if not magnified.

To the degree that a drug offers an escape for the user, drugs become valuable and a priority. The painkilling effects of drugs or alcohol become a solution to their discomfort. The cycle of physical dependency and tolerance plays an important role and soon enough, usually inadvertently, an addiction is fully established.

Although many users become addicted after using heroin just one time, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that approximately a quarter of first-time heroin users become addicted to the drug and the “release” from pain or discomfort that it provides. This release is the main reason a person continues to use drugs a second or third time.

If someone you care about is struggling with heroin addiction, contact us for help today by calling 1-800-468-6933 or visit

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