A-Z Teen Health Glossary

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid drug synthesized from morphine, a potent opioid originally extracted from the poppy plant. Heroin can be snorted, smoked, or injected and usually comes in a white or brown powder substance. It’s estimated that almost a quarter of all people who use heroin once go on to eventually become addicted. This doesn’t mean that a single dose of heroin is enough to cause an addiction, but it does speak to the drug’s addictiveness and potency over short periods of time. Heroin and prescription opioids are the leading cause of drug overdose death in America, and at the root of a serious opioid crisis dating back to the 90s. Heroin use is declining among ages 12-17 but is surging in ages 18 and above.

What Does Heroin Abuse Look Like?

  • Heroin enters and acts on the brain extremely quickly, which is one reason for its severe health risks, as well as it being so addictive.  Heroin produces its high by converting back into morphine and then targeting certain receptors in the brain, releasing dopamine and numbing pain. It floods the brain with a greater high than most other drugs.
  • Opioid receptors are also located in the brain stem, which controls critical automatic functions such as blood pressure and breathing. This connection is why one of the most common ways which overdoses are fatal is the suppression of breath.
  • Because injection (intravenous) is one of the more common ways of introducing heroin into the bloodstream, a known sign of heroin abuse is track marks along the arms. These are bruised, inflamed, and sometimes infected needle marks.
  • Because Heroin affects the brain so strongly and directly, it changes the brain’s functioning.  This also creates a tolerance for the drug, requiring higher dosages to achieve the same desired effect. This, in turn, leads to dependence, addiction, and possible overdose.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Alternating waking and drowsy states

teen heroin abuse treatment | Paradigm Malibu


Heart infection

Liver and/or kidney disease

teen heroin abuse treatment | Paradigm Malibu

Muscle and bone pain

teen heroin abuse treatment | Paradigm Malibu


teen heroin abuse treatment | Paradigm Malibu


teen heroin abuse treatment | Paradigm Malibu

Cold flashes

What Causes Heroin Abuse?

Opioid Addiction: a dependence on prescription opioids may lead to the use of heroin if the access to pills disappears or stops. Tightened regulation and changing attitudes surrounding the prescription of opioid painkillers may have potentially contributed to an increase in the abuse of heroin. While teens often start on heroin, some turn to it after first abusing prescription opioids.

Environmental Factors: while curiosity alone can get someone to try an opioid recreationally, most people who find themselves struggling with an addiction are more susceptible to get addicted due to a wide variety of factors related to mental states, desperation, poor health, and poverty. People struggling with severe stress, mental health issues and dire circumstances are more likely to turn to drugs as a form of self-medication or escapism.

Availability: heroin is nowhere near as common a can of beer, a pack of smokes, or even a joint, but it has grown in availability. Whether due to demand (decreased availability of prescription drugs) or successful supply (more heroin, more profits, more reason to produce more heroin), heroin has seen an upsurge. A recent survey showed that almost all people in treatment for opioid addiction with access to heroin chose heroin over prescription opioids due to lower cost and easier access.

teen heroin abuse treatment | Paradigm Malibu


people were struggling with heroin use disorder in 2016, up from just a third of that in 2002


people started using heroin for the first time in 2016, almost double the number of first-time users in 2006


of 12th graders in 2018 used heroin this past month

How Can I Help My Teen with Heroin Abuse?

Encourage your teen to talk about their mental health – mental health and addiction often go together – not necessarily in the sense that every teen with an addiction likely struggles with something as severe as a depression, but that many teens get addicted not only due to the availability of a drug, but the allure of the high in comparison to everything else going on in life. It’s especially important to establish a strong bond of trust with your teen after they’ve gone through recovery, as they’re much more likely to relapse or give into cravings if they stand under an immense amount of pressure, from mental health issues or otherwise.

Explore several avenues for recovery after rehab – there are plenty ways to continue recovery after residential treatment. Residential treatment (or rehab) typically lasts a month or two, but recovery can be a lifetime journey. While group therapy is not recommended as a main form of treatment, it can be supplementary to face-to-face therapy with an experienced psychiatrist specializing in addiction medicine.

Support your teen’s interests – a good way to help your teen maintain their recovery progress is by helping them spend their time in other ways. Beating an addiction takes time and quitting likely frees up several hours in a teen’s daily schedule. Offer to support them in exploring old hobbies, picking up new ones, or just trying out new things outside of school. It’s not a good idea to try and get involved in too many activities at once, but a solid, goal-oriented interest can help your teen throughout recovery (and life).

What Type of Treatment is Available for Heroin Abuse?

Treatment for heroin addiction is largely based on a multimodal approach. This means that any individual seeking help for their addiction is likely going to require several different forms of treatment at once. Because heroin is such a potent and addictive drug, there are pharmacological treatments for it (medication). Talk therapy also plays a big role in helping teens figure out where to go from here. Finally, residential treatment is crucial to help teens avoid relapses early on in recovery, while preparing them for the many challenges they’re likely to be facing.


Medication for heroin addiction consists of different substances that affect the brain’s opioid receptors, but to a much lesser degree. There are agonists, antagonists, and partial agonists. Agonists are drugs that activate opioid receptors, much like heroin, but to a lower degree.

Methadone is a common agonist because it is slow-acting and helps heroin users avoid withdrawal symptoms while slowly getting off the drug. Buprenorphine is also used as a partial agonist, relieving the craving without the high. Finally, medication like naloxone functions as an antagonist, blocking opioid receptors and thus nullifying the effects of opioids still in the bloodstream.

Talk Therapy

Therapy can either be between a therapist and a single patient, a therapist and a group of patients, or a therapist, a patient, and their family. Therapists use different techniques to help teens understand what they may be feeling and going through after gaining sobriety and choosing to stay away from drugs.

Through therapy, teens can learn to manage their cravings, seek other ways to deal with stress, and work through other issues and challenges they may be facing. Family therapy can help teens learn to better communicate with their family, while helping family members do the same, as well as provide a better understanding of what addiction is, and what the future might hold.

Residential Treatment

Heroin is a very potent drug, likely to cause cravings and relapses. Withdrawing from heroin can take time, and early recovery is rife with emotional changes, mood swings, depressive thoughts, residual forms of withdrawal, and other issues related to long-term heroin abuse. Residential treatment is often the safest and most effective form of treatment for teens who are still struggling with their addiction and need an encompassing treatment in a professional, drug-free environment.

Helping Teens with Heroin Abuse at Paradigm Malibu

Teen heroin abuse treatment is a challenging and involved process that must address a number of different physical and psychological factors. Because heroin is such an extremely addictive substance, it can be very difficult for teens to quit, which is why residential treatment is often a key part of recovery. Teens come to Paradigm to focus on overcoming their addiction at a distance from some of their other normal, day-to-day challenges, so they have an advantage of being able to focus all of their energy and time toward this goal.

An Individual Approach

Teen heroin abuse treatment involves specific steps related to addiction, withdrawal, and recovery, and must be overseen carefully, from the start. Because the brain becomes physically addicted to the drug, the first step is assuring that teens can stop using in a controlled, intentional manner, to assure their physical safety. This process of detoxification can lead to extremely unpleasant side effects, which is why sometimes teens will be helped to gradually detox from the heroin by prescribing narcotic medications, such as methadone.

But beyond that, teens struggle with addiction for individual reasons, and in different ways. Some teens don’t require opioid analogues to get clean, while others struggle massively with recovery without a different approach. Some fear the use of methadone is simply replacing one addiction with another, but cases are so individual that there is no way to saying what works without accounting for the unique circumstances and issues of an individual case.

Therapy in Addiction

In addition to overseeing the heroin detoxification process, therapists work with teens to address any other issues they’re experiencing. One addiction is rarely alone and can be accompanied by a reliance on other substances, mental health issues, or non-medical and non-psychiatric problems that don’t warrant a diagnosis but can still be solved through therapy.

Through a number of different approaches within the scope of talk therapy sessions, therapists help teens to identify what other issues they may need to address, as well as teaching them healthy resources and habits to help them move past addiction.

By not only helping teens recognize what conflicts or stresses they need to face, but also teaching them ways to deal with current and upcoming challenges, teens become empowered to move forward toward a successful and lasting recovery.

“ Paradigm is responsible for the fact that I am here today, 8 years clean, getting my Master of Social Work. Paradigm helped me combat my addictions, cope with the trauma I had experienced, and put an end to my self-destructive behavior. Paradigm helped me escape from the pain and tear down the walls that I had encapsulated myself within. Paradigm not only saved my life, but it also helped me find myself. “

– Allie N.

Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin Abuse

Is residential treatment necessary for my teen?

There are ways to help teens with addiction get treated without going into residential treatment. But these ways are alternatives, rather than recommended solutions. Some people can’t afford to spend too much time away from home or work, but still need consistent help. Outpatient programs are specifically designed for cases like that. But ideally, a teen should be given time to stay at a specialized residential treatment facility for at least a month, before seeking other avenues for recovery.

Because the cravings associated with heroin are so powerful, it’s recommended that teens find a drug-free environment to remain in for the first few weeks of recovery. While heroin withdrawal is not as severe as some other drugs, it is still very unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Proper medical supervision is recommended. Beyond this, residential treatment can help a teen return back to a healthy, happy life in a relatively short time period, reducing the risk of relapse – and thus potentially reducing the overall cost and length of treatment. If you have further questions or concerns as to whether Paradigm residential treatment is the best option for your teen, we’d be happy to assist in any way we can.

Can you overdose from just heroin?

Heroin overdoses have become increasingly common, in part due to the inclusion of fentanyl in many batches of heroin across the country. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid used to treat terminal pain in patients with late-stage cancer, and it is roughly 100 times as potent as morphine. Fentanyl is very dangerous if not taken in extremely small amounts, and if mixed into batches of heroin, it can easily go undetected and cause unexpected overdoses. A heroin overdose involves respiratory failure – the brain stem fails to keep the lungs working, and the lack of oxygen shuts down the brain. Even a survived overdose can lead to long-term damage such as paralysis and speech problems due to oxygen deprivation. Naloxone is often used to stop an overdose, as it enters the brain and blocks the opioid receptors in the neurons.

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