Heroin Addiction

Heroin Addiction

Recovering from heroin addiction isn’t something you can tackle without help and support. Like any other drug addiction, heroin use makes it harder and harder to lead a normal life, putting your relationships with family, friends, and employers at risk.

At Renascent, we understand, and we can help. In 2020, we’ll celebrate 50 years as a trusted, national leader in drug, alcohol, and food addiction rehab programs and services in Toronto, Ontario.

In this article, we’ll explore heroin addiction, treatment, and recovery programs so you can realize your opportunity for life-long healing and freedom from addiction.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a dangerous, illegal, and highly addictive drug.

Heroin is a “semi-synthetic” opioid drug. It’s made from morphine, an opiate found naturally in the opium poppy, that is then chemically processed in illegal labs.

Heroin can be injected, snorted, or smoked and it enters your brain quickly, resulting in an immediate high that is very addictive.

The Centre for Mental Health and Addiction tells us it’s possible to become addicted to heroin after only 2–3 weeks of use.

As with other opioid drugs, overdose is a dangerous possibility with heroin use, and can lead to death. In some cases, fentanyl is used to cut heroin, and people overdose because they don’t know they are also taking this powerful and dangerous prescription opioid drug.

Effects of Using Heroin

Heroin is a depressant. It slows down the activity of the nervous system, so users often have a pleasant, tranquil, and sedated feeling lasting a few minutes or as long as an hour.

Heroin use can also lead to both short- and long-term mental and physical effects.*

In the short-term, users can experience:

  • Dizziness and confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constricted pupils
  • Itching or burning sensation of the skin
  • Headaches
  • Slowed breathing

Over long-term and increased use, heroin can cause:

  • Learning and memory problems
  • Difficulty controlling impulsive behaviour
  • Lack of emotion (apathy)
  • Unstable moods and depression
  • Risk of infectious diseases (hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV) and blood poisoning from unclean needles and syringes
  • Insomnia
  • Liver and kidney disease

*Source: Government of Canada

Heroin Use in Canada

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health reports that heroin is used by a range of people from a variety of cultural, social, economic, and age groups. First-time users tend to be in their teens or 20s, but most people who use heroin regularly are over 30 years of age.

It’s important to understand that all sociodemographic and socioeconomic groups are affected by what is known as the ‘opioid crisis’ in Canada. Use and overdose deaths happen among people with long-term substance use and first-time users, whether they are rich or poor, young or old.

If you or someone you love has signs of heroin addiction, we understand, and we can help.

Signs and Symptoms of a Heroin Addiction

“Because denial is one of the main characteristics of addiction, many aren’t even aware how unmanageable their life has become; it just seems normal to juggle creditors, tell lies, hide the habit, engage in criminal behaviour, avoid family members … anyone can increase the list. Everyone likes to think that they have a handle on their own affairs, and everyone has become accustomed to their own coping strategies, even those that cause a great deal of suffering.

But in order to proceed with the rest of the 12 steps, an addict has to admit that their life has become unmanageable.”

Excerpt from Renascent blog post, January 2017

It’s hard to admit you have a heroin addiction and then ask for help. But like with any addiction, recognizing the signs of a problem and admitting the truth about the impact of your addiction is essential to accepting help and your successful recovery. This is why honesty is the first principle of every 12-step recovery plan.

And while we know that not all people who experiment with heroin become addicted, regular use usually leads to developing a tolerance for the drug – you need more of it, and more often, to feel the same effects. Within weeks, you can develop a physical dependence on heroin, and from there, it can be very hard to quit.

Diagnosing a Heroin Addiction

If you think you might have a problem with heroin use, it’s important to talk to someone. Heroin addiction can be diagnosed by your doctor, therapist, or other health care provider. Or you can call a free and confidential help line at an accredited addiction treatment centre like Renascent, where trained counsellors will see you through to the next step.

It’s important to not be discouraged from seeking help once you ask yourself questions like “Am I an addict?” You might be, but whether you’re addicted or not, you’re always a person first, and many people experience addiction. Those same people can experience recovery that lasts a lifetime, and so can you. Remember, in Ontario, addiction is recognized as a disability in the Human Rights Code, and so you are protected against discrimination based on your addiction from anyone you need to tell.

In fact, substance use is considered a chronic disorder by the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version 5), a handbook used widely by healthcare professionals to guide diagnosis of mental disorders and addictions. This means that if you’re experiencing problems as a result of heroin use, it doesn’t make you a bad person, or any other label you or others have used – it means you have a psychiatric brain disorder or disease that can be treated like any other health condition.

At Renascent, all our counsellors have lived experiences of addiction and long-term recovery, so you’ll have the understanding and support you need to ask for help, and at every step of your treatment.

Am I Addcited to Heroin informational pamphlet.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Thanks to our universal healthcare system in Canada, everyone has access to help for addiction and substance use. Talking to your doctor, going to a walk-in clinic, seeing a public health nurse — any of these healthcare professionals can help you and refer you to a good addiction treatment centre you can trust. Many of these treatment centres, including Renascent, have financial need pricing if affordability is an issue.

At Renascent, we offer person-centred treatment for heroin addiction. This means we treat the whole person, because heroin addiction affects you on every level. Your care will be based on a heroin rehab program tailored to meet your unique needs.

Our comprehensive, Toronto-region, addiction treatment programs take place in safe, serene, and caring environments inside beautifully restored heritage homes. Our abstinence-based model integrates 12-step facilitation with other best practices in clinical and medical approaches, which are proven to make a difference in long-term sobriety.

We offer intensive in-patient heroin abuse treatment program (28–42 days) with around-the-clock counselling and support from our team of addiction specialists, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and long-term recovery.

Included in every treatment stay at Renascent:

  • Education on your addiction and its physical, emotional, social, and spiritual effects
  • Cognitive behaviour therapy to understand and change your addiction behaviour patterns
  • 12-step facilitation
  • Personalized one-on-one and solution-focused therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Meditation and mindfulness
  • Exercise, sleep, and healthy eating

The accredited, personalized and abstinence-based treatment we offer means even those with the most serious of drug addictions can find renewed health and healing, and a truly transformative experience.

Choosing your Treatment Program

It can be hard to decide what type of treatment program you need. There are a lot of options out there, and each person has different needs and resources for addiction treatment. For example, how long you stay in treatment, and whether you need inpatient or outpatient treatment, depends on many factors and varies from person to person.

Addiction treatment is an unregulated market in Canada, so anyone can say anything they want about their treatment centres and programs. It’s important to look for centres like Renascent that have real accreditation from real oversight committees like the Canadian Centre for Accreditation. Testimonials are also important, but real accreditation is essential.

Also, cost doesn’t always indicate quality, but better programs need to charge for treatment that works, professional, experienced staff, and safe, welcoming addiction centres. Not-for-profit centres like Renascent can offer reduced fees and even financial need pricing programs if cost is an issue.

And, if you are dealing with trauma and abuse, in addition to your addiction, you need a safe place to make your recovery more successful. Reputable treatment centres offer gender-specific treatment, women’s only programs, and LGBQT+ friendly spaces, where everyone can feel safe to be themselves.

Inpatient Addiction Treatment

We find that most people benefit from removing themselves from the triggers for their addiction. A residential or “inpatient” program can offer you complete care and round-the-clock support from a community of like-minded people, something particularly important if you don’t have a strong and healthy support system at home.

A minimum stay of 28 days is usually suggested for lasting recovery from drug addiction, and Renascent offers inpatient programs with stays between 28 and 42 days. And you can always extend your stay if needed to meet your recovery goals.

If you feel a bit anxious about the idea of living at a treatment centre, keep in mind that our centres are actual homes, not institutions. You’ll quickly feel comfortable in your surroundings, with the staff, and with the other clients in residence. We believe that a safe, welcoming space is the ideal environment for healing and finding recovery.

On the other hand, some people are not ready for inpatient treatment. An initial assessment will help you determine what type of care best meets your current needs.

Renascent can help match you with the support you need. Call us anytime for a confidential assessment, and one of our trained experts will connect you with the best program for you.

If You Are:We Might Suggest:
Looking for one-on-one supportA one-on-one counselling session with one of our addiction experts
Seeking a community who understandsInpatient treatment with group counselling, or AA/NA/CA/OA meetings
Struggling with relapse42-days of Inpatient Treatment, followed by active participation in our Continuing Care program.
In recovery, but looking to connect with informal supportGetting involved with Renascent’s Alumni Care community. There are regular meetings, engaged committees, and events for everyone. We’re here for life!
Concerned how addiction in your family might be impacting your childrenSafe programs geared for kids and parents/caregivers, such as Children’s Healthy Coping Skills
Worried about your family member or loved one, including siblings, close friends, and partnersOur Essential Family Care Programs, particularly the Introduction to Family Care
A parent in active recoveryA weekend course like Parenting in Recovery, to help you boost your parenting skills
Concerned addiction is affecting your work or workplaceOur Corporate Complete Care Advantage, designed to support employees and employers as they navigate addiction and recovery in the workplace.
Worried about life after treatmentOur Continuing Care Program, to support you as you re-integrate into your daily home life.
Looking for housing after treatmentOne of our many Community Partners who offer post-treatment housing. Call us at 1-866-232-1212 and we can put you in touch.
Looking to get “clean” or detox.The ConnexOntario Helpline, 1-866-531-2600, can connect you with Withdrawal Management Services. If you are interested in treatment following detox, call 1-866-232-1212 and we’ll coordinate this.

Don’t see what you need? Contact us anytime for a confidential assessment where we can match you with the support you’re looking for.

Family Support for Addiction

Addiction is a family disease.

Family members often know there’s a problem long before the addicted person does, but getting an addict to admit they have a problem with heroin can be heartbreaking and frustrating. Loved ones are left feeling confused, anxious, desperate, and alone.

Drug and alcohol addiction affects the entire family and the family system itself. Without knowing it, spouses, parents, and children, as well as members of the extended family and community of loved ones, can become lost in the downward spiral of addiction, just as the addict is. Family members need to know that addiction is recognized as a mental health disorder and brain disease and that sustained recovery is possible.

Thankfully, there are programs specifically designed to help adult family members and children cope with the effects of addiction. At Renascent, our Family Care programs are specifically tailored to meet the distinct needs of people impacted by a loved one’s drinking or drug use.

We offer programs for children aged 7–13 and their caregivers to develop practical tools for self-care, and learn the skills to protect themselves from the effects of addiction.

And, our Parenting in Recovery program teaches effective and practical parenting tools to help you and your family recover together. You’ll learn how to improve your family’s communication, how to help your children understand addiction in an age-appropriate way, and how to boost protective factors in both your own and your children’s lives.

Addiction Recovery for a Lifetime

People can and do recover from heroin addiction. Lasting recovery and lifelong freedom from addiction is possible.

If you’ve taken your first step and admitted you need help, you are already on your path to recovery. In fact, Step 1 in Heroin Anonymous (HA) is: “We admitted that we were powerless over heroin, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

From there, you can be upfront about your struggles, begin to accept help, get the right treatment, and join a supportive community of other people who understand what you are going through.

Find an HA meeting near me

You will also need to have a sincere desire to stop using heroin. To fully recover and prevent relapse, you must be sincerely willing to put heroin aside and be clean and sober in order to give treatment a fair chance of working.

At Renascent, this is why we offer complete abstinence programs. Generally speaking, when we are entirely abstinent, we have a much better chance of recovering from drug addiction because alcohol or any other drug use can be a gateway back to heroin.

Lastly, though challenging, long-term recovery comes when you find the strength to resist quitting when the work gets hard. Your counsellors and peers will support you through the hard times. And you should feel empowered to extend your treatment time if you feel you need it at the end of your stay.

Heroin Treatment Infographic

Continuing Care and Alumni Programs

Even once your inpatient treatment has ended and you’re back home, you won’t be alone. Any significant life change takes time and practice, and recovery from addiction is no different. We’re here to support you before, during, and after treatment.

With an aftercare program, like the Continuing Care and Alumni programs offered at Renascent, your counselling support, peer support, and education from your primary intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment period is extended. The goal of these aftercare programs is to support you to maintain your abstinence, and help you re-establish it if you struggle with relapse.

For example, our 20-week Continuing Care program provides ongoing support throughout those critical first few months after inpatient addiction treatment as you begin to apply the tools you learned to your daily life and help you protect your recovery. We offer:

  • Weekly counselling and support sessions
  • Intensive relapse prevention education
  • A structured curriculum with assignments
  • Both individual and group counselling

Typically, an aftercare program is available to clients as an in-class format or over the phone. And you don’t have to have a referral or have completed your primary treatment at the same centre to enrol.

Alumni programs go an additional step and provide a healthy, safe, and strong social community foundation for long-term recovery to thrive. From group meetings to social events and volunteer opportunities, an alumni program can be a vital part of your personal growth and long-term recovery.

Your Road to Recovery Starts Here

Your addiction recovery journey begins with “I need help.” We’ve helped over 50,000 people recover from addiction. We can help you too.

For a free and confidential consultation with one of our counsellors, call 1-866-232-1212 anytime, day or night, or Contact Us Today.

About the Authors

Dennis James M.Sc
Dennis James M.Sc ( Director of Programs )
Dennis joined Renascent in 2012, following his tenure as Deputy Clinical Director, Addictions Program, at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). He holds a Masters degree in Psychology from the University of Missouri and has worked for more than 40 years in the field of mental health and addictions as therapist, educator, program director, and senior manager.

About the Authors

Dr. Vera Tarman
Dr. Vera Tarman ( Medical Director )
Dr. Tarman, MD, FCFP, ABAM, is the Medical Director of Renascent. As an addiction specialist, she also works as consultant for Salvation Army’s The Homestead and The Harbourlight treatment programs. She has worked in the field of addiction medicine since 1992 and is committed to her patients’ care and full recovery. Dr. Tarman is a strong advocate for recovery from all addictions and has a special interest in promoting a better understand of food addiction. She is author of “Food Junkies: The Truth about Food Addiction” and has been instrumental in launching Renascent’s ground-breaking Food Addiction Program.