Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Heroin, a synthetic drug created from morphine, is one of the most addictive opioids available. Usually found in a brown or white powder form, this potent opioid can be injected, snorted or smoked. While one dose of heroin doesn’t usually cause addiction, the majority of people who try it just one time will continue to use it and become hooked over a short period of time.

Heroin, along with other prescription opioids, lead the pack when it comes to drugs related to overdose deaths in the United States. While we’re seeing a decline in teens under the age of 18, heroin use is on the rise in people 14 and up.

What Does Heroin Abuse Look Like?

  • Once it enters the body, heroin converts back to a morphine-like substance, which immediately targets the brain. The brain then releases extra dopamines, which numb pain and bring the brain a high unlike most other drugs. The effect happens very quickly, which is why this particular drug is so physically dangerous and potentially addictive.
  • The receptors that process opioids are located within the brain stem. This part of the brain is responsible for some of the body’s most critical automatic functions, including breathing and the regulation of blood pressure. This is why overdoses have such a high fatality rate.
  • IV use is the fastest and most commonly used way to get heroin into the bloodstream. Users often have “track marks” caused by needle scarring, infected wounds, inflammation or swelling and bruising.
  • The strong impact heroin has on the brain quickly evolves into a tolerance. Users end up needing to take higher doses of the drug, increasing their risk of addiction or overdose.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

States of drowsiness or alertness

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

A sense of euphoria

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Infections targeting the heart

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Kidney or liver damage or disease

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Pain in the muscles and bones

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Trouble sleeping

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Chills or cold flashes

What Causes Heroin Abuse?

Opioid Addiction – The incorrect use of prescription opioids often leads to heroin abuse, especially after a user loses access to pills. Many blame and overuse of prescription drugs on an increase in heroin use before changes in regulations and prescription rates. There are definitely teens who try heroin without having first tried prescription opioids, but some start with other drugs first and turn to heroin once their supply runs out.

Environmental Factors – A lot of teens turn to recreational opioids out of curiosity, but people who already struggle with addiction, or who have addictive personalities, are more likely to become hooked at a faster rate. High stress levels, undiagnosed mental health disorders, and poverty are all risk factors that drive people to look for forms of escape.

Availability – While it’s definitely easier to get marijuana, cigarettes, or alcohol, heroin is more readily available than ever before. There has been a marked increase in availability thanks to increased demand and a better supply for dealers. The majority of users surveyed confirmed heroin itself is easier and cheaper to access than prescription opioids.

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Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment


struggled with heroin use disorders in 2016, up from one third of that number in 2002


tried heroin for the first time in 2016, twice the number of people who tried it in 2006


of high school seniors used heroin at least once in a 30-day period (sometimes more)

How Can I Help My Teen with Heroin Abuse?

Encourage Your Teen to Open Up – Not every teen with an addiction struggles with a mental health disorder, but drugs can cause them to develop depression, anxiety, and other conditions over time. Drugs are often alluring to teens who feel stressed and want to find some sort or relief. An open and trusting relationship with your teen will encourage ongoing communication before, during, and after recovery. A strong bond will ensure your teen knows who to turn to when they have cravings, feel pressured or fear a relapse.

Plan For Recovery – Teens leaving residential treatment programs need guidance and support. Most rehab programs last 30 to 60 days, but the overall recovery process will last the rest of your teen’s life. You’ll need to make sure you have plans in place for individual counseling as well as group therapy and support.

Support Your Teen’s Hobbies and Interests – Teens who have strong interests in healthy activities spend less time thinking about their problems. Your teen will find they have more “free” time now that they’re not searching for and using drugs. Encourage them to explore old interests or try new hobbies – especially those outside of school. Set goals to try just one or two things at a time so that they don’t become overwhelming.

What Types of Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment are Available?

Most people seeking treatment for heroin abuse need several types of intervention at the same time. Because of its potency, heroin users usually need medical intervention as they withdraw to reduce uncomfortable or even dangerous symptoms. Residential treatment plans and talk therapy will then help teens learn to avoid relapses, handle life’s challenges, and plan their future.


There are a number of drugs available that interact with the brain the same way as heroin but at a much lower level. They are categorized as agonists, partial agonists and antagonists. Agonists are the most commonly used because they are closest to heroin.

The most commonly used agonist medication is methadone. It works much slower than heroin and allows doctors to wean people from heroin without creating overwhelming withdrawal symptoms. Drugs like buprenorphine help to reduce cravings without making a user feel high. Antagonists like naloxone block the opioid receptors, warding off the effects of heroin while it works its way out of the bloodstream and body.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy often involves individual sessions, group therapy, and family work. Your teen’s therapist will utilize a series of different techniques to aid your teen as they work to process sobriety, understand their feelings and figure out how to avoid drugs in the future.

Teens in recovery will almost always have cravings, so it’s important for them to learn to recognize and work through them. Therapy will help them learn better coping mechanisms. They’ll also work on building stronger family relationships and better communication skills. Family members will learn more about addiction, how it impacts the brain, and what to expect going forward, including how to set firm boundaries.

Residential Treatment

Because of the nature of opiates, people withdrawing from heroin often have relapses, feel overwhelming cravings and struggle to deal with their emotions. It’s common for teens to have mood swings, residual withdrawal effects and even clinical depression after stopping using their drug of choice. Residential treatment programs ensure your teen is carefully monitored throughout the entire process, keeping them safe and healthy in a drug-free atmosphere.

Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment at Paradigm San Francisco

Treating heroin abuse is challenging. It must consider a teen’s physical and psychological state in order to be effective. The highly addictive nature of heroin makes residential treatment critical for teens who truly want to quit. The atmosphere at Paradigm San Francisco helps teens stay focused on recovery without worrying about their regular daily challenges.

Individual Treatment

Each teen in our program receives a tailored treatment plan focused on withdrawal and recovery. We carefully monitor them at every step, starting with a controlled and intentional approach that empowers teens to remain safe while dealing with physical withdrawal. The detox process is not pleasant; people may require narcotics like methadone early in treatment.

Teens struggle with addiction for a wide variety of personal reasons, which means treatment needs to be just as personalized. Some teens do not need medications during withdrawal, while others will struggle no matter what approach they take.

Many people (especially parents of addicts) fear methadone is simply a replacement drug. Rest assured: our doctors weigh every treatment decision carefully.

Addiction Therapy

Therapy is critical to teens who are detoxing from heroin. Our trained staff will help your teen work through any and all issues, including the use of other substances and other mental health disorders. Teens may find they have other issues that are not necessarily medical, yet still benefit from psychotherapy.

Teens in therapy uncover their own issues, learn healthier coping mechanisms, and plan their lives after recovery. Learning to identify their own stressors leaves them feeling empowered and in control of their future.

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 Teen Heroin Abuse Treatment

Does my teen really need residential therapy?

While there are teen heroin abuse treatment methods that don’t involve residential therapy, they are only recommended as alternatives in special cases. Outpatient programs are a possibility for those who simply must continue to work or go to school, but most teens do best if they spend at least one month in a residential program.

Heroin causes intense cravings that are difficult to handle alone. Living in a drug-free atmosphere eliminates access to drugs while ensuring your teen is medically monitored during the sometimes dangerous withdrawal process. Teens become healthier and happier faster when they are living in a safe, stable treatment environment. The risk of relapse and complication is reduced, also lowering overall potential treatment costs.

Can you overdose on heroin alone?

Absolutely. Heroin overdoses are very common, especially in batches that contain fentanyl. Fentanyl is another opioid often used to treat terminal pain patients. The drug is known to be up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Its potency makes it especially dangerous since it can only be used in incredibly small doses. Not knowing it is mixed into heroin can lead to sudden respiratory distress and death. Those who survive an overdose, especially one with fentanyl involved, may suffer from permanent brain damage.

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