Are You Addicted to Heroin After One Use

27 Mar Are You Addicted to Heroin After One Use

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As those addicted to heroin know, addiction can occur very quickly and unexpectedly. That’s especially a cause for concern considering “more than 4 million people in the US used heroin at least once in their lives,” according to

Though most people understand addiction from the perspective of what it does to an individual and their community, few people can define addiction or explain the underlying mechanisms that are associated with it.

It should be known that heroin addiction can occur after the first use or after months of experimenting, it all depends on the individual. This article will discuss the timeline and risk factors that lead to a heroin addiction. In addition, this article will explain:

  • How dangerous heroin is
  • Risk factors associated with heroin addiction and how to avoid them.
  • Why heroin has such a high potential for addiction.
  • How you get addicted to heroin.
  • The short and long-term effects of heroin abuse on a user.


What is Addiction?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “drug addiction is a complex illness.” Pointing to the fact that addiction is an illness highlights the deep neurological and biological mechanisms behind addiction. Saying this doesn’t negate personal choice or responsibility. Addiction, just like any illness, has certain lifestyle factors that lead to its likelihood and severity to increase.

As stated, drug addiction is also very complex. Drugs affect the brain, the nervous system, psychological traits (such as habits), and even the function of organ systems in the body.

Most importantly, the NIDA says, “addiction affects multiple brain circuits, including those involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory, and inhibitory control over behavior. That is why addiction is a brain disease.”

This means that though an individual chooses to take drugs in the beginning because drugs work on the reward and behavior pathways of the brain, they rewire motivations which lead to impulsive and irresponsible drug seeking.

Drug addictions are complex and often require complex and individualized treatments. According to the NIDA, “most people cannot simply stop using drugs for a few days and be cured. Patients typically require long-term or repeated episodes of care to achieve the ultimate goal of sustained abstinence and recovery of their lives.”

In the next section will get into more detail about how heroin specifically affects individuals.

How Fast Can You Become Addicted to Heroin?

When asking how fast it takes to get addicted to heroin, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s unique. Below are some of the risk factors known to be associated with heroin addiction:

  • Ingestion Method: Because heroin is a highly refined substance, it can be used in a few different ways. Most commonly, heroin is smoked, injected or snorted. All of these hold great addiction potential, but because injecting heroin makes the onset of the effects quicker and more intense, injecting is known to be more addictive.
  • Amount, Potency & Purity: Another major factor in the intensity of heroin’s effects is the amount of heroin taken and the potency and purity of the heroin. Obviously, the more taken and the more potent the more addictive. However, using lower doses in high frequency can also be extremely addictive. More on that in the next point.
  • Frequency & Duration of Use: How often a person uses heroin will have a major impact on whether or not they get addicted. Of course, this doesn’t mean that occasional use won’t lead to addiction. This is because occasional use often leads to heavier use which leads to addiction. Duration plays a role here too. The longer you use heroin, the more addicted you’re likely to become.
  • Psychological Factors: Many drug users begin to use illegal substances as a form of self-medication. According to, “People that suffer from various troublesome mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and negative feelings associated with past trauma may look to heroin as a copy skill to alleviate problems.” This cycle of self-medication can lead to addiction. Oftentimes these addictions can be extremely difficult to recover from because the user must overcome their addiction and relieve the underlying trauma causing it.
  • Genetic & Environmental Factors: Though it’s not clear what genes are responsible for the prevalence of addiction, the NIDA states, “we will harness new research results on the function and expression (i.e., epigenetics), which are heralding the development of personalized treatment interventions.”
  • Other Substances in the Body: Sometimes, heroin users also use other recreational or prescription drugs which can increase the psychological desire to use and the physical dependence of both drugs. Combining drugs is also extremely dangerous due to the increased risk of overdose.

How fast a person becomes addicted to heroin depends on these and many other factors. Of course, this doesn’t answer the original question: “Can you become addicted to heroin after one use?”

Learn the answer to this in the next section along with why heroin is so addictive.

Why is Heroin so Addictive?

There isn’t one reason that causes the addictive qualities of heroin. Rather, a number of reasons come together to create a dangerous rate of addiction. The way each of these factors affects an individual will differ due to the risk factors stated above.

There are dozens of reasons that add to heroin’s addictive nature, but to keep it simple, this article will discuss three reasons: “chasing the high”, physical addiction, and psychological addiction.

Chasing the High

So can you get addicted to heroin after just one use? Well, there is some cause to think this is the case.

This is due to the phenomenon known as “chasing the high” or sometimes “chasing the dragon”. To understand chasing the high it’s important to understand how tolerance affects a drug users experience.

Tolerance refers to the fact that the more times you’ve taken a drug in the recent weeks, the more of a drug you’ll need to reach the same effects.

However, for many users, the first time using heroin is extremely intense in a way that subsequent uses aren’t, even when tolerance drops back to a normal level. This can cause a user to try to use more and more of the drug to produce similar effects as the first time.

It’s easy to imagine how this can spiral into a pattern of drug use and ultimately addiction.

Physical Addiction

Not only is Heroin an illegal drug, it is also classified as an opioid drug made from morphine. It’s well known that heroin addiction is known to cause extreme physical craving symptoms. This means that if a heroin addict stops using heroin they can experience withdrawals that have serious physical effects.

Withdrawal will be discussed in more detail in the section below on the long-term effects of heroin, but some of the common signs and symptoms are muscle and bone pain, sleep problems, and diarrhea and vomiting.

In fact, physical addiction can be dangerous for heavy or long-time users. This is especially true if the user uses other drugs or has complicating medical conditions, such as pregnancy or infectious disease.

Physical addiction is one of the reasons it’s so important to go to a qualified drug detox center. Without the help of medical professionals, it’s very difficult to overcome the intense physical symptoms that come along with heroin withdrawal.

Psychological Addiction

As mentioned above, drugs are commonly used as a form of self-medication for underlying issues such as anxiety or trauma. With this in mind, it makes sense that opiates such as heroin, with their numbing effects, are a popular choice among drug users.

Because heroin allows the user an escape, the drug becomes extremely psychologically and physically addictive. There are other psychological factors at play, such as being a part of a community or the desire to fit in. In other words, friends and the people a user is associated with are often triggers of drug use.

People aren’t the only triggers, certain activities, environments, or even songs can make a person want to use drugs. This is why abstinence alone isn’t usually successful. An effective drug rehabilitation program must address the root cause of the problem to have long-term success.

Here is a list of some of the psychological risk factors of heroin addiction:

  • Easy access to drugs or a local culture that promotes drug use
  • Poor or no supervision or guidance from parents
  • Dysfunctional or broken homes
  • Abuse or other forms of trauma
  • Previous addiction to prescription opiate painkillers
  • Low socioeconomic status or being part of a marginalized community
  • A chronic condition causing intense pain

The Media Portrayal of the “Heroin Look”

Although many people understand the stigma around any heroin user, it is important to note that the media has adapted the “Heroin look” to be seen as “fashionable”. In the past decade, the “Heroin look” of having a blank expression, waxy complexion, excessive thinness, sunken cheeks, greasy hair, etc., has been promoted in popular magazines to be “chic”. This phenomenon is not something new, as many famous rock stars and musicians helped popularize other drugs such as LSD during the 1960s, which ultimately influenced an entire generation of youth. This is especially dangerous to people and populations that are more vulnerable to addiction due to their physical dependence and psychological dependence of drugs.

The Road to Heroin Addiction

With some of the risk factors laid out, it may be a little easier to see why someone may try heroin. But you may still be wondering how a desire to check out can lead to a life of addiction and the terrors that addiction can bring along with it.

A huge factor when it comes to heroin addiction is tolerance. As mentioned earlier, tolerance is the concept that as a user takes more of a certain drug they’ll need more to get similar effects.

This is well known in the medical world. For example, a back-injury patient may start out on a low dose of an opiate painkiller, but after a few months, that dose may not cure their pain. So, the doctor raises their dose.

With heroin, users can use large doses repeatedly, so tolerance can build quickly. As tolerance builds the desire to “chase the high” becomes stronger causing users to take more of the drug. Over time the person becomes dependent on the drug and intense cravings can lead to addiction.

As you can see, addiction isn’t a doorway you step through, as if one day you’re not addicted and the next day you are. Rather, addiction is like a road you walk down. The farther you get down the road the harder it is to turn around and get back on the main highway.

In the next section, you’ll learn some of the things that happen as a person walks farther and farther down the road to addiction.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use

If you fear that a loved one is addicted to heroin, you may be curious what the warning signs of heroin use are. The truth is that some people can hide drug use for years. But most users will show signs that an observant person can see.

Here is a list of common short-term effects of heroin abuse:

  • Dry mouth
  • Lethargy
  • Trouble speaking
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Severe itching
  • “Foggy” or unclear thinking
  • Falling asleep during the day, especially in the middle of activities


Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Of course, the longer a person takes heroin the worse the effects can get. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s a sign to seek immediate help:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins from repeated injections
  • Chronic infections
  • Chronic or extreme constipation
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Pneumonia or other lung complications
  • Mental disorders, including extreme social anxiety and depression
  • Male sexual dysfunction
  • Impotency
  • Overdose, sometimes resulting in death


Can You Get Addicted to Heroin After One Use

As you probably guessed from reading this article, the answer to that question is complicated. Put simply, it’s impossible to know. Some may get hooked after one use, while others may use for a while and quit with no difficulty. It is important to emphasize that heroin is an opioid and heroin addiction or any opioid addiction is not something to take lightly as it can result in overdose deaths. 

The truth is that a lot of people who try heroin end up battling an addiction that ruins their life. Whether it takes one time using heroin to get addicted or a hundred, you can’t get addicted if you never try it, so it’s always better to stay away.

And if you or a loved one is already battling addiction, you don’t have to battle it alone.

Detox and Heroin Treatment

Heroin addiction is treated with a two-phase treatment plan. The first phase is a heroin detox done at a qualified drug detox center such as Georgia Drug Detox. During this phase, the patient will undergo the most intense withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings. However, with the help of trained medical professionals the heroin detox will be more manageable for the patients. During the heroin addiction treatment, these trained medical professionals will keep the patient safe and comfortable while their body overcomes its dependence on the drug.

The next phase involves recovery at a drug rehabilitation center. This phase will include a mixture of medicine and/or behavioral therapy depending on the specifics of the patient.

At the end of the day, heroin is a highly addictive drug that should be avoided at all costs. However if you are already addicted, please remember that heroin addiction is treatable and sobriety can be obtained with the right support. If you are looking for a Georgia heroin treatment program or would like to learn more about substance abuse rehab options, our team is here to help. Contact our rehab center in Georgia today to get back to a sober life.


Patterson, Eric. “Can You Get Addicted to Heroin After the First Use?”, 25 Nov.

2018, Accessed Mar. 2019.

NIDA. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment.” National Instititue on Drug Abuse, 17 Jan. 2018, Accessed Mar. 2019.

NIDA. “Heroin.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 7 Jun. 2018. Accessed Mar. 2019.

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