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If you are addicted to heroin, it may be hard to see yourself beyond the label of a heroin addict. However, you are more than your addiction. You’re also a veteran, a loved one, and someone who deserves to be free from the harmful effects of your addiction. If you are ready to seek addiction treatment, Heroes’ Mile is here for you. This rehab facility for veterans by veterans can help you reconnect with yourself while you work through the different phases of your recovery journey.

How Does Someone Become a Heroin Addict?

How Does Someone Become a Heroin Addict?

Heroin addiction is a substance use disorder characterized by changes in the brain and uncontrollable behavior. These changes in the brain and body cause individuals to seek out the drug, despite negative physical, emotional, and social side effects. Chronic use of heroin changes the structure and functioning of the brain, causing tolerance and mental dependence. This begins as psychological dependence and is the reason a heroin addict is unable to function or live without the drug, even if they might want to stop using it.

Long-term use will also cause physical dependence. This can make recovery for a heroin addict difficult. Oftentimes, individuals will continue to use heroin to avoid dangerous and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. One of the biggest benefits of seeking treatment at a rehab facility is having both the mental and physical aspects of addiction addressed throughout recovery to combat the difficulty of recovery.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin is a semi-synthetic drug synthesized from morphine and made from opium poppy plants. It goes by other names, such as smack or H, and it comes in several different forms.


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  • Fine white powder. This is the purest form of heroin, but the consistency can vary. When found on the street, it is often mixed with substances that do not disrupt the white color, such as cocaine.
  • Brown or black powder. This form is more commonly found than pure heroin and gets its color from the impurities it’s made with.
  • Black tar heroin. This form has the consistency of a black, sticky gel and has the misconception of being less potent because of its cruder form. However, this misconception is known to be the reason for heroin overdose because individuals underestimate the potency of what they are taking.

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

There are many signs and symptoms of heroin addiction that will vary for each person. However, they depend on factors including genetic makeup, how much of the drug is used, and for the length of time someone has been a heroin addict.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Euphoria
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation or irritability

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Lying about their heroin use
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Lack of interest and motivation
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hostility toward loved ones
  • Stealing or borrowing money from others
  • Covering skin to hide track marks
  • Decrease in personal hygiene

Physical Symptoms

  • Slow or irregular breathing
  • Uncontrollably falling asleep
  • Flushed or itchy skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Small pupils
  • Incoherent or slurred speech

Why a Veteran Is More Susceptible to Becoming a Heroin Addict

Although Vietnam War veterans were the first major group of modern-day veterans to become susceptible to heroin addiction, they are not alone. This spike in veterans who also identified as heroin addicts was the result of easy access in Vietnam. Easier access to potent drugs than to specialized veteran rehabilitation and support for service-related PTSD and chronic pain has caused veterans to become heroin addicts.

Veteran-specific addiction treatment centers such as Heroes’ Mile are working to break the stigma and provide resources for veterans who are heroin addicts to receive the help they need to recover.

Risk Factors for Becoming a Heroin Addict

An individual doesn’t become a heroin addict overnight. For instance, a multitude of risk factors from genetics to the environment lead veterans down the path of addiction. Some of the biggest risk factors for addiction include:

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, active duty and retired military personnel are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders compared to the general population. This can be the result of multiple deployments, combat exposure, combat-related injuries, and confidentiality concerns for those seeking mental health services, among other reasons.

Co-Occurring Disorders for Heroin Addicts

Many veterans who are also heroin users have at least one co-occurring mental illness. Typically, a veteran turns to opioids as a means of self-medicating to reduce their mental health symptoms. Some mental illnesses that co-occur with heroin abuse are:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders

Treatment Options for Veteran Heroin Addicts

Treatment Options for Veteran Heroin Addicts

Not all treatment centers are the same, just as not all heroin addicts are the same. As a result, Heroes’ Mile uses evidence-based comprehensive addiction treatment to help veterans cope with every phase of recovery. In addition to these effective treatment plans, every staff member formally served in the military, creating a safe space for veterans to recover from substance abuse whether they participate in inpatient or outpatient treatment programs.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment or residential rehab at Heroes’ Mile is the most intensive level of care. In addition to providing 24/7 care from veterans on staff, patients have access to educational therapies and a network of veteran support groups. These support groups connect veterans with other veterans who may share some of the same experiences that non-military personnel wouldn’t understand.

For veterans seeking immediate help detoxing, they can begin their treatment by entering the drug and alcohol detoxification program before moving on to another program. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant and even deadly. For this reason, detox should be done under the care and supervision of professionals.

After patients have completed the detox process, they can move on to other treatment programs to continue receiving help for their addiction. Many veterans suffer from service-related PTSD or trauma, causing them to turn to substances, then eventually become heroin addicts. Once you seek help for your addiction, you will learn coping skills in a judgment-free space designed to nurture healthy recovery.

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment is ideal for those who have completed inpatient treatment or are entering treatment with less severe symptoms. These services share a lot of similarities with inpatient care. However, patients in outpatient treatment attend the programs less frequently. They may only attend treatment at the center for a few hours per day.

These programs continue to help veterans work on their physical and mental health as they transition from being heroin addicts to recovering addicts. Many individuals in this phase of their recovery journey begin to make amends with loved ones, go back to work, and get involved in their communities.

In addition to less intensive treatment, patients are more focused on planning for the future. This program is often used as a transitional period as patients work to put their identity as heroin addicts in the past. Relapse prevention planning is a major focal point to help patients maintain their newfound sobriety and deal with the long-term effects of heroin.

Getting Help as a Veteran and a Heroin Addict

No one plans to become a heroin addict, but genetic factors and traumatizing experiences can cause veterans to seek out substances that can mitigate unpleasant mental and physical symptoms. As a result, veteran addiction rates are higher than those in the general population. Treatment centers specializing in helping struggling veterans can prevent the feeling of isolation that can be present in civilian treatment centers.

This is why Heroes’ Mile is committed to helping veterans heal from addiction caused by the invisible wounds of war. If you are ready to seek treatment, contact Heroes’ Mile by calling 888-838-6692 or filling out the online confidential form. Asking for help is one of the hardest parts of recovery, but it will start you on your journey to lifelong recovery.


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