En español



Addiction: A chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use accompanied by neurochemical and molecular changes in the brain.

Agonist: A chemical compound that mimics the action of a natural neurotransmitter and binds to the same receptor on nerve cells to produce a biological response.

Antagonist: A drug that binds to the same nerve cell receptor as the natural neurotransmitter but does not activate the receptor, instead blocking the effects of another drug.

Buprenorphine: A partial opioid agonist for the treatment of opioid addiction that relieves drug cravings without producing the “high” or dangerous side effects of other opioids.

Craving: A powerful, often uncontrollable desire for drugs.

Detoxification: A process of allowing the body to rid itself of a drug while managing the symptoms of withdrawal; often the first step in a drug treatment program.

Methadone: A long-acting opioid agonist medication shown to be effective in treating heroin addiction.

Naloxone: An opioid receptor antagonist that rapidly binds to opioid receptors, blocking heroin from activating them. An appropriate dose of naloxone acts in less than 2 minutes and completely eliminates all signs of opioid intoxication to reverse an opioid overdose.

Naltrexone: An opioid antagonist medication that can only be used after a patient has completed detoxification. Naltrexone is not addictive or sedating and does not result in physical dependence; however, poor patient compliance has limited its effectiveness. A new, long-acting form of naltrexone called Vivitrol® is now available that is injected once per month, eliminating the need for daily dosing, improving patient compliance.

Neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS): NAS occurs when heroin from the mother passes through the placenta into the baby’s bloodstream during pregnancy, allowing the baby to become addicted along with the mother. NAS requires hospitalization and treatment with medication (often a morphine taper) to relieve symptoms until the baby adjusts to becoming opioid-free.

Opioid: A natural or synthetic psychoactive chemical that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and body. Natural opioids include morphine and heroin (derived from the opium poppy) as well as opioids produced by the human body (e.g., endorphins); semi-synthetic or synthetic opioids include analgesics such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl.

Opioid use disorder: A problematic pattern of opioid drug use, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress that includes cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms as defined by the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-V) criteria. Diagnosis of an opioid use disorder can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on the number of symptoms a person experiences. Tolerance or withdrawal symptoms that occur during medically supervised treatment are specifically excluded from an opioid use disorder diagnosis.

Partial agonist: A substance that binds to and activates the same nerve cell receptor as a natural neurotransmitter but produces a diminished biological response.

Physical dependence: An adaptive physiological state that occurs with regular drug use and results in a withdrawal syndrome when drug use is stopped; usually occurs with tolerance.

Rush: A surge of euphoric pleasure that rapidly follows administration of a drug.

Tolerance: A condition in which higher doses of a drug are required to produce the same effect as during initial use; often leads to physical dependence.

Withdrawal: A variety of symptoms that occur after use of an addictive drug is reduced or stopped.

This page was last updated January 2018

Get this Publication

Cite this article

NIDA. (2018, January 17). Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin

press ctrl+c to copy
NIDA Notes: The Latest in Drug Abuse Research

​Research Reports

This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.

Lesson Plan and Activity Finder