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Heroin’s Highest Risk Groups

May 8, 2020

While the highly addictive properties of heroin make it a big risk for anyone, we can turn to the facts about who is most at risk for developing addiction. With this information, we can identify the individuals throughout society who need treatment most urgently. This information can also be applied to better understanding what characteristics heighten the risk for the loved one in your life who’s struggling with a substance use disorder.

Heroin tends to be an addiction that develops as a follow-up to other addictions, including addictions to opioid painkillers, cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol. In fact, a person with an existing addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is 40 times more likely to develop a heroin addiction and most people with heroin addiction use three other drugs, according to the CDC. Finding a suitable treatment program for heroin addiction or polysubstance addiction is a critical step towards recovery and the prevention of overdose and death commonly associated with the use of this illegal opioid.

The opioid that can be smoked, injected, or snorted gets used by most age groups and virtually all income levels, and overdose and death are not uncommon with heroin use. But, we can look at some specific traits of those at highest risk for addiction based on CDC research. While your loved one may not fit every variable listed below, it’s a good place to start looking at some of the common ground the highest risk heroin users share.

Highest Risk: People with an Existing Addiction to Opioids

Heroin is not typically a first addiction for the user. People addicted to a prescription opioid painkiller are in the highest risk group for developing a heroin addiction. The CDC says they are 40 times more likely to develop a heroin addiction. If your loved one is struggling with a prescription opioid addiction, finding treatment now before heroin use begins is one preventative measure to avoid adding a new addiction.

Highest Risk: People with an Existing Addiction to Cocaine

Like the existing opioid addiction for many heroin users, cocaine addiction is another bit of common ground for people developing an addiction to heroin. While it occurs less frequently than in the opioid painkiller group, those addicted to cocaine are 15 times more likely to develop an addiction to heroin.

Highest Risk: People with an Existing Addiction to Marijuana

Marijuana addiction also appears as a variable among the highest risk groups, with those addicted to marijuana three times more likely to become addicted to heroin.

Highest Risk: People with an Existing Addiction to Alcohol

On the list of substances, alcohol checks in with a lower threat than opioid painkiller, cocaine, and marijuana addiction. But, a person with an existing addiction to alcohol still gets assessed as two times more likely to develop a heroin addiction

Highest Risk: Males

Men still account for more heroin addiction cases than women, although data shows the increase in addiction among women seems to be growing at a faster rate.

Highest Risk: Gen Z and younger Millennials

The age group of 18-25 accounts for the highest heroin addiction group in the country.

Highest Risk: Residents of large metropolitan areas

Access to heroin in major American cities and the socioeconomic status of those using it are both among the factors tied to this high risk group.

As the list above is intended as a frame of reference only, it’s possible your loved one might not fit all or most of the categories. The important takeaway is the use of multiple drugs and existing addiction to either opioid painkiller, cocaine, marijuana, or alcohol increase the likelihood your loved one will develop or has already developed an addiction to heroin. If you identify an addiction to any of these substances, helping them begin treatment in a program that offers a medical detox and services for polysubstance abuse can be most helpful.


Origins Recovery Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For information on our programs, call us today: 866-875-1558.

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