Heroin addiction is something that can have negative effects on all areas of your life, from your relationships and family to your professional life and finances. Heroin use changes the way your brain works according to brain scans, [i] – and it can take months and sometimes even years for your brain to return to normal functioning after stopping heroin use.
It can be difficult to quit heroin without medical assistance – partly because the withdrawal effects can be dangerous and very uncomfortable, and partly because of the strong physical addiction as well as the psychological addiction.
If you think you or somebody you know may be addicted to heroin, read on to learn more about heroin addiction, and how we can help you. We have addiction treatment centres around England and Wales, so you’re sure to find the right local treatment centre for you.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is made from morphine. Morphine is a natural substance that comes from opium poppy plant seed pods – that are typically grown in Asia, Columbia, and Mexico. It is an illegal drug that can be smoked, injected, sniffed, or snorted. [ii]
An active ingredient in heroin is diacetylmorphine – aka diamorphine. This is a potent painkiller that comes from opium – more specifically, the latex sap for the seed pod of opium poppies. This produces the heroin high and is part of the reason why heroin is so addictive, and why so many people will need to take more heroin to feel the same effects and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
One of the forms that heroin can come in is black tar heroin, which is a black/brown sticky substance. It has been around for over a hundred years – but rose in popularity in the 1970s. This is because black tar heroin is easier and cheaper to make than other forms – the opiate is less refined than white powder heroin.
When heroin is further processed and cut with lactose, you get brown powder heroin. However, heroin is often cut with other substances. White powder heroin is a salt farm of heroin – aka diacetylmorphine hydrochloride. Even white powder heroin is often cut or mixed with other substances that reduce the potency of the drug. This can increase the risk of vein damage and contamination.
Purer heroin will typically be white and shiny, whereas heroin that has been cut with other substances will have a duller appearance. [iii]
Heroin is a highly addictive substance. It is estimated that over 13.5 million people in the world take opioids/ opium-like substances, and 9.2 million of those people are heroin users. [iv] It is not uncommon to develop a heroin dependence.
Heroin has many street names – you may have heard the terms smack, horse, brown, golden brown, or junk. There are also other names for heroin terms – some terms associated with heroin use include line, rail, snort, toot, speedball, and fireball. A speedball or a fireball is when heroin is mixed with cocaine. [v]
The Effects of Heroin
The effects of heroin are typically put in two categories – the short-term effects of heroin and the long-term effects of heroin. Short-term effects generally refer to how you feel immediately after taking the drug, whereas the long-term effects can include how heroin can affect your lifestyle and your health.
Short Term Effects
The short term effects of heroin can kick in almost immediately – however, it depends on how you take it. If you smoke heroin or inject heroin, it will enter your bloodstream immediately so you’ll feel the effects within a matter of seconds. However, it can take a few minutes for the effects of heroin to kick in if you snort it.
Heroin can have a variety of short-term effects – many of which are enjoyable at first. For example, you may feel relaxed, happy, euphoric, and sometimes even drowsy.
However, you can also experience negative effects when taking heroin – especially if you’re not used to heroin. You may experience sickness and nausea, tiredness, dry mouth, and slowed-down heart rate and breathing.
The length of the effects can also vary depending on the method of use. For example, the effects of smoking heroin can only last for an hour – but the effects when snorting or injecting heroin can last for much longer and feel intense. [vi]
Repeated heroin usage can change the physical structure of the brain, as well as the physiology of the brain. This can create long-term imbalances in your hormone and neuronal systems, which can be difficult to reverse. Prolonged and repeated heroin use can cause the brain’s white matter to deteriorate according to studies [vii], which impacts behaviour regulation, stress responses, and decision-making.
The long term effects of heroin abuse can be very destructive regardless of the method of use. Frequently injecting heroin can lead to collapsed veins, ultimately leading to blood vessel infections and heart valve infections.
Some particularly debilitating long-term effects of heroin use can include arthritis, tuberculosis, as well as AIDS and hepatitis C2 and hepatitis B (through sharing needles). Heroin use has also been linked to kidney disease.
It can also have negative effects on your sex life causing reduced sexual capacity and impotence, as well as the inability to achieve orgasm. This can often cause problems in relationships.
Prolonged use of heroin may also lead to mouth issues (e.g bad teeth and inflammation of the gums), appetite loss, menstrual issues (irregular menstrual cycle), breathing problems, memory loss, itching, and a weakened immune system. In some cases, heroin abuse can lead to coma. [viii]
Like many other drugs, heroin can also have negative effects on your mental health. Substance use can cause areas in your brain to change – the same areas that are disrupted in mental disorders such as anxiety, mood disorders, impulse-control disorders, and schizophrenia. Heroin use can produce changes within the structure of the brain that can ignite underlying mental illnesses. [ix]
Heroin can rewire your brain’s reward centres, which can cause your brain to rely on heroin to produce serotonin and dopamine – so when you stop taking heroin, you may feel depressed. It can also cause your stress hormones to increase, leading to depressive feelings. The societal views of addiction can also worsen signs of depression, and lead to a lack of self-worth.
Heroin can be addictive even after one or two uses. However, repetitive heroin use and abuse can cause heroin use disorder to develop.
Heroin use disorder/ opioid use disorder is a chronic disease that can be treated with the right care. Contact Help4Addiction for more information on how we can help you. It is pretty common, with over 26.8 million people with OUD (opioid use disorder) in 2016. This figure rose by 47.3% since 1990. [x]
When taking heroin, there is always a risk of overdosing. Heroin overdose accounts for many preventable deaths – affecting your central nervous system. Heroin overdose syndrome usually includes respiration difficulties, miotic pupils, and abnormal mental status.
Heroin overdoses usually occur at home around other people – homes tend to be the most common place in which people use heroin. It isn’t uncommon that you have a fatal heroin overdose – these are often associated with alcohol and other drugs. [xi]
Some signs of a heroin overdose may include:
- Shallow breathing
- Blue tint on fingertips and lips
- Discoloured tongue
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Slurring words
- Pale skin
- Weak pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Not responding
- Mental changes (e.g anger, stumbling around)
It isn’t always easy to tell if somebody is having a heroin overdose – but listening can help. A person who is overdosing on heroin may complain of issues such as chest pains, trouble breathing, or headaches. [xii]
If you believe you or somebody around you is having a heroin overdose, it’s important to get help as soon as possible. Hospital observation is often required to avoid further complications – and methadone maintenance is commonly administered as a preventative measure.
What is Heroin Addiction?
Heroin is an addictive illegal substance that can have many negative effects on your health, relationships, work, and everyday life. In fact, almost all aspects of your life can be impacted by drug addiction.
Heroin enters your brain quickly, causing a quick and intense high. Repetitive heroin use can lead to you developing a tolerance – meaning that you’ll need to take more of the drug to feel the same effect.[xiii] In time, you’ll feel the need to take heroin just to feel ‘normal’. Repetitive heroin use can lead to heroin addiction.
Opioids are highly addictive and can lead to overdoses and death. Heroin is one of the world’s most dangerous opioids. Prescription opioids and heroin are chemically similar, and both produce a similar high. [xiv] However, heroin is often cheaper and easier to access than prescription opioids, so many people will switch to heroin instead – which is how many people get addicted.
Some symptoms of heroin addiction can present quickly, whether it be physical symptoms of heroin addiction or psychological symptoms. Some symptoms of heroin addiction may include trouble sleeping, memory loss, disorientation, vomiting, lack of self-control. However, one of the main symptoms of heroin addiction is not being able to stop using despite the negative implications. Generally, the more a person uses, the more difficult it will be to hide the addiction. [xv]
Risk Factors for Heroin Addiction
Some people may be more prone to heroin addiction than others. For example, if you have a family history of addiction, then you may be at more risk of becoming addicted to substances yourself, whether it be alcohol addiction or drug addiction.
Mental health issues could also be a risk factor for heroin addiction. For example, if you experience anxiety or severe depression, you could be more prone to heroin addiction or drug addiction in general. Some more personal risk factors may include age, history of drug abuse, and history of tobacco use. Your personality can also be a risk factor – for example, if you’re a person who takes risks regularly.
Environmental factors can also be a risk factor for heroin addiction, such as being exposed to high-risk individuals.
The length of time you use opioids can be a risk factor for heroin addiction. Using opioids for just a few days can increase the chances of addiction and heroin dependency. It is often a combination of genetic and environmental factors that can lead to heroin addiction and opioid addiction. [xvi]
Heroin Addiction Treatment
At Help4Addiction, we can help you find the right heroin addiction treatment for you. With treatment centres and heroin addiction treatment options located around England and Wales, we can help you find your local addiction treatment centre and the right treatment plan for you.
We don’t just help you break your heroin addiction – we can also help you to return back into the community and ease the transition back into society.
Our goal is to help you detox from heroin and prevent relapse. Contact us today to discuss how our medical professionals and addiction specialists can help you in both the short term and the long term, and to learn about the different addiction treatments and resources we offer.
It can be tough undergoing treatment for heroin addiction, but we always keep your mental health and physical health in mind.
The first stage of the heroin addiction treatment process involves detoxing from heroin. It can be tough with any substance, whether it be a cocaine detox, alcohol detox, or cannabis detox – but heroin can be one of the most difficult drugs to detox from. This is because there can be many unpleasant and dangerous withdrawal symptoms. [xvii]
Typically, heroin detox programs follow different processes as heroin is such an addictive substance – and extra help is often required.
Suboxone and Buprenorphine won’t always work effectively alone, and it can help if you’re weaned onto other substances that are less potent than heroin. Most people who are detoxing from heroin will be offered methadone under medical supervision, which can streamline the heroin detox process and ease the withdrawal symptoms.
When it comes to heroin detox, we always recommend a medically assisted detox program to help manage the withdrawal symptoms. This means that you’ll detox from heroin under medical supervision – as you may experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Some of our rehab options such as cannabis rehab and alcohol rehab are typically offered as an outpatient drug detox – but heroin addiction treatment will almost always be on an inpatient basis. The risk of outpatient treatment for heroin detox is considered too high – and medically supervised detoxes are much safer. The vast majority of heroin users will opt for inpatient heroin rehab as opposed to outpatient heroin rehab.
Some heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Heroin cravings/ drug cravings
- Cold flashes
- General weakness
- Aches and pains [xviii]
Withdrawal from heroin can begin as soon as just a few hours after the last use – peaking around three days after heroin cessation. However, the discomfort and heroin cravings can last for weeks. [xix]
Upon completing heroin detox, you can undergo the next stage of heroin addiction treatment.
Heroin rehab treatment usually involves therapy, whether it be one-on-one with a clinical psychologist or counsellor, or group therapy with those in a similar situation.
You may experience unpleasant psychological withdrawal symptoms, so a substance abuse professional may work with you to provide quality mental health care with your wellbeing in mind.
Behavioural therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) may be offered to help you gain an understanding of your addiction and the root of your addiction. CBT is based on the belief that your thoughts, feelings, and actions and linked – and you can change the cycle. Inpatient rehab may be offered on a 28-day basis, although we do offer 14-day programs and 7-day programs. However, shorter rehab programs are generally offered for other drug addictions such as cannabis.
At Help4Addiction, we offer secondary treatment, also known as aftercare. This generally involves further therapy – specifically group therapy. This can ease the transition back into the community and help to prevent relapse.
Joining support groups with other individuals in similar circumstances can help to prevent relapse and give you a support network. Whether you need a quality drug treatment service for heroin, prescribed drugs, alcohol, or other drugs, we can help. We always have your well-being in mind and can find the right medical care for you.