Heroin addiction treatment

Heroin is an opiate drug derived from morphine, and is most commonly injected intravenously, although it can be snorted, smoked or inhaled. It has strong painkilling properties, being roughly three times as strong a painkiller as morphine. Heroin is also one of the most addictive substances available and addiction can occur rapidly. Tolerance is built quickly, causing a person to require more of the drug to appease their cravings, risking fatal overdose and many associated difficulties.

If you are worried you or a loved one are addicted to heroin, Priory’s free initial addiction assessment offers you an opportunity to discuss all of the options associated with your addiction. This assessment takes place with an experienced therapist and is completely confidential. There are many symptoms associated with heroin use and a range of indicators that a person may be using it.

All three ways of taking heroin deliver the drug to the brain rapidly. Once there it is converted back into morphine and binds to opioid receptors, located in many areas of the brain, such as those involved with pain perception, reward, and other areas critical for life.

Heroin can appear as a white or brown powder, and also as a black, tar-like substance. The initial injection of heroin causes a rapid euphoric rush alongside a dry mouth, flushing of the skin and heavy limbs. This is followed by a state that can alternate from awake to lethargic. There can also be a fast onset of nausea, vomiting and severe itching, depending on the dosage and how the body reacts.  

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

The signs a person may be abusing heroin can include:

  • Tiredness interspersed with patterns of alertness
  • Shallow, troubled breathing
  • Injection wounds
  • Infections on the skin from injections, boils
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • Unfocused, distant eyes
  • Disorientation or dizziness
  • Difficulty speaking, slurred or incoherent speech
  • Loss of interest in the future

Other signs can include finding a range of items associated with heroin consumption. A person abusing heroin will possess burned spoons, small plastic bags with white or brown residue, ligatures such as shoelaces or belts lay about, burned aluminium foil, and needles or syringes left around the home or in the bin. Burnt tin foil may be left lying around – household tin foil is doubly dangerous as it’s coated in toxins that can cause lung problems.

Frequent heroin users may also have lost interest in their appearance and general hygiene, appearing unkempt and far-removed from the person you knew. Stealing money or valuables to fund a heroin habit may also become common.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms and physical effects

Heroin abuse can result in addiction and a variety of severe complications and illnesses. There is a risk of Hepatitis B or C, or HIV (often through the sharing of needles). A chronic user may suffer from collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining and valve, constipation, gastrointestinal issues, liver disease or kidney disease. Users tend to eat significantly less and can suffer from complications associated with malnutrition, combined with their drug abuse. Those who smoke the drug are at further risk of breathing problems, chest infections, and lung congestion.

The withdrawal symptoms of heroin can begin as soon as a few hours after use for some people, contributing to its addictiveness. Users may continue to consume heroin because of its pain-relieving abilities or simply to stave off any withdrawal symptoms, finding themselves dragged into a vicious cycle. The longer this goes on the stronger the likelihood of serious illness related to the addiction. Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Intense heroin cravings
  • Sickness and vomiting
  • Strong muscle and bone aches
  • Restlessness or tremors
  • Feeling of heaviness
  • Intense cramping in limbs
  • Insomnia
  • Cold sweats and/or chills, or a fever
  • Diarrhoea 

These withdrawal symptoms can last for anything from a few days to several weeks, and heroin cravings may persists for months. In some cases the complications related to heroin withdrawal can cause death.

Treating heroin abuse

It’s important to recognise the need to seek help. Heroin addiction will almost certainly require an inpatient programme to overcome.

Treatment for heroin dependency will involve intensive group and individual counselling in order to identify all associated issues and treat them holistically. Our consultant-led teams work to identify the patterns of destructive behaviour and social impact that the addiction has upon the individual’s life and the lives of people closest to them. Having the support of family and friends can be a significant advantage on the road to recovery, being able to offer a strong support network. 

Heroin detox programme

Heroin treatment begins with a medically-assisted detoxification. This has to be managed very carefully because of the dangers associated with withdrawal and going ‘cold turkey’.

The detoxification process can take between several days and a few weeks to complete, depending on how much of the drug a person was consuming. It requires close monitoring of the patient and will likely be medically-assisted to ensure the detox process is as comfortable as possible. 

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding Heroin Addiction Treatment & Rehab, please call  0800 840 3219 or click here for a free addiction assessment.