Heroin addiction treatment

What effective treatment for heroin addiction looks like, and how to get the help you need to overcome addiction.

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Page medically reviewed by Dr William Shanahan, Medical Director and Clinical Director of Addictions (BAO, BCh, DCH, D'OBS, FRCPsych, MB), Priory Hospital Roehampton, in November 2022.

What is heroin addiction?

Heroin is one of the most addictive and highly destructive drugs there is. An addiction can take hold with as little as one or two uses of heroin, leading to short and long-term risks to your physical and mental health.

The seriousness of heroin addiction makes treatment a vital part of any user’s recovery. Effective treatments like rehab, detoxing and therapy can help you not only remove your reliance on the drug, but also put you on a path to better long-term wellbeing.

If you, or someone you love, has been experiencing signs of heroin addiction, read on for more about how it is treated and how you can start your recovery journey with Priory.

Heroin addiction symptoms

The symptoms of heroin addiction will vary depending on the person and how much they have used the drug. However, there are a series of common symptoms to look out for.

The clearest sign of heroin addiction in someone you care about is evidence of paraphernalia that’s used to prepare, inject, snort or smoke heroin.  This can I include:

  • Needles or syringes when they have no other medical conditions
  • Burned silver spoons
  • Plastic bags containing traces of white powder
  • Foil or gum wrappers with burn marks

Those with a heroin addiction may conceal their habit well and go to great lengths to ensure that the people closest to them don’t find out the extent of their drug use. If there are no obvious remnants of paraphernalia that may be used to consume heroin, you can look for changes in behaviour that indicate heroin abuse and addiction. This can include:

  • Lying about their whereabouts or reasons for borrowing money
  • Appearing to sleep more than usual
  • Withdrawing from friends and family, or generally socially isolating themselves
  • Lack of interest in personal hygiene
  • Worsening performance at work or sudden loss of job
  • Stealing or borrowing money from loved ones
  • Wearing clothing which hides needle marks or skin irritation caused from scratching

Heroin addiction not only manifests in physical and behavioural changes but also brings a host of psychological symptoms that can be just as telling. These include:

  • Feelings of Shame, Guilt, and Depression
  • Hopelessness and Despair
  • Impaired Ability to Concentrate or Focus
  • Poor Judgement
  • Confusion and Disorientation
  • Altered Perception of Reality
  • Anxiety and Paranoia
  • Mood Swings and Irritability
  • Loss of Interest in Activities They Once Enjoyed

Recognizing these psychological symptoms, along with the physical and behavioural signs, is crucial in understanding the full scope of heroin addiction and the profound impact it can have on an individual's mental health and overall well-being.

If you’re concerned that a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction and there's no visible evidence of drug use, it’s important to watch for these physical symptoms that might indicate addiction:

  • Significant Unintentional Weight Loss
  • Exhaustion and Lethargy
  • Watery Eyes and Runny Nose
  • Persistent Flu-like Symptoms
  • Bruising or Scabbing of the Skin

Recognising these symptoms is crucial, as individuals with a heroin addiction often go to great lengths to conceal their habit.

How is heroin addiction treated?

At Priory, we provide expert heroin addiction treatment through a network of world class treatment sites across the UK. With the right treatment, you can open a new chapter of your life, free from the grip of addiction.

To do that, it's likely that you'll go through some of the treatments detailed below:

Medically assisted heroin detox

To allow you to focus fully on long-term recovery, you’ll need to break the cycle of addiction that your heroin use has drawn you into. To do that, you’ll go through a medically assisted detoxification at one of our specialist treatment clinics.

A drug detox is the process where toxic substances, like heroin, are flushed out of your system. Usually lasting between 10 to 14 days, detoxes can involve an uncomfortable period of withdrawal. As your body adjusts to no longer being under the influence of the drug, medication may be used to maintain your wellbeing during the detox and help you manage your withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin rehab

During rehab, you’ll go through treatment such as therapy, medication and other wellbeing activities, identifying the underlying causes of your addiction and building effective coping strategies that are effective well beyond your inpatient stay.


The underlying causes of substance abuse are often complex. Personal trauma, a family history of drug addiction, mental health issues, or negative personal life events (such as divorce or job loss) can all lead to drug abuse and addiction.

During any treatment programme for addiction, you’ll look at these underlying causes during therapy. Therapy gives you the skills you need to identify potential triggers and coping skills to ensure you can stay sober.

Many different types of therapies might be effective for your addiction, but common examples include:

  • Group or family therapy: a safe, supportive environment with peers or loved ones where you're encouraged to have an honest dialogue about the impact of your addiction on yourself and those around you. Groups may be informed by the 12-step programme of addiction recovery
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): identify negative thought patterns and beliefs that are contributing to your substance use, and replace them with healthier ones
  • Rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT): challenge and replace destructive thoughts and emotions. Develops the idea that rational thinking comes from within and can be done in spite of external stressors


Prescribed by a consultant psychiatrist, medication can play a supportive role in detox and recovery from heroin addiction. Medications can help to reduce cravings, improve your mood and generally remove any distractions as you continue on your recovery journey.

When coupled with therapy, medication can remove any harmful symptoms of withdrawing from heroin and allow you to fully focus on behavioural and psychological factors that underpin your addiction.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms

Heroin is a very powerful, addictive drug. When you withdraw from heroin, you’re likely to experience some uncomfortable, and sometimes dangerous, drug withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms often drive people to re-use the drug, contributing to their ongoing cycle of addiction.

Common drug withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • High temperature and/or chills
  • Heart palpitations
  • Intense craving for the drug

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

Typically, symptoms will start anywhere between 8 to 24 hours after your last use of the drug.

The severity and longevity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on how long you’ve been addicted to heroin and how much you typically take. However, short-term, acute withdrawal symptoms from heroin can last anywhere between 3 to 10 days.

Some withdrawal symptoms can be, in rare cases, life-threatening, emphasising the importance of detoxing from heroin in a safe, medically-assisted environment. Medical support, including medication and monitoring of your overall physical and mental health, can help to reduce symptoms faster.

Heroin addiction treatment near me

We have heroin addiction treatment centres located throughout the country, ensuring that you can access the support you need in a location that's convenient for you. To find your nearest heroin addiction treatment centre, please use the search form below.

Contact us to make an enquiry or for more information

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