Heroin Addiction – Types of Treatment and Support

Heroin is a powerful drug that has devastated the lives of many people all over the world. The problem with this substance is that it is a highly addictive drug; for some people, just one dose is enough to set them on a destructive path to heroin addiction.

Dabbling in drugs is not uncommon among teenagers and young people, but very few will experiment with powerful drugs such as heroin. Sadly, for some young people who think they will try this drug just once, heroin becomes an obsession and something they cannot live without.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

If you ask those who have never used heroin to describe it, they will tell you it is a white powder, which is the case when it is in its purest form. However, street heroin can actually be black, brown or grey in colour. The reason it comes in various colours is that it is often cut with other substances such as caffeine or sugar. It is not uncommon for heroin to be cut with harmful substances including strychnine 1; one of the biggest issues is that it is impossible to tell the strength of the drug just by looking at it. This means that heroin users are always risking serious side effects, including overdose.

Someone who is used to taking low-strength heroin has a very high risk of overdose if he or she is given the drug at four times the normal strength. As previously mentioned, there is just no way to tell by looking at the drug.

The Effects of Heroin

Heroin causes both short and long term effects on the user. Those who take the substance will feel a sensation of warmth and general wellbeing. They will feel very relaxed and sleepy as it has a sedative effect. However, it is common for first-time users to feel very dizzy and nauseous, with some vomiting. These feelings can last for a few hours, and it is during this period that users are in danger of complications if they use other drugs or drink alcohol. Heroin slows down bodily functions, including the heartbeat and breathing.

Once the effects of the drug begin to wear off, the user will usually experience powerful urges to take it again. Withdrawal can occur very quickly, and unless the person takes more of the drug, he or she may experience aches and pains, restlessness, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

The more heroin a person uses, the more tolerant he or she will become to the effects of the drug, needing to take higher doses each time. This quickly leads to a physical addiction and intense cravings that take over the person’s life. Those who become addicted to heroin will be unable to think of anything else but the drug and their extreme need for it. They will usually do almost anything to get their hands on it while all other responsibilities will take a back seat.

Heroin is a destructive drug, and heroin addiction is a devastating force in the lives of those affected. It often leads individuals to lose absolutely everything they have, including their families, friends, jobs and homes.

Long-Term Effects on Health

Heroin destroys lives in more ways than one; as well as having an adverse impact on the lives of those directly and indirectly affected, it can have grave consequences for the physical and mental health of the user.

Those who inject heroin are risking a number of infections as well as collapsed veins. Shared needles carry very serious risks, including the spread of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. There are many other long-term effects, including gum disease, tooth decay, severe itching, cold sweats, constipation, breathing illnesses, loss of memory, sexual dysfunction, muscular weakness, weakened immune systems, insomnia and depression. Heavy users risk overdose and death.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

It is important for those with a heroin addiction to get help before the drug completely destroys their lives. Overcoming this type of addiction is tough, but it is not impossible. The first step on the road to recovery is a programme of detoxification.

Heroin detox is complicated because of the way the drug disrupts the function of the brain. Detox is not the same as treatment, however, so it is important to realise that this is just the beginning of the journey. This process involves quitting heroin and then waiting for the drugs to leave the system. Nevertheless, withdrawal symptoms are common among those detoxing from heroin, and these can range from mild to severe.

People who are detoxing from heroin will typically experience very powerful cravings for the drug, and their ability to think clearly will be affected. They will do almost anything to get the substance and will beg, plead and manipulate in an attempt to convince their carers to let them have it.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually start off quite mild and begin around eight to sixteen hours after the person has stopped taking the drug. These can include drug-seeking behaviour and anxiety. These symptoms may then be followed by more unpleasant symptoms including sweating, watering eyes, yawning, restlessness, insomnia, muscle twitching, cramps, irritability and loss of appetite.

Severe symptoms include muscle weakness, raised temperature, high blood pressure, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Most heroin withdrawal symptoms will dissipate within one week to ten days, but some do tend to linger for longer, such as muscle aches, anxiety and sleeplessness.


Heroin addiction is often treated with methadone, which is a drug that produces similar effects to heroin. It is a synthetic drug that is used as a heroin substitute, but critics believe that treating heroin addiction with methadone is simply swapping one addiction for another.

The thought behind the methadone programme is that the addict is prescribed methadone to be taken instead of heroin. The dose is reduced over time with the idea being that the individual will eventually stop taking the drug and will no longer be addicted to heroin. He or she will have avoided the withdrawal symptoms that detoxing from heroin causes.

Methadone gives the user a feeling of relaxation and warmth, but these feelings are less intense than those produced by heroin.

Heroin Rehab

After heroin detox, it is necessary to undergo a programme of rehabilitation. It is at this point that the individual learns how to live a life free from the drug. It is one thing to stop taking heroin and to get all traces out of the system, but quite another to maintain this drug free status.

A residential rehab stay is usually advisable because this allows for an intensive treatment programme to tackle the addictive behaviour. Because heroin cravings can last for many months after detox, it is necessary that the patient learns how to handle these cravings without succumbing to them.

Relapse prevention is a vital part of rehabilitation for all types of addiction, and it is no different for a heroin addiction. A heroin rehab programme will include elements of cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, individual counselling, group therapy, 12-step work, and family therapy.

The type of treatment plan you are given will vary from one rehab centre to another, but most will include variations of the above treatments.

What is Residential Treatment Like

A residential treatment centre is staffed by medical professionals, counsellors, therapists and support staff, and patients may have a private room or will share with another patient. These centres give patients the opportunity to spend around six to eight weeks under the care and supervision of a fully professional team with experience in helping those with addiction to overcome their illnesses.

Patients will attend various counselling and therapy sessions, and they will usually be expected to eat their meals in a shared dining room, where they can interact with other patients. Most private clinics provide nutritional advice and encourage patients to get involved with an exercise programme. There may be an on-site gym or patients may be taken to a local gym nearby during the evening and weekends.

Here at Recovery.org.uk, we work with a large number of private and public organisations providing first-class treatments for those with all types of addiction. As soon as you get in touch with us, we will assess your situation and will recommend a suitable treatment provider based on your individual needs. Call us today for free, confidential advice and information on heroin addiction and how to access the treatments you need to get better.

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