Heroin is considered one of the most addictive, illicit drugs in the world, with heroin addiction claiming thousands of lives each year. If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin you should seek help as quickly as possible. Our 24-hour helpline means you can speak to our admissions staff who can assess the situation and make the appropriate recommendations. Whilst there are thousands of people suffering, there are just as many in recovery who are now living fulfilling and joyful lives, free from the shackles of heroin addiction. 

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from the seed of the Asian poppy plant. It is usually found as a white or brown powder but sometimes as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.” Although heroin is synthesised from morphine, it is considered to be a more effective painkiller and an even better cough suppressant. The word “heroin” comes from the German word “heroisch”, meaning heroic, powerful. 

Short and Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

The effects of heroin are extremely fast-acting. At first, you will experience intense feelings of euphoria, peace and contentment. It has the ability to mask all inhibitions, fears, and remorse, shielding you from your immediate environment, both internal and external. You may also find you become completely indifferent to hunger and sexual urges. After an intravenous injection of heroin, you will feel a surge of exhilaration accompanied by a dry mouth, hot flushes, heaviness of the hands and feet, and clouded mental functioning. Once this first “rush” has diminished, you will alternate between a wakeful and drowsy state.

Short-term effects include:

  • Rush of euphoria
  • Respiratory depression
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Suppression of pain

Long-term effects include:

  • Addiction
  • Physical dependence 
  • Infectious diseases: HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, commonly contracted from sharing needles
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections
  • Abscesses
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems

Signs of Heroin Abuse

Once you become addicted to heroin, your brain and body are affected in several different ways. Heroin carries an extremely high risk of overdose, which can occur after just one use. Too much can easily induce respiratory failure, which could land you in a coma. Intravenous use is the most common way to take heroin because it results in a much stronger and more intense high. However, injecting heroin can cause a number of problems, including collapsed veins and infections. Sharing dirty needles can spread diseases such as HIV/AIDs and hepatitis C. Someone addicted to heroin may show some or even all of the following signs:

  • Fatigue, followed by patterns of alertness
  • Shallow or laboured breathing
  • Injection wounds
  • Infections on the skin from injections, boils, abscesses 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • The appearance of “distant” gazing eyes
  • Lack of motivation
  • Distance from old friends and family members
  • Disorientation or dizziness
  • Difficulty speaking, slurred speech
  • Lack of memory, forgetting things or not remembering important events or matters
  • Lack of interest in the future or what comes next
  • Unkempt self-image, lack of hygiene, loss of self-discipline

Health Risks of Heroin Use

Heroin use can lead to a number of serious health complications including fatal overdose, miscarriage, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Your overall health will also contribute to how badly you are affected.  

Other health risks include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses
  • Constipation and gastrointestinal cramping
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia

In addition to the dangerous side effects produced by pure heroin, street heroin is usually “cut” with other substances, and often contains toxic additives that can clog blood vessels leading to permanent damage of vital organs such as the lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain.

Heroin Addiction

One of the most detrimental long-term effects of heroin use is addiction itself. The highly addictive nature of heroin, means that – very quickly – you will be prioritising heroin above every other aspect of your life. Tolerance to heroin can build up very quickly in the body, and eventually leads to physical dependence which is usually the motivating factor behind compulsive use and abuse of the drug. Once you’ve reached this stage, most – if not all- of your energy will be spent obtaining and using heroin. It will dominate every thought process, and you will find that you simply can’t function without heroin in your system. Not only may you find yourself stealing from family and friends to fund your habit, but you will find it almost impossible to maintain a job, therefore sacrificing your relationships and prospects.

Withdrawal Symptoms

With physical dependence, the body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly. Symptoms of withdrawal may occur in regular abusers of heroin as early as a few hours after the last administration. Withdrawal produces drug cravings, restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea and vomiting, cold flashes with goosebumps, kicking movements, and other symptoms. 

Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health can be fatal. It is important to speak to medical professionals who can carefully prepare heroin detoxification specific to the needs of each individual. 

Treatment for heroin addiction at CATCH Recovery

Heroin addiction can be difficult to treat but not impossible. There are a variety of treatment options for someone suffering from heroin addiction. 

If you’re concerned about the effects your heroin addiction is having on your health and wellbeing, get in touch with CATCH Recovery to find out how we can help you begin your journey to sobriety. 

You can call our admissions team for your free addiction assessment, and they will be able to advise you on the next steps. 

Our clinic is based in South West London, which is accessible from anywhere in the UK. However, if you need additional support but don’t live in the South East of England, you may benefit from some of the outpatient services we offer. If you require residential rehab and are unable to travel to London, we also provide referrals to rehabs in other areas in the UK and Ireland.