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Understanding Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a strong and highly addictive opiate drug that is available in the form of either a brown or white powder. The colour of Heroin depends on how pure it is and whether or not it has been cut with other substances. It is made from Morphine, a pain-relieving drug which is sourced from opium poppies. Heroin can smell like vinegar, and is generally bitter in flavour. Users take it by either smoking it in tin foil (and then inhaling the smoke), snorting it, or injecting it. Intravenous methods of Heroin consumption are the most lethal and can lead to overdose.Heroin is fast acting, and users will typically notice the drug kicking in within five minutes. After effects following abuse can last for many hours. It is noticeable in a urine sample up to three days after it has been taken.Heroin is a depressant drug (unlike stimulants like Cocaine that make a user happy and buzzed). When ingested, a user feels extreme relaxation, calm and euphoria. The drug blocks the body’s ability to feel pain, and makes the user feel numb. If a user has underlying health conditions, taking Heroin can be dangerous because of its painkilling properties. Because Heroin is so much stronger than Morphine and other opiates, it is highly addictive, meaning tolerance to it can quickly build. As a tolerance to Heroin develops, a user needs to take more to experience the desired feelings of pleasure, relaxation and to let go of their worries. Common health problems associated with Heroin tolerance include loss of periods (in women), bruising and cuts on the arms, infections and weight loss.

What are the Effects and Abuse of Heroin?

Heroin may make a person very sick and nauseous the first time they use it. Vomiting and dizziness are common. People generally take Heroin to feel an extreme state of relaxation in which they are free from stress. It makes a person feel happy, sleepy and calm – all at the same time, leading to an overall state of euphoria and bliss. Over time, using Heroin has a great impact on the brain, causing the user to crave more of the drug and build up a tolerance. Because it is so addictive, weaning an addict off of the substance and replacing it with another drug is usually the safest way to get them clean and recovered from addiction.

Common indications of Heroin abuse are:

  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low mood/feeling despair
  • Lack of judgement
  • Poor co-ordination
  • Confusion and poor motor function
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Constipation
  • Bruised/cut skin
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling tired and lethargic
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Pneumonia

What are the Warning Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Those struggling with Heroin addiction generally feel lethargic and tired, with feelings of loss and despair. Psychological problems associated with Heroin addiction can cause a person to struggle in their performance at work or in education. They may also display secretive behaviour and become aggressive if the subject of drugs is approached, wear long-sleeved clothing to conceal their arms (where they have been injecting), or lie and demonstrate general secrecy on their whereabouts and drug-taking.

Heroin is deadly, and kills far more people in the UK than other illegal substances. Overdosing on Heroin can make a person fall into a coma, as their breathing can slow down so much that their body doesn’t get enough oxygen. Injecting Heroin is also very dangerous, as it risks damaging veins and forming blood clots, as well as contracting HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C. If an addict overdoses on Heroin, there is also a chance they could die from choking on their own vomit, as Heroin relaxes the body to the point where the muscles in the throat needed to cough also completely relax and fail to work, making a person unable to properly clear their throat.

Warning signs of Heroin addiction include:

  • Bloodshot eyes with constricted pupils
  • Sudden weight loss that is unexplained
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Feeling unmotivated and unenthusiastic
  • Lack of interest in social and work life
  • Sleepiness and fatigue
  • Secrecy
  • Financial problems/asking for money to buy Heroin

What are Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

A person can very quickly build up a tolerance to Heroin, to the point where they require larger amounts of it to experience its relaxing effects. As with other opiates, Heroin addiction is very difficult to overcome and requires determination on the part of the addict in order to be successful. An addict who suddenly stops taking Heroin can experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including:

As these symptoms are so uncomfortable, they can sometimes overwhelm a person’s desire to quit Heroin, causing them to take even more of the drug and potentially overdose. It is very difficult and dangerous to quit Heroin without professional help. Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person depending on the severity of their addiction, their general health, how frequently they take Heroin, and their method of taking it.

Support for Heroin Addiction

A Heroin addiction can take a devastating toll on a person and their loved ones. There are a number of ways to support a suspected Heroin addict. The first step is to let them know that you are there for them. Help the addict to acknowledge that they have a drug problem. If you are a loved one with a Heroin addict in your family or circle of friends, educate yourself as much as you can about Heroin and how addictive it is. Try to understand the stages of addiction that they are experiencing, and their feelings when they take it and when they experience withdrawal. When you talk to them about their addiction, demonstrate your knowledge to better relate to the addict’s behaviour and symptoms. If you cannot get an addict to a rehabilitation centre of their own will, it may be worth stating an intervention and speaking to a doctor or therapy centre such as East Coast Recovery, where you can receive help and advice on how to stage a successful intervention with the help of the user’s other family and friends.

Medically Supervised Heroin Detox

Suddenly going ‘cold turkey’ off of Heroin is dangerous and shouldn’t be attempted. There is a risk of death if detoxing is attempted via this route, as the withdrawal symptoms felt can be so intense, that a lethal overdose could be consumed if an addict tries to counter them. Dehydration is also a major risk with an at-home detox, which is why a Heroin addict should always follow a medically-approved detox programme in a safe and controlled environment.

Our Heroin detox programmes at East Coast Recovery usually require clients to take Heroin substitute drugs such as buprenorphine or methadone. These help to ease any discomfort that can occur when withdrawal symptoms are experienced, while also preventing relapse. Our staff will always ensure that you are taking the correct and safest amounts of Heroin substitute for your situation and recovery requirements.

Treatment of Heroin Addiction

A first stage of Heroin addiction treatment is recognising that a drug problem is present and needs to be properly treated. At East Coast Recovery, we work with our clients to get to the core reasons behind their drug problems. We discuss with them how drugs have affected their life and career prospects, as well as their relationships, and structure a forward plan with them that enables recovery. Being in a controlled medical facility gives a Heroin addict the best chance of recovery success.

When Heroin addicts are treated, they are often weaned off of Heroin and drugs generally via replacement of Heroin with an alternative drug, such as buprenorphine or methadone. This is especially important if withdrawal symptoms are highly dangerous and potentially lethal, and is known as ‘maintenance therapy’. Following detox, which typically takes 28 days, ongoing treatment is required via Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), counselling, group and speech therapy and mindfulness/meditation to change the way a user thinks and feels about Heroin. We usually suggest that a Heroin addict is admitted to a rehab facility, as this enables them to focus on getting better without temptations and distractions from their normal home life.