What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug addiction drug that’s made from morphine which is extracted from the opium poppy. Historically, heroin and opium were used to treat pain, sleeplessness and diarrhoea. But now, it is part of the more serious drug abuse substances.
Heroin is used by tens of thousands of people in the UK each year and it is a highly addictive opiate drug, and one that can cause some fatal physical symptoms when overdosed.
Heroin can be injected, smoked or sniffed. A small dose of heroin gives the user a feeling of warmth and wellbeing while bigger doses can make you sleepy and relaxed. Opioid dependent patients find it to be one of the serious drug cravings.
The effects of heroin can last for a number of hours. Excessive intake leads to a substance use disorder known as heroin use disorder.
In some cases individuals become addicted to heroin due to previous exposure to powerful prescription opioids medications during a medical procedure or similar, while others arrive at heroin use disorder through social peers or significant stressors or trauma.
Heroin abuse usually involves mixing it with with synthetic opiates like Fentanyl for street sale, to increase potency – often to dangerous levels. Unfortunately, this will lead to a physical dependence or one becomes a heroin addict.
Opioid receptors are involved in pain perception and reward, which is why using heroin increases pleasurable feelings and decreases pain.
Heroin use triggers a significant increase in dopamine levels in the brain, temporarily increasing feelings of pleasure, and leaves users wanting more.
The National Institute (1) for Drug Abuse in the US, estimates almost 23 percent of one-time heroin users develop a full-blown addiction.
Negative Side Effects of Heroin Use Disorder
- Slowed Breathing
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Clouded mental functioning
Risks of Use
- Respiratory failure leading to coma or death
- Bad teeth and gums
- Muscular Weakness
- Loss of memory or intellectual performance
- Menstrual disturbance (in women)
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C or HIV (for those who inject)
- Abscesses at point of injection, which may lead to infection of circulatory systems.
Heroin Withdrawal symptoms
The common withdrawal symptoms usually start within 12 hrs. since last dose, and may last up to 2 weeks for some, depending on specific usage patterns, tolerance developed, purity of substance used, and other personal factors.
Timescales for the withdrawal symptoms will vary of course, where other substances have been mixed with heroin use, most commonly Fentanyl.
During heroin withdrawal, the level of important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, needs to recalibrate, and find equilibrium again.
Because of the severity of the drub abuse problem, addiction treatment for heroin should be done at a treatment center, where there is access to mental health professionals and others who can help anyone experiencing withdrawal symptoms that are serious and probably in need of prescription painkillers that can ease withdrawal symptoms.
Search heroin withdrawal and you will find a whole list of conditions that accompany this. Anyone suffering from heroin use disorder should enroll at an inpatient detox to receive treatment.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms Include;
The following withdrawal symptoms are also common with other opioid withdrawal symptoms as well as heroin withdrawal symptoms;
- Difficulty sleeping
- Aches and pains in muscles and joints
- Hyperhidrosis (profuse sweating)
- Increased blood pressure; hypertension symptoms
- Increased heart rate
- Stomach and muscle cramps
- Vomiting, diarrhea
- Psychological symptoms
- Nausea vomiting
- A bad flu
Withdrawal complications mostly happen during addition treatment for drug abuse, and it should happen in the first few days.
Opiate addiction can sometimes necessitate the use of a partial opioid agonist during the withdrawal process. This is a sort of drug that relieves the drug cravings and does not give the patient a ‘high’ or a serious side effect.
Anyone suffering from heroin use disorder may also experience some mental health conditions, and the withdrawal may cause a rapid onset of the above heroin withdrawal symptoms.
You should go through drug addiction treatment with the help of medical professionals.
There are many other symptoms of withdrawal you may experience such as muscle aches and other specific symptoms depending on the type of drug you are addicted to. Some can be life threatening.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
When heroin stops controlling your body, heroin withdrawal can cause some of the following psychological heroin withdrawal symptoms during addiction treatment.
- Craving heroin itself
- Increased irritability, irascibility, temper
- Low mood, depression, anxiety
- Reduced ability to feel pleasure, caused by variations in dopamine levels
- Difficulty focusing/concentrating
- Muscle aches
Detox and Addiction Treatment
Heroin Treatment In The Community Setting
In public healthcare systems, methadone is used widely as an opiate replacement therapy to help them in stopping heroin, or doing it in a controlled manner over a period of time, sometimes up to six months.
This, however, presents its own challenges when dealing with people addicted to opioids, as prescription levels can often rise rapidly, and many of our clients have told us they found it more difficult during the withdrawal from methadone, than from heroin itself.
Although this reduces cravings initially, one may end up with a whole new addiction to methadone, opioids and other medications.
Drugs are easy to get addicted and a good treatment plan is necessary when looking for help. Ongoing support should be provided and heroin withdrawal should be handled with care.
Treatment Stages: Detox > Rehab > Aftercare
A long term recovery from heroin use, in earnest, means being able to live without it, and any other drug use no matter the circumstances life presents you with.
True recovery of heroin use disorder is being able to work through the issues in life that brought you to heroin addiction in the first place, as well as dealing with the day-to-day stressors life brings up.
Most treatment clinics, including Abbeycare, will expect you to remain abstinent altogether, from further drug use especially at the treatment center and during the detox process.
And to do so, the underlying issues of psychological addiction, need to be addressed. This includes having a look at our mental health as part of the treatment options.
The treatment center should also have maintenance therapy and serious medical supervision during this and other drugs treatment.
A Structured treatment in a supervised setting like this is usually a 3 stage process: Detox > Rehab > Aftercare.
Undertaking treatment like Heroin Detox and other opioids is usually a good sign of motivation toward true long term addiction recovery, and the basic life changes required, to make that happen.
The national institute of drug abuse advises that a good outpatient program should be encouraged after treatment.
Drugs such as methadone are easy to relapse, so, being strict with treatment is necessary.
Completing opiate replacement detox in a clinic means ceasing heroin intake and being prescribed an alternative opiate medication.
This medication mimics the effects of heroin in the brain, thereby alleviating withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
During heroin detox, the dosage of medication is gradually reduced, at a comfortable rate, such that the individual is completely detoxed from all substances, whilst stabilising the body and mind.
The doctors may use an opioid antagonist to block the action of opioids. This is however non addictive but may result in physical dependence.
A rehab program for heroin misuse typically consists of a multi-modality approach to help you understand, and begin to overcome, the causal issues behind heroin misuse. There are many other factors involved in the treatment as well.
It’s done in a residential setting, with addiction specialists to help individuals understand their addiction, what lead them to that place, and how to move forward in a functional way.
You’ll normally have your own room in the clinic, and can spend time socially with other clients in the clinic, who are at different stages in their treatment.
This can help provide you with perspective and insight on how different people experience the journey differently, and how that can help you. A residential rehab program should contain multiple elements that keep you on track for recovery, ensure you take responsibility, and prepare you fully for a life free from substance abuse, and also helps you through the withdrawal process.
It should of course be holistic, and help you to explore other ways of dealing with stress, that weren’t available before.
A strong rehab program will help you understand how you got to this point, come to terms with addiction in your life, and make sense of it, so that you can move beyond it, in earnest. A typical day in rehab for Heroin addiction could look like:
- Morning meditation & self-reflection
- Detox medication, if appropriate
- CBT Therapeutic session
- Further CBT therapeutic session, or Holistic program such as reflexology/massage/reiki
- One-to-one individual keyword session with care manager; or accompanied attendance at local mutual aid meetings
Naltrexone & Heroin Treatment
What Is Naltrexone?
Naltrexone is a deterrent medication often used by those newly detoxed from heroin, as a chemical means to help prevent future relapse.
It’s an antagonist medication which blocks mu opioid receptors in the brain, and causes significant side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea, should you use heroin, whilst also taking Naltrexone.
In this way, it can act as a deterrent against relapse.
Is Naltrexone Treatment Available?
While Naltrexone seems to allow people to carry on with normal life, while preventing relapse, it does nothing to remedy the underlying psychological reasons why a person is addicted, or turning to heroin as a coping mechanism.
Importantly, Naltrexone can be taken as either oral tablet or implanted under the skin.
Oral use provides opportunity for a casual user to take a few days off from the antagonist medication, to use heroin again, and feel no significant deterring effects.
As a result it can leave users vulnerable to opioid relapse, in the absence of other, structured, psychological treatment or help.
Naltrexone treatment for heroin addiction is not easy to access, and to our knowledge, is not currently available in the UK.
Additionally, as above, it’s use may not be perceived as congruent with an abstinence based model of addiction recovery, as advocated by most UK treatment providers, including Abbeycare.
As such we do not provide Naltrexone treatment currently.
Aftercare planning is a critical part of heroin rehab and heroin detox, and having a series of personalised, structured supports in place for when you leave treatment, can play a significant role in long term recovery success.
Withdrawal from the rehab facility is never easy, but in our treatment program, each individual will have discovered their own personal signature of addiction – their triggers, conditionings, and associations attached to heroin addiction; and will therefore be better prepared to overcome these in recovery.
Aftercare planning means setting out a practical plan for life in recovery, both in the short and long term. Opioid antagonist can be used at this point to control cravings but its not recommended.
Clearly laying out a practical plan for day-to-day life in recovery can sound too simple, but it’s this level of structure and foundation that is missing in most addict’s lives.
Additionally, aftercare should lay out a series of emotional supports, that help steer your actions away from old addiction patterns, and towards more productive coping mechanisms, when stressors occur.
Including these insights in aftercare planning allows you to account for your own personal triggers, and improve upon old patterns of behaviour.
Simply knowing that these supports are in place *before* you leave treatment, can help you move forward into recovery with much greater confidence.
Heroin Detox and Treatment FAQ
How long does it take to detox from heroin?
Whilst physical and chemical detox is usually achievable in around 14 days, we advocate a minimum treatment period of 28 days in order to provide appropriate personalised relapse prevention planning, and withdrawal, plus sufficient therapeutic progress to resolve the underlying issues behind the addiction.
Can I detox myself from heroin cold turkey?
Self-detoxing cold-turkey is specifically *not* recommended. Lack of proper support during heroin detox, both emotionally and for physically withdrawal symptoms, is dangerous and can lead to rapid relapse.
Why do you suggest rehab as opposed to detox alone, or even self-detoxing?
Undertaking heroin detox treatment in a clinic allows you to be separate from the environment and circumstances you currently associate with heroin addiction. These triggers invariably reinforce and enable patterns of addiction usage, and do not easily allow you to make emotional gains on the underlying drivers behind heroin use.
Do you provide detox for opiates other than heroin, such as codeine or fentanyl?
Yes. Our team can assist with most opiate detox types. Please contact us for details.
Do you offer methadone detox or rehab?
Yes, please see our Methadone Detox page.
I am a multi substance user, including heroin – can you detox me from this?
Probably, yes. We routinely facilitate multi-substance detox and treatment in our residential clinics. For specific guidance on your particular usage levels and history, please ring our admissions team direct on 01603 513 091.
Is it possible to avoid becoming addicted as a casual user?
As above, typically 23% of users become addicted to heroin. The best way to avoid heroin addiction, is total abstinence.
How much does it cost for heroin treatment at Abbeycare?
Abbeybot below can provide you with personalised guideline pricing for heroin detox treatment and the recovery process. Please note pricing depends on individual needs, and is subject to approval by both our admissions and clinical teams.
How To Book Addiction Treatment
To book heroin detox or treatment at Abbeycare, call our admissions team direct on 01603 513 091, or request a callback, at a convenient time.