What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug made from morphine which is extracted from the opium poppy.
Historically, heroin and opium were used to treat pain, sleeplessness and diarrhoea.
Heroin is used by tens of thousands of people in the UK each year and is highly addictive.
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.
The effects of heroin can last for a number of hours.
In some cases individuals become addicted to heroin due to previous exposure to powerful opioid medications during a medical procedure or similar, while others arrive at heroin use via social peers or significant stressors or trauma.
Heroin is commonly mixed with synthetic opiates like Fentanyl for street sale, to increase potency – often to dangerous levels.
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 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
- Slowed Breathing
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Clouded mental functioning
Risks of Heroin 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)
- Abcesses at point of injection, which may lead to infection of circulatory systems.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually start within 12 hrs since last usage, 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 will vary of course, where other substances have been mixed with heroin use, most commonly Fentanyl.
During withdrawal, the level of important neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine, needs to recalibrate, and find equilibrium again.
Heroin – Physical 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
Heroin – Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
- Craving heroin itself
- Increased irritability, irascibility, temper
- Low mood, depression, anxiety
- Reduced ability to feel pleasure, caused by variations in dopamine levels
- Difficulty focussing/concentrating
Heroin Treatment In The Community Setting
In public healthcare systems, methadone is used widely as an opiate replacement therapy to help those addicted to heroin cease using.
However this can present its own challenges, as prescription levels can often rise rapidly, and many of our clients have told us they found it more difficult withdrawing from methadone, than from heroin itself.
Heroin Treatment Stages: Detox > Rehab > Aftercare
A long term recovery from heroin use, in earnest, means being able to live without it, no matter the circumstances life presents you with.
True recovery 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.
And to do so, the underlying issues of psychological addiction, need to be addressed.
Structured treatment in a supervised setting like this is usually a 3 stage process: Detox > Rehab > Aftercare.
Undertaking treatment like this is usually a good sign of motivation toward true long term addiction recovery, and the basic life changes required, to make that happen.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 keywork 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 having a series of personalised, structured supports in place for when you leave treatment, can play a significant role in long term recovery success.
Via the 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.
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.
- 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 sufficient therapeutic progress to resolve the underlying issues behind the addiction.
Repeated detoxes with no further psychological treatment can increase risks associated with relapse, and are more expensive in the long run.
- Can I detox myself from heroin cold turkey?
Self-detoxing cold-turkey is specifically *not* recommended. Lack of proper support during detox, both emotionally and for physically withdrawal symptoms, is dangerous and can lead to rapid relapse.
Additionally repeated self-detoxing followed by relapse can lead to the erroneous belief, that “detox doesn’t work” or a similar belief can be used to justify further heroin usage.
For all these reasons we strongly suggest seeking appropriate supervised help in a residential setting, to minimise withdrawal symptoms, and maximise likelihood of long term abstinence.
- Why do you suggest rehab as opposed to detox alone, or even self-detoxing?
Undertaking 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.
Truly overcoming heroin means understanding *what it is achieving for you*. In other words, your personal reasons “why”, behind your addiction. Without expert help to understand and address these, abstinence from heroin becomes extremely difficult. For these reasons, we strongly recommend residential rehabilitation for heroin misuse.
- 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.
- I’m using methadone and additional heroin on top of this, can you help me detox?
Yes. Our specialists can assist you to detox using a protocol that is personalised to your usage level personally. Ask us for more info.
- I’ve heard of Naltrexone implants or oral medication – do you offer this?
No. To the best of our knowledge, Naltrexone implants are not available in the UK currently.
- Is it possible to avoid becoming addicted to heroin as a casual user?
As above, typically 23% of users become addicted to heroin. The best way to avoid heroin addiction, is total abstinence.
- What medication will I be given to help with heroin withdrawal?
Whilst your personal detox plan is determined by the prescribing professional, most clinics, including Abbeycare, would normally prescribe a partial opiate agonist medication such as Buprenorphine to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and allow a safe and comfortable detox whilst the body processes any remaining toxins from heroin use.
- How much does it cost for heroin treatment at Abbeycare?
Abbeybot below can provide you with personalised guideline pricing for heroin treatment. Please note pricing depends on individual needs, and is subject to approval by both our admissions and clinical teams.