17 August 2017

The Lowdown on What Heroin Addiction

To those with no experience of addiction, the idea of continuing to use a drug that is causing negative consequences is unbelievable. In fact, most wonder why anyone would even try illegal drugs such as heroin in the first place. Moreover, many believe that taking heroin just once will mean an instant addiction. But it does not usually happen like this. The reality is that those who dabble with drugs will often find that heroin is a drug that does not have as many immediate side effects as other illegal substances. If you have ever wondered what heroin addiction is like, you might be surprised by what some users have to say about it.

What Is Heroin and What Does Using It Feel Like?

Heroin is a Class A illegal drug that is derived from the opium poppy plant. It has been used for centuries in some form or other and was initially used to treat conditions such as insomnia and pain. Heroin is actually made from morphine, which is a strong painkiller used by medical professionals to treat patients in severe pain.

When sold on the streets, heroin is either a brown or white powder or a sticky tar-like substance, which is known as tar heroin. The immediate effect of the drug is to make the user feel relaxed and happy. Unlike other street drugs such as cocaine that make the user feel alert and confident, heroin is a drug that has the effect of making users feel mellow and content.

Another noticeable difference between heroin and other drugs is that the comedown is less severe. With drugs such as cocaine, the user tends to feel depressed and ill when the effects of the drug wear off. With heroin, this does not happen. This is the main reason many continue to use the drug.

These individuals are surprised that they feel so good after taking it, and because it is relatively cheap to buy, they wonder what all the fuss is about. Contrary to popular belief, most of those who experiment with heroin will not inject the drug. In truth, most people first experience the drug through opiate medications or by smoking a street equivalent. They can continue to use these drugs for many weeks without suffering any withdrawal effects. To a drug user, this is fantastic; he or she is waking up without any obvious side effects, so the temptation to use repeatedly is too great. But somewhere along the line, things start to change.

When Does Heroin Use Become a Problem?

Heroin may seem like a wonderful drug in the beginning. Those who take it are still functioning normally and it is not having an adverse effect on their health or their daily life. However, a person’s tolerance to heroin will quickly increase, meaning that he or she is soon at the point where they are not getting the same high achieved in the early days. This can result in the person continuously chasing that elusive first high, which will mean he or she will need to take more of the drug to be satisfied.

The drug that was once cheap and wonderful becomes something much more expensive and harder to find. As the person begins using more of the drug to chase the high, a physical dependence will slowly occur. Their body will adapt to the presence of the drug and he/she will begin to crave it. When the effects of the drug wear off, the affected individual will start to feel early withdrawal symptoms that are akin to having the flu. It is only the drug that can make these feelings subside, so the user begins to take it more regularly.

Those who find themselves craving the drug will be tempted to turn to injecting it in a bid to get the feelings they desire. When this happens, there is no turning back; the person is addicted and in need of professional help to get better.

The Dangers of Heroin

As you might expect, heroin is a Class A drug for good reason. It is highly addictive and very dangerous. One of the biggest dangers with this drug is the risk of accidental overdose due to purity issues. Street heroin is often mixed with other substances by manufacturers who want the drug to go further in order to make more money.

So one batch of heroin could be twenty per cent pure while another could be sixty per cent pure. The person who has been taking twenty per cent pure heroin for a long time would be at extreme risk of an overdose by taking the same quantity of sixty per cent pure heroin. The trouble is that there is no way to know from looking at a batch of heroin how pure it is.

It is also worth mentioning that a person’s tolerance to heroin decreases rapidly. This means that someone who has been through a heroin detox, even for many days, would be at a substantial risk of overdose by returning to the drug and taking the same amount of it as they were taking before beginning the detox.

There are also many long-term effects of using the substance. Those who are injecting the drug are risking the collapse of their veins, which can then lead to various infections. Sharing needles, which is common among heroin users, can result in hepatitis C and other infections, such as HIV.

In addition, heroin users may suffer with the following conditions:

  • Constipation
  • Gum disease
  • Rotten teeth
  • Respiratory problems
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
  • Cold sweats
  • Sores on the body
  • Itching
  • Menstrual problems
  • Inability to orgasm
  • Loss of libido
  • Muscular weakness

The Effect of Heroin Addiction on Others

It is easy to assume that heroin addicts are only harming themselves and that they should be left to get on with their addictive behaviour. Nevertheless, as with all other addictions, heroin addiction affects far more than the individual.

Family members and friends often cannot understand why their heroin-addicted loved one just does not stop taking drugs. They cannot comprehend why the person they love continues to abuse this drug – a drug that is causing so much harm to their lives. Nonetheless, it is not easy to just stop. The addict may want to stop and might know deep down that their use of the drug is causing harm to those they love, but their need for it is much stronger than anything else.

What started as a drug to help take the edge off painful feelings or memories has become something that consumes them. They have no control over their compulsion to take it, no matter how much harm their use causes to everyone around them.

Some heroin addicts become so desperate to fund their habit that they will steal from others, even if that means stealing from family members and friends. Whatever it takes to get the money to buy the drug they will do because all logical thought goes out the window when they are desperate for the drug. When in need of the drug, the affected person will often sell anything they can get their hands on, and if it gets to the point where he or she has nothing left to sell, many will sell their body.

To see a loved one reach such a low is heart-breaking. Knowing that this person who you love with all your heart will steal from you given half the chance can destroy these family members or friends. Many families have been ripped apart by heroin addiction, and young children have been neglected and put in harm’s way by parents who can think of nothing except their need for this powerful drug.

With heroin addicts ready to steal and commit other crimes to get the drug they need, it is no surprise to hear that this illness negatively affects entire communities as well.

Can a Heroin Addiction Be Overcome?

The good news is that treatment is available for those with a heroin addiction. The bad news for family members is that it can be difficult to get a loved one to accept their need for help and to want to give up the drug that controls them.

It is extremely difficult for heroin addicts to separate themselves from the substance. They need to really want to get better in order for treatment to be successful. Some addicts will say that they want to change and put their days of substance abuse behind them, but when the first withdrawal symptoms manifest, they may change their minds.

Due to the way that heroin affects the brain, the addict can be incapable of making logical decisions, even when these decisions will ensure their own survival. Heroin addicts usually display manipulative and extreme behaviour as their need for the drug becomes stronger. They will beg and plead with whoever is overseeing their recovery to allow them to take the drug. Some will exaggerate their symptoms, or even pretend to have severe symptoms, believing that this will help their cause.

Heroin Detox

Heroin addicts will require a physical detox in the first instance in order to overcome their addiction. This should be carried out in a dedicated facility and overseen by medical professionals with experience of the process. Most patients will go through various stages of withdrawal, which are usually graded from 0-3 in terms of their intensity.

The first symptoms are typically feelings of anxiety, with the addict suffering cravings and displaying drug-seeking behaviour. Grade 1 symptoms follow with the affected individual displaying physical symptoms such as watery eyes, runny nose, restlessness, yawning, sweating, and trouble sleeping.

As the withdrawal process continues, the patient may experience Grade 2 symptoms, which include irritability, loss of appetite, dilated pupils, twitching muscles, and leg cramps. The withdrawal will reach its peak at Grade 3, where the patient may suffer with a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, raised body temperature, stomach cramps, and diarrhoea.

A heroin detox can be a very unpleasant experience, with most patients suffering symptoms that gradually worsen before peaking and then subsiding. For most, the symptoms will be almost completely gone within a week to ten days. However, there are some symptoms that will linger for a little bit longer, and cravings can continue for months.


Many experts continue to believe that heroin addicts should be prescribed methadone to help with the withdrawal symptoms of the drug. Methadone is prescribed in reduced doses as a replacement for heroin. The idea is that the addict can be weaned off heroin without suffering the worst withdrawal symptoms.

Nevertheless, there are many others who believe that it would be far better to treat heroin addicts with a programme of rehabilitation that included reduced doses of heroin instead. The problem with the methadone programme is that many addicts are essentially parked on this substitute drug and end up on it for years.

With the right programme of rehabilitation, heroin addicts can overcome their illness. Nevertheless, it must be noted that addiction is in the person and not the drug. There is no cure for heroin addiction and those who do manage to get sober will have to work hard to maintain their sobriety going forward. Constant vigilance is the key.

If you would like more information about what heroin addiction is like or generally about heroin addiction, contact us here at UKAT. We have a number of clinics throughout the UK providing excellent treatment programmes for those affected by all types of addiction. If you would like advice for yourself or someone you love, our team of experienced and fully trained advisors can help. Call today.

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If you successfully complete our 90-day inpatient treatment programme but experience a relapse within 30 days of leaving, we will welcome you back for complimentary 30 days of treatment.*

* Click here to learn more or contact UKAT directly for rehab availability.

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