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Heroin, also known as diamorphine or diacetylmorphine, is an illicit drug and a derivative of morphine. It can be injected intravenously, smoked orally or snorted intranasally. Heroin has been used for medicinal purposes since the early 20th century.

Heroin is a highly addictive substance due to its powerful effects on the brain, and the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.

What is Heroin Addiction?

Addiction occurs when you experience compulsive behaviours that negatively impact your life. These behaviours may include: using drugs compulsively, spending money/time obtaining more drugs, lying to family members, friends, co-workers, etc. regarding one’s substance abuse, neglecting responsibilities, failing to fulfil obligations, feeling guilty after using substances, experiencing physical cravings, and continuing to use despite negative consequences associated with continued use.

In the context of Heroin addiction, it is the compulsive desire to use heroin, despite the negative impact it is having on your life. Heroin addiction falls under the category of Opiate Use Disorder.

If you or someone you love has been using heroin for a long time and have struggled to quit heroin, or perhaps you/they may be in denial about heroin use, it’s likely that heroin addiction has developed.

If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction, we can help!

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What Happens to your Brain when Using Heroin?

The brain changes caused by chronic heroin use result in what we call “brain plasticity” – meaning that the brain adapts to repeated exposure to heroin use (tolerance). Heroin significantly impacts the dopamine reward pathway within the brain. When this pathway becomes desensitized through prolonged heroin use, users become less sensitive to natural rewards such as food, sex, exercise, social interaction, etc., and begin seeking out other types of stimulation. This leads them into situations where they feel compelled to take more heroin, or mix heroin with other substances to achieve the same ‘high’.

The Dangers of Heroin Addiction

When taken regularly over many years, heroin causes significant health problems including liver disease, heart failure, kidney disease, respiratory infections, skin conditions, mental illness, cognitive impairment, memory loss, impotence, erectile dysfunction, reduced fertility, birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome, and even cancer. In addition to these serious medical issues, there are numerous psychological side effects of heroin use.

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Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Abuse/Addiction

While under the influence of heroin, users often feel relaxed, warm and euphoric. Heroin users often talk about feeling ‘cushioned’ or ‘in a bubble of comfort’.

The following list includes some of the most common signs and symptoms of heroin abuse /addiction. If any of these apply to you or someone close to you, please speak to our addiction specialists immediately.

Physical Effects – Physical changes occur within the body during periods of heavy heroin usage. Some of these changes include:

Skin Colour Changes & Rashes – Scratching causes bleeding under the surface of the skin, resulting in redness, swelling, itching, pain, and sometimes blisters. Heroin can make you feel itchy or numb which further perpetuates the problem. Skin colour can change over time to appear more yellow/pale.

Nausea – You might feel sick to your stomach if you eat too much food before taking heroin. Or you could get nausea if you take heroin without eating anything beforehand.

Sweating – Your hands and feet will start sweating heavily if you inject yourself with heroin. This is called “sweat induction” and it usually starts right away.

Loss Of Appetite – Due to heroin taking priority over eating.

Tremors – Shaking can be a result of heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Sleepiness or day dreaming – Due to the effects opiates have on cognitive functioning.

Changes in pupil size are common when taking heroin.

Overcoming heroin addiction

What are the Causes of Heroin Addiction?

Anyone who uses opioids recreationally or chronically is at risk of developing an opioid use disorder. Opioids affect everyone differently; however, there are certain factors that increase vulnerability to develop an opioid use disorder. The following characteristics put people at higher risk of becoming addicted to opioids:

  • Family History of Substance Use Disorders
  • Dysfunctional Family Environments
  • Childhood Trauma & Abuse
  • History of Mental Illness & Low Self Esteem
  • Early Exposure to Drugs
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What does the Life of a Heroin Addict Look Like?

While they may not always succeed, addicts try their best to stay clean for as long as possible. They also struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness, anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation, anger, frustration and boredom.

No one plans to become a heroin addict, what starts as heroin abuse slowly becomes addiction. Once this happens, the person has lost control over his or her drug use. The brain has become rewired to expect more heroin, and withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in when the user tries to stop using. In addition, the individual begins to experience cravings for drugs even after he or she stops using them. Over time, the need for heroin increases until the individual feels like nothing else matters except obtaining enough heroin to satisfy them. At this point, the individual enters into a cycle of cravings & withdrawal.

Heroin addicts need compassion, love and understanding in order to help them into treatment. Shaming and vilifying them will only cause further denial and guilt.

The Risks of Heroin Overdose

Due to the cycle of relapse often associated with heroin users, the risks associated with overdose are far greater. It is estimated that between 50% and 80% of all deaths from heroin overdoses occur within 24 hours of last usage. These statistics include both accidental and intentional overdosing.

There are many risks associated with overdose from heroin including death. These include respiratory arrest, cardiac arrhythmia, seizures, coma, hypothermia, hyperthermia, rhabdomyolysis, acute kidney injury, liver failure, pulmonary edema, aspiration pneumonia, sepsis, and others. Some of these complications occur within minutes while others happen hours later. If someone overdoses on heroin, contact the NHS emergency services immediately.

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Getting Help for Heroin Addiction

If you think your loved one might be struggling with heroin addiction, it’s important to seek professional assistance right away. There are several different types of treatments available in the UK.

We do not support the use of heroin substitutes, because they only keep individuals trapped in the cycle of addiction and dependence. The only way to successful overcome heroin addiction is through a detox & rehabilitation programme.

We also do not support detox only treatment methods, as they do not treat the underlying causes of heroin addiction. Treatment should consist of both detox & therapy.

Private Residential Rehab

Private residential treatment is one of the most effective ways to treat heroin addiction. This type of treatment offers an intensive rehabilitation programme which includes group therapy sessions, counselling, medical care, education about addiction recovery, and much more.

Private rehab facilities offer a safe environment where patients can focus solely on overcoming their addictions without distractions such as family members, friends, work obligations, and stress.

The Providence Projects is a private rehab centre offering rehab for heroin, and we have been helping individuals overcome heroin for 25 years. We provide a fully integrated detox & drug rehab programme designed to treat our clients holistically. Our 28 day heroin rehab programme includes sober transportation to our facility, and costs only £5995.

Outpatient Heroin Addiction Treatment

The NHS and reputable charities also provide treatment for heroin addiction. Outpatient programmes typically involve attending weekly meeting at a local community clinic. The NHS may also provide a detox programme, but typically do not provide funding for residential treatment except in severe circumstances.

Speak to a GP about your options through an NHS service or visit the NHS directory for services in your local area.

Outpatient services through the NHS are free, but waiting lists make it difficult to get help quickly. Individuals and their loved ones may opt for private therapy/counselling if they need immediate support.

Outpatient services while beneficial, leave heroin users exposed to relapse. One of the major benefits of residential treatment compared with outpatient care is that the individual will not have access to heroin dealers.

Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous provide weekly group meetings where people share experiences within the 12 step framework. Support groups should be part of any long term heroin treatment programme regardless of whether you choose a residential or outpatient service.


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