Studies estimate that approximately 80% of heroin users began their opioid addiction through the use of prescription medication. Because of the highly addictive nature of this substance, current medical providers are being encouraged away from prescribing opioids for pain management. This can result in dependent persons seeking the effects of the drug through illicit means. Because of its illicit nature, it is impossible to know the exact dosage being taken, or the exact contents which are being administered.
Users may experience several uneventful highs, only to unexpectedly administer a lethal dose.
About heroin usage
How does it make you feel?
Short-Term Effects of heroin are:
- A “Rush”
- Small pupils
- Suppression of pain
- Being spaced out / clouded thinking / slurred speech, and then later on in the day being alert again
- Shallow breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
Longer term effects of heroin use:
- Not looking after themselves anymore, looking unkempt
- A lack of energy and enthusiasm
- Poor memory and forgetting important things to do
- No interest in the future
- Loss of friends, lack of interest in family
- Depression and anxiety
Heroin misuse is associated with a number of serious health conditions, including fatal overdose, and infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV. Once addicted, the person’s main purpose in life becomes getting and using drugs.
Chronic users may develop:
- Collapsed veins
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Constipation and gastrointestinal cramping
- Liver or kidney disease
- Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
- Infectious diseases, for example, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C (due to shared needles)
- Pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s effects on breathing.
In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to vital organs.
One of the most detrimental long-term effects of heroin use is addiction itself. Heroin also produces profound degrees of tolerance and physical dependence which are powerful motivating factors for compulsive use and misuse. As with misusers of any addictive drug, heroin misusers gradually spend more and more time and energy obtaining and using the drug. Once addicted, the primary purpose in life becomes seeking and using drugs.
Physical dependence develops with higher doses of the drug. With physical dependence, the body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly.
When an individual is addicted to heroin, their brain and body is negatively affected in many ways. People who are addicted to heroin are likely to show some or even all of the following signs:
- Fatigue, followed by patterns of alertness
- Shallow or laboured breathing
- Injection wounds
- Infections on the skin from injections, boils
- Small, constricted pupils
- Appearance of “distant” gazing eyes
- Lack of motivation
- Distance from old friends and family members
- Disorientation or dizziness
- Difficulty speaking, slurred speech
- Lack of memory, forgetting things or not remembering important events or matters
- Lack of interest in the future or what comes next
- Unkempt self-image, lack of hygiene, loss of self-discipline
Withdrawal symptoms can occur quite quickly, just a few hours after the last time taking heroin. Withdrawal produces flu-like symptoms and can include:
- Tremors / shakes
- Muscle spasms causing jerks/kicking
- Widespread pains
- Tummy cramps
- Runny nose
These physical symptoms peak in a few days but the cravings can last long term.
These heroin withdrawals are unpleasant and can be dangerous. We try very hard to control this long list of withdrawal symptoms. We specialise in detox over 1-2 weeks using non-addictive medication to make it as comfortable as possible, and published evidence shows that even an early version of the Bonds protocols was very well tolerated: 97% of patients did not report pain during a Bonds detox from opioids.
(reference again as before: Beaini AY et al (2000, October). A compressed opiate detoxification regime with naltrexone maintenance: patient tolerance, risk assessment and abstinence rates. Addiction Biology, 1;5(4):451-62 ).
*Outcome measures recorded at a time when Dr Amal Beaini was previously providing the BONDS protocols from the Detox 5 service, not The New Life Centre at Broughton. These BONDS protocols are now part of The New Life Centre at Broughton and Detox5 has closed a few years ago. Abstinence data at 12 months did not include those patients who could not be contacted or lost to follow up.
Once the heroin is out of your system, you can usually then have oral naltrexone on day 4 or day 5 which blocks the effects of heroin or any opioids and can reduce cravings, which can be useful to support abstinence.
Our programme model is tailored to the individual’s needs. Our detox varies depending on whether the substance is a lone problem or is accompanied by misuse of other substances, the amount the patient is using, and if there any underlying mental health issues. The internal audits of the BONDS treatment protocols of many years have shown that approximately 70% of patients with alcohol or substance misuse also have an underlying mental health disorder. This combination of addiction and a mental health disorder is called Dual Diagnosis.