Heroin addiction

Heroin is one of the most infamous drugs in the world. It’s an illegal, highly addictive substance that, along with morphine, led to 1,213 deaths in the UK in 2021. Heroin addiction can be an awful existence which can impact every area of your life but it is possible to overcome the condition and start again. Recovery from heroin takes a lot of strength and willpower but if you are ready to make a change, there is effective heroin addiction treatment available which can help you get your life back on track.

Heroin addiction drugs

What is heroin?

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug which is made from the seed pod of the poppy plant and is commonly known by street names including smack, gear, brown sugar, H and skag.

Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” It can be injected, smoked or snorted with intense, instantaneous effects with users experiencing a “rush” of euphoria and a feeling of intense well-being.

How does heroin addiction develop?

Heroin abuse can start in different ways. Some people may start using heroin to escape from an unpleasant life; others may be drawn to heroin portrayed in the media, while others may take heroin after having developed an addiction to opioid medications.

Heroin is incredibly physically addictive because of the way it interacts with the brain. Opioid drugs are designed to mimic the effects of endorphins, which are natural painkilling chemicals produced by the body. When someone takes heroin, their brain is flooded with synthetic endorphins which create a feeling of pleasure and well-being.

The brain then starts to associate this feeling with the drug and begins to crave larger and larger doses to get the same feeling. This is called tolerance and often leads to a dependence on heroin where you need to keep taking the drug just to avoid the powerful cravings and heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Who is most at risk of developing a heroin addiction?

Heroin is so physically addictive that anybody who engages in heroin abuse is at risk of developing a heroin addiction. However, there are a number of underlying social, genetic, health and environmental factors that can increase your chances of becoming addicted to heroin including:

  • Exposure to substance abuse including heroin from an early age – Seeing parents or others using heroin increases the chances of you experimenting with it and of heroin abuse becoming “normalised” in your mind.
  • A family history of heroin abuse and addiction – All addiction is widely thought to have at least partially genetic roots. Therefore, if addiction runs in your family, you may be more likely to develop a heroin addiction.
  • Experiencing poverty or traumatic events – This can cause you to use heroin as a way of temporarily escaping your situation.
  • Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety – These can also increase the likelihood of heroin abuse and addiction as people use drugs as a way of self-medicating.
  • An addiction to prescription opioids – Some people who become addicted to opioid painkillers may start using heroin because it is cheaper and easier to obtain which then leads to heroin addiction.

What are the major risks of heroin abuse and addiction?

Heroin abuse and addiction can turn your existence upside down and affect every aspect of your life. Just some of the risks of abusing and becoming addicted to heroin include:

Physical health problems

  • Transmission of blood-borne viruses such as Hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS
  • Abscesses
  • Gangrene
  • Collapsed veins
  • Malnutrition
  • Compromised breathing and slowed heart rate, leading to heart failure
  • Organ failure
  • Brain damage through lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Death from overdose or any of the above conditions
  • Mental health problems
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

Heroin addiction depressed man

Relationship problems

Heroin abuse and addiction can damage the most important relationships in your life. You may start stealing from or lying to loved ones to get money for heroin, neglecting your family and friends in favour of using heroin or becoming violent or abusive when under the influence of heroin or experiencing heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Work and financial problems

Heroin abuse and addiction can lead to job loss, financial difficulties and homelessness. The money you spend on buying heroin can quickly spiral out of control, leading to debt and financial ruin. Missed days at work due to using heroin or being too ill from heroin withdrawal symptoms can also lead to dismissal from your job.

Legal issues

Heroin is an illegal Class A drug in the UK which means it’s illegal to possess, supply or produce. The maximum punishment for possession is 7 years in prison and an unlimited fine while the maximum sentence for supplying heroin is life imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

As heroin is illegal to buy, feeding a heroin addiction will also bring you into contact with dangerous criminals. Furthermore, the cost of heroin coupled with unemployment or financial difficulties could result in you committing crimes to fund your heroin abuse.

Do I need heroin addiction treatment?

Heroin is an incredibly powerful and dangerous drug and there is no amount of heroin abuse which is considered safe. However, drug addiction can be very conniving and will try its best to convince you that you enjoy taking heroin or that you have your heroin abuse under control. Here are some questions to ask yourself which may point to a heroin addiction:

  • Do I experience heroin withdrawal symptoms or cravings when I haven’t taken heroin?
  • Do I need to take heroin just to feel normal or happy?
  • Has my life deteriorated since I started using heroin?
  • Do I keep using heroin despite it causing problems in my personal relationships, at work or with the law?
  • Am I unable to control my moods or emotions when I haven’t taken heroin?
  • Have I committed crimes to get money to buy heroin?

If you have answered yes to any of the above, it’s likely that you have a heroin addiction and need professional help.

The stages of heroin addiction treatment

There are three main stages of heroin addiction treatment: detox, rehab treatment and aftercare.

Heroin detox

The first stage of heroin addiction treatment is detox where the drug is gradually removed from your body to break your physical dependence on the drug. Heroin detox is most safe and effective when carried out at an inpatient heroin detox clinic like Liberty House because you will be monitored 24/7 by medical professionals and can receive help and support whenever you need it.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be severe but you will be medically assessed both before and during heroin detox at Liberty House to ensure that you are as comfortable as possible. You may also be given medication to help with the heroin withdrawal symptoms you experience.

These symptoms can include:

  • Stomach cramps and diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Hallucinations (audio, physical and visual)
  • Uncontrolled Shaking
  • Chills
  • Flu-like symptoms, runny nose, sneezing, cough
  • Sweating
  • Skin crawling and itching
  • Agitation
  • Muscle spasms and cramps
  • Unable to focus or concentrate
  • Headache and tightness in the head
  • Panic and anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Aches in the bones

Heroin addiction stomach cramp

Heroin withdrawal typically begins within 6-12 hours after the last dose and peaks within 1-2 days. Symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, muscle pain, sweating, tearing eyes and insomnia. Heroin withdrawal generally lasts 5-10 days, but some symptoms may persist for weeks or even months. If this is the case for you, Liberty House will speak to your GP to ensure you receive ongoing support to cope with the heroin withdrawal symptoms after you have left our clinic.

Inpatient heroin rehab

Heroin rehab will enable you to get a full understanding of your heroin addiction and the underlying causes which have led to it. It will also provide you with the tools and techniques you need to stay drug-free after you leave rehab.

Heroin rehab at Liberty House is carried out on an inpatient basis which means you will live at our clinic for the duration of your rehab treatment. This removes any potential triggers or distractions which could lead to a relapse and allows you to focus on your recovery.

During heroin rehab, you will take part in a range of evidence-based therapies to address every aspect of your heroin addiction and teach you how to control the thoughts and emotions which could cause relapse. These therapies and treatment approaches include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational interviewing (MI)
  • Mindfulness
  • Family therapy


Aftercare is the final stage of heroin addiction treatment and is just as important as detox and rehab. It is designed to help you stay on track with your recovery after you leave heroin rehab and make sure that you are never left alone to struggle. At Liberty House, you will receive one year of free weekly group therapy sessions which will help to keep you motivated and supported as you adjust to life outside of rehab.

Frequently asked questions

What are the telltale signs of heroin addiction?
Identifying the signs of heroin addiction as early as possible is crucial so that you can get the help and support you need to recover. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of heroin addiction include:

  • Heroin paraphernalia: needles, burnt or bent spoons, packets of Citric Acid or Vitamin C, lengths of rubber or other tourniquets, multiple lighters, bottle tops
  • Tiny pupils
  • Loss of appetite/rapid weight loss
  • Greying skin
  • Disinterest in physical appearance and hygiene
  • Spots and sores
  • Track marks
  • Abscesses on arms, legs, groin
  • Changes in personality
  • Secretive or elusive behaviour
How can I prevent heroin relapse?
Preventing heroin relapse is essential to sustaining your recovery in the long term. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of heroin relapse, including:

  • Attending regular heroin addiction support groups
  • Sticking to your aftercare plan
  • Exercising and eating a healthy diet
  • Connecting with a supportive sober community that will be conducive to heroin addiction recovery
  • Practising meditation or mindfulness during difficult moments or strong heroin cravings
  • Seeking help if you’re struggling with heroin withdrawal symptoms