Heroin – Overview about the drug

Heroin is a drug derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance that can be found in poppy plants grown in Asia, Mexico and Colombia. It was first produced by Charles Romley Alder Wright, an English lecturer in physics and chemistry in London, England and founder of the Royal Institute of Chemistry. He developed a number of new opiate compounds and he first synthesised heroin (or diamorphine) in 1874. For a while, diamorphine was marketed by Bayer as an analgesic, because of its pain killer properties. However, when it became clear that this drug is a highly addictive one, the company ceased production in 1913.

Heroin is used by substance users for its euphoric effects. A common ingestion method is injection, however, it can also be inhaled, smoked or snorted. It can be found as a white powder, brown powder or a black substance with sticky properties called “black tar” heroin. Slang names for heroin include smack, horse, hell dust or big H.

Heroin is highly addictive and it is estimated that almost one out of four people who try this drug for the first time become addicted.

This drug can also be mixed with cocaine, which is referred to among users as speedballing. This gives the user an even more intense and lasting high than when taking either one of the drugs alone. The negative effects of both substances are amplified when combined and the risk of overdose or irreparable damage to the body is also increased when mixing these two. 

Heroin addiction recovery includes several steps, starting with detox with step down medication under specialised medical supervision, followed by an intensive treatment therapy programme and lifelong lifestyle changes. Our experienced medical staff at Castle Health are well trained in  treating the health risks associated with heroin abuse. and know how to safely detox an individual from long-term heroin use. 

Effects of Using Heroin

Heroin is a highly potent drug as it stimulates the rapid production and release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain. Addiction onset is typically fast as the brain will quickly associate the administration of the drug with the production of these feel-good chemicals. Heroin is  directly linked to the brain’s pleasure and reward chemical release system so this makes it difficult  for users to quit using on their own  without medical assistance followed by inpatient treatment.

Heroin Abuse Signs

A common conception is that a person with heroin addiction will be easily identifiable by needle marks. However, users can choose to smoke or snort the drug instead of injecting it. Although usually once addiction develops, injecting becomes the preferred method because the drug is released into the body much faster. Eventually, the user will need higher doses to reach the same “high”.

Heroin users will typically display the following physical signs:

  • Bloodshot eyes;
  • Constricted pupils;
  • Drowsiness or nodding off;
  • Laboured breathing or shallow breathing;
  • Sudden weight loss;
  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Dizziness;
  • Difficulty speaking;
  • Memory loss;
  • Injection wounds and/or infections in the skin puncture area.

As far as social appearance and conduct are concerned, heroin users may display the following signs:

  • Lack of hygiene, an unkempt self-image;
  • Lack of motivation;
  • Secretive behaviour;
  • Distancing from family and friends; 
  • Financial problems.

Health Risks of Heroin

Long-term heroin use can lead to a number of severe health risks and changes in the brain. The drug’s impact on one’s health can occur as soon as the first few drug administrations and then during prolonged use. Combining the drug with other drugs, such as cocaine in speedballing, can lead to severe immediate health problems and potential overdose.

Developing infections and abscesses at the injection site as well as contracting hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS through the needles are some of the health risks associated with using heroin. Others may include miscarriage, cardiac and gastrointestinal problems and pulmonary complications. 

Physical and physiological changes can occur in the brain as this drug creates imbalances in the neuronal and hormonal systems. Some studies have shown that heroin abuse can lead to an inability to make decisions or be able to regulate behaviour. 

Heroin addiction exposes the user to an ever-increasing risk of overdose because of the developed tolerance built to the drug over time  causing an increased amount needed to get high. Heroin use disorder manifests through an uncontrollable urge to seek the drug, regardless of the consequences, exposing the addict to various dangerous or illegal situations. 

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

When an individual stops using heroin, the painful and unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal start to set in. This is why it is extremely important to start the detox process under the medical supervision of experienced doctors and nurses, such as the staff at Castle Health.

Withdrawal starts to kick in within 6 to 12 hours after the administration of the last dose and it can resemble a severe case of flu. The first week is the hardest, with the patient displaying the peak of symptoms on the second or third day following the last drug intake.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Vomiting and nausea;
  • Insomnia and agitation;
  • Diarrhoea;
  • Sweating; 
  • Muscle aches and/or abdominal cramps;
  • Anxiety; 
  • Cold flushes.

Some heroin abusers may display the first signs of withdrawal as early as a few hours after the last drug dose. Moreover, it is important to note that the sudden discontinuation of the drug by heavy users may prove fatal in some cases. At Castle Health, our experienced team of doctors and nurses prepare a personalised heroin detoxification plan that is unique to each patient, tailored to their medical history, duration and quantity of drug use and other personal health factors that may impact withdrawal and the long-term recovery of the individual. 

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Detox is the first step in a heroin addiction treatment programme. At Castle Health, our medical specialists are highly qualified to oversee the personalised  heroin detox plan of each patient while supporting patients through the entire recovery process.

Close individual monitoring in a welcoming and positive setting is part of our heroin detox treatment plan. During this time, our patients may receive replacement medication under the careful supervision of our treating physicians. Once the detox phase is complete, we can start the recovery treatment process, a stage that relies on individual and group therapy as well as additional complementary therapies to build a solid foundation. 

Specialised inpatient treatment centres are a patient’s best option when dealing with heroin addiction. Continuous support is essential and we prepare a personalised two-year aftercare plan for each of our patients when  they have completed their treatment at Castle Health. Weekly therapy sessions and access to local support groups are part of the continual, long-term treatment recovery programme from heroin addiction. Contact our admission consultants at Castle Health for complete details on our residential rehab treatment programme for heroin addiction.