Heroin is among Australia’s most destructive and addictive drugs. Heroin use in Australia is low by comparison to other drugs. According to the 2018 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, two in every 1,000 (0.2%) Australians (aged 14 or over) had used it in the past 12 months.
Heroin is a profoundly addictive substance that ruins the lives of those who become addicted to it, as well as their families. Because heroin addiction is so damaging, the media has reported on the negative effects heroin addicts suffer. Despite this, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the addiction which can hinder people getting help.
Here at Hader, we believe that correct information makes it easier for heroin addicts to get the help they need. Read on to learn about heroin addiction and dispel common myths.
Are you or a loved one suffering from heroin addiction? The good news is that help is available. The Hader Clinic is Melbourne’s premier rehabilitation clinic, allowing heroin addicts to access dedicated, professional treatment.
What is Heroin?
Heroin is a powerful opioid similar to morphine. Heroin is also known by a number of other names including smack, gear, horse, junk, and Harry. It is sold in one of three main forms: white powder heroin, brown paper heroin, and black powder heroin. Each form contains different ingredients and often have other substances added. The additional substances can render heroin more dangerous.
Heroin is extremely addictive due to the pleasurable feelings that users experience from injecting, smoking or snorting it.
What does heroin look like?
Pure heroin is a fine white powder. Most heroin is not pure, though, and is often black, brown or gray in colour. These different colours reflect the substances that are added to pad out the volume, like strychnine, baby powder, sugar or caffeine. These substances can present further dangers when injected, snorted or smoked. Because of this, many heroin users don’t know the precise strength of the heroin they take, increasing the risk of overdose and death.
How does heroin affect the body?
When an individual uses heroin they will ingest it in some form, typically by sniffing, smoking or injecting it. When heroin enters the body it binds to receptors in the brain, triggering a flood of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. These neurotransmitters have a profoundly pleasurable effect.
An individual using heroin will experience sensations, like:
- A rush of euphoria
- Feelings of peace and relaxation
- Some people experience nausea and vomiting
- Severe constipation
- After repeated, regular use, people can experience withdrawal symptoms if they don’t have heroin.
The effects of heroin addiction also include physical symptoms like:
- A torrent of pleasurable feelings
- Relief from bodily pain
- Vomiting or feeling sick
- shallow breathing, drowsiness and sleepiness
- a drop in body temperature
- narrowing of the pupils
- loss of sex drive
The first time a person uses heroin the experience is highly pleasurable. However, as heroin use continues and heroin addiction develops, the neurological system for dopamine and serotonin can become damaged which causes long term complications.
An individual who suffers heroin addiction can be helped—many long term users fully recover from heroin addiction.
What are the long-term complications of heroin addiction?
When a person uses heroin repeatedly, the pleasurable symptoms are replaced by less pleasurable ones. Once someone has used heroin for an extended period, a variety of complications can occur.
- Skin abscesses
- Collapsed veins
- Increased risk of pneumonia and lung problems
- Fertility problems
- Menstrual cycle disturbance
- Compromised immunity
- Loss of career, relationships or home
- Damage to arteries and veins
- Risk of various blood diseases and virus, from using or sharing dirty needles or equipment
- Potential overdose and death
These symptoms can be distressing to the user, which may result in the person using heroin in an attempt to alleviate their distress. The consequence, of course, is further damage to the brain. It's also particularly dangerous when Heroin is used in conjunction with other drugs.
What are some signs of heroin use?
The symptoms of heroin use encompass physical and emotional effects, as well as impacting aspects of the user’s life. If you’re concerned that a loved one is using heroin, it’s wise to not raise the subject in a confrontational way. They may respond emotionally, and potentially even violently.
If you are uncertain about whether someone is addicted to heroin, some signs include:
- Impulsivity and excessive risk taking
- Aggressive or violent behaviour
- Legal problems
- Financial difficulties
- Social isolation
However, these issues by themselves or together are not necessarily indicators of heroin addiction. If you are concerned a loved one is addicted to heroin, get in touch with The Hader Clinic and we can provide you with further information.
How can you tell if a person is addicted to heroin?
An individual addicted to heroin can display a range of signs and behaviours. It’s important to note that in the early stages of heroin addiction, these signs and behaviours may not be visible because the person is committed to hiding them. But as their addiction develops, it becomes progressively harder to hide. Symptoms of heroin addiction can include:
- Irritability and anger
- Slurred speech
- Constricted pupils
- Problems with memory
- Needle marks (if the person is injecting heroin)
- Runny nose and/or nose sores (if the person is snorting heroin)
- Diminished sense of pain
Other possible signs of heroin use can include:
- Appearance changes and reduction in personal hygiene
- Behavioural changes like secrecy and belligerence
- Financial issues including needing escalating amounts of money
- Problems at work or school
- Dangerous and risky behaviour
A defining feature of addiction is when an individual cannot stop their substance use, regardless of the damage it has on their life and despite multiple attempts.
If you yourself take heroin, you could realise you are needing to ingest increasing amounts to experience the same feelings of pleasure that you used to experience with less heroin.
Generally, someone whose use of heroin is impacting their personal, family, home or school life is likely to have heroin dependence issues.
What happens during detox and withdrawal from heroin?
When somebody ceases using heroin they experience a withdrawal and detox period. In this time, heroin leaves their body as their brain begins to recover from heroin use. Users in withdrawal may experience:
- Runny nose
- Excessive tiredness and fatigue
- Reduced appetite
- Hot and cold flushes
- Diarrhoea and stomach cramping
- High blood pressure
- Cravings, strong desire to use heroin
- Muscle and joint pain
Heroin withdrawal, while unpleasant, isn’t life threatening unless a person has a serious underlying disease. Withdrawal symptoms typically commence within 6-24 hours of abstaining and last about 7 days, peaking at 48-72 hours.
The main physical symptoms subside but sleep disturbance and mood changes can persist for weeks, and the desire to use again for much longer. Hallucinations and seizures are not typical features of heroin withdrawal and should alert you to other causes or disorders.
It can take between 10 and 14 days for a person to physically detox, and even up to a further 2 weeks in some cases.
During physical detox, addicts can experience the temptation to return to using heroin again in order to prevent unpleasant symptoms. These unpleasant and painful symptoms may include:
- Muscle, joint and bone pain
- Stomach cramps
- Diarrhoea and vomiting
- Mood swings and crying
Detoxing is difficult for individuals to do by themselves. It is advised that people stay in a rehab centre while they detox, so they can be observed and kept safe from harm.
Following the period of physical detox, a person can experience an extended period of still wanting to use heroin. Social and psychological pressures can cause recovery to be challenging, but it’s not impossible. There is hope.
How addictive is heroin?
Heroin is a synthetic drug derived from morphine. There are a few different forms of heroin but all carry a serious risk of addiction. Heroin is considered one of the most addictive substances somebody can use.
People from all walks of life struggle with heroin addiction, and there is no one kind of person who can develop an addiction.
Can people recover from heroin addiction?
Absolutely. It can be difficult, and people can relapse during their recovery, but many people do recover. Relapsing is not a sign that a person will never be able to recover. It’s vital to take the process of recovery from addiction one day at a time. Ultimately, an addict must have a real desire to quit using heroin.
People who are addicted tend to have damaged personal relationships because of their drug use. The resulting isolation and shame can make it challenging to embrace sobriety and restore those relationships, but a life free of heroin and filled with connection is possible.
Discover more about how heroin addiction can be managed after rehab.
Help is available
The steps necessary for a person to become free of addiction are not a walk in the park. Professional help and support are key to an addicted individual resuming a healthy life. Rehabilitation in a professional setting allows people to detox safely, as well as providing counselling to address the root causes of addiction. Sufferers of addiction and their loved ones can take advantage of extensive help.
For assistance in Melbourne with heroin addiction, for yourself or a loved one, get in touch with The Hader Clinic.