Heroin addiction

Heroin is an “opioid” drug that is from the morphine family. It was first made from poppy plants. Heroin is usually a white or brown powder. Street names for heroin include “smack”, “H” or “gear” to name a few. About half of heroin users also use crack cocaine. Heroin can be smoked, injected or snorted.

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.

  • Symptoms

    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
  • Effects and Health risks

    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
    • Abscesses
    • 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.

  • Signs to look out for

    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
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • 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
  • Detox and Withdrawal

    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
    • Restlessness
    • Muscle spasms causing jerks/kicking
    • Widespread pains
    • Diarrhoea
    • Vomiting
    • Tummy cramps
    • Sweating
    • Runny nose
    • Insomnia

    These physical symptoms peak in a few days but the cravings can last long term.


    These heroin withdrawals are unpleasant. At The Bonds Clinic, 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 ).

    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.

Advice from our consultant

Programme model

Programme model

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. A typical detox program at The Bonds Clinic consists of a 7-14 day with dual diagnosis assessment, then an out-patient consolidation & relapse prevention stage including talking therapy, and often includes Naltrexone therapy.

View programme model

Meet the team

Our core multi-disciplinary team is led by a Consultant Psychiatrist, specialised GPs and includes a Registered Mental Health Nurse and a Substance Misuse and Dual Diagnosis Practitioner and Therapist. We also work with a network of highly skilled practitioners to develop a personal treatment programme to suit you.

Meet the team
Meet the team

Know someone with an addiction?

The BONDS Clinic work with you and your family, offering a comprehensive Family Support Program.It can be challenging if a loved one has an addiction; it can sometimes have a negative effect on relationships, home environments and family dynamics. It may be difficult to spot the signs and how best to approach them and help them on a path towards recovery. The BONDS Clinic feel that we should all be empowered to support and seek treatment for our loved ones when they need it most but also remember we are here for you as well. If you think a loved one may have an addiction, we are here to help.