Heroin Addiction – Signs, Symptoms & Treatment

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Struggling with Addiction?

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By shedding light on the true nature of heroin and its negative impact, we aim to motivate and empower you to break free from its grip. It’s never too late to change and regain control of your life. Together, we can explore the path to recovery and a brighter future.

heroin chemical molecules

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive painkiller synthesised from morphine derived from the poppy plant’s seeds. As poppy plants are used to produce opium, any drugs derived from them are considered opiates. Both heroin and morphine fall into the category of opiates. However, in its ‘pure’ form, heroin appears as a white powder.

History of Heroin (The Opium Stories)

The story of heroin begins with the opium poppy, scientifically called Papaver somniferum, which has been cultivated for thousands of years. Ancient cultures, including the Sumerians and Egyptians, acknowledged the potent properties of opium derived from the poppy plant and used it as a painkiller and tranquilliser for medicinal purposes.

In 1805, after two years of work, Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner, a German pharmacist, isolated a potent alkaloid from opium. He named it “morphine” after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. Morphine quickly gained popularity as a highly effective painkiller during the Crimean War, providing relief to wounded soldiers.

Charles Romley Alder Wright first synthesised a chemical called Diamorphine in 1874 while working at St. Mary’s hospital in London.

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In the late 19th century, chemists in the UK began searching for a new painkiller that was less addictive than morphine. This search led to the creation of diacetylmorphine, later known as heroin. Initially marketed as a non-addictive replacement for morphine, it was even available as an over-the-counter medicine. However, the true nature of heroin soon became apparent as its addictive potential surfaced.

As time went on during the 20th century, heroin was used in medical practice in the UK. It served as a medication for various conditions as a sedative and cough suppressant. Sadly, misuse and abuse became pronounced, leading to severe control and regulations.

How Is Heroin Produced?

Knowing how this substance is produced is vital in tackling the compound issue of its abuse. The production journey begins from Opium to Morphine; Opium is derived from the dried milk of the poppy plant and contains potent alkaloids, including morphine and codeine.

Opium poppy cultivation usually occurs in regions with suitable climate conditions, such as parts of Asia and the Middle East. The plant produces a sticky resin called “opium gum” or “poppy tears,” which contains the alkaloids of interest.

For the making of opium, the poppy bulbs are scored, allowing the gum to ooze out and dry on the surface. Once dried, the gum is collected, producing raw opium.

From raw opium, morphine is separated through a chemical process known as extraction.

Morphine is a potent painkiller with legitimate medical uses under strict supervision.

Heroin, also known as diacetylmorphine, is a semi-synthetic derivative of morphine. The transformation from morphine to heroin occurs through a chemical process that involves acetylation.

In acetylation, acetic anhydride (or similar chemicals) modulates morphine’s chemical structure. This results in the creation of diacetylmorphine, commonly known as heroin.

The crude heroin is then purified to remove impurities or by-products from acetylation. Heroin is typically produced as a fine white powder or a brownish-black sticky substance known as “black tar” heroin.

In the United Kingdom, the legal status of heroin is strictly regulated. It is classified as a Class A drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 classifies drugs based on their potential harm and misuse. Class A drugs, which include heroin, are deemed to carry the highest risks and attract the most severe penalties. Unlawful possession, supply, or production of heroin can result in significant legal repercussions, including imprisonment, fines, and a permanent criminal record. These measures are in place to deter the use and distribution of heroin, safeguard public health, and protect you from the devastating effects of addiction.

This classification places heroin among the most controlled substances, reflecting the potential risks associated with its use. While the law is firm in its stance on heroin, it is crucial to approach this topic with compassion and understanding, recognising the complexities surrounding drug addiction and the need for comprehensive support.

Substance abuse is a complex issue, often rooted in underlying social, economic, and health factors. The legal approach to heroin in the UK is complemented by a growing emphasis on harm reduction and support services aimed at helping you break free from the cycle of addiction.

Other Variations

Other opiates can be naturally occurring like:

  • Morphine

  • Codeine

  • Thebaine

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Synthetic variations

Other opiates can be naturally occurring like:

  • Methadone (Often prescribed as a substitute in the treatment of heroin addiction)

  • Dihydrocodeine (DF 118s)

  • Pethidine (often used in childbirth)

  • Tramadol

  • Diconal

  • Palfium

  • Temgesic

  • Fentanyl

There are also semi-synthetic derivatives, including hydrocodone, oxycodone and buprenorphine.

Effects of Heroin

Heroin, a powerful opioid, can induce a range of effects. It is vital to approach this topic compassionately, acknowledging the challenges those affected by addiction face.

Heroin initially creates a surge of euphoria, inducing feelings of warmth, relaxation, and detachment from emotional and physical pain. However, these short-term pleasurable sensations are often followed by drowsiness, clouded thinking, and slowed breathing.

The impact is not limited to physical effects; heroin can also strain relationships, disrupt daily functioning, and cause emotional turmoil. Recognising these effects with empathy is crucial in addressing the complex and devastating consequences of heroin addiction.

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Effects on the Brain

Heroin quickly enters the brain and binds to opioid receptors, triggering a flood of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This surge overwhelms the brain’s natural balance, leading to a state of artificial bliss. However, repeated use of heroin can disrupt the brain’s reward system, diminishing its ability to experience pleasure from natural stimuli.

Long-term heroin use can impair cognitive function, decision-making, and impulse control.

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Effects on the Body

Upon ingestion, heroin rapidly enters the bloodstream, crossing the blood-brain barrier and affecting various bodily systems. It acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down vital functions such as heart rate and respiration. This can lead to shallow breathing, respiratory distress, and a higher risk of overdose.

Repeated heroin use can take a toll on the body, impacting overall health and well-being. You may experience weakened immune systems, leading to infections, diseases, and respiratory complications.

Long-term heroin use can also result in gastrointestinal problems, including constipation and digestive issues. Nutritional deficiencies may arise due to a lack of appetite and poor dietary habits, leading to malnutrition, weight loss, hormonal imbalances, disrupting the normal functioning of the endocrine system, and potentially affecting reproductive health.

Understanding the effects of heroin on the body is crucial for developing a valuable counselling plan, and acknowledging the possible dangers helps build relevant defensive mechanisms and behaviours.


By acknowledging these effects with empathy, at CATCH Recovery we strive to foster a supportive environment for those struggling with heroin addiction, emphasising the importance of comprehensive treatment and recovery programmes.

Using Heroin while Pregnant

Using heroin during pregnancy raises significant concerns for the mother’s and unborn child’s health and well-being. It is vital to approach this sensitive topic carefully, considering the potential dangers and the importance of providing support and understanding.

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Heroin use during pregnancy poses severe risks to the developing baby. When a pregnant woman uses heroin, the drug readily crosses the placenta, exposing the foetus to its effects.

This can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), where the baby experiences withdrawal symptoms after birth.

Newborns affected by NAS may exhibit irritability, tremors, excessive crying, feeding difficulties, and disturbed sleep patterns. They can also have challenges regulating their body temperature, experiencing gastrointestinal distress, and displaying increased sensitivity to stimuli. These symptoms can vary in severity, depending on the level of drug exposure and other factors.

Relationships and Family Matters

The impact of heroin on relationships and family dynamics can be profound and heart-wrenching. It is essential to approach this sensitive topic with a caring tone, recognising the devastating effects of addiction and the importance of fostering understanding and support.

strained relationship

Heroin can strain and fracture relationships, both romantic and familial. The behaviours associated with addiction, such as deceit, withdrawal, and prioritising drug use over loved ones, can erode trust and create a sense of betrayal. Communication breakdowns, financial strain, and emotional turmoil often follow, leaving family members helpless and overwhelmed.

The dynamics within a family may become disrupted as the focus shifts to managing addiction challenges. Siblings may feel neglected, parents may grapple with guilt and shame, and children may endure emotional neglect or experience instability in their upbringing.

Are You Addicted to Heroin?

Are you concerned about your relationship with heroin? It’s essential to address this issue with compassion and understanding. Addiction can have a profound impact on your life and the lives of those around you.

Remember, seeking support is a courageous step towards a healthier future.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Recognising the signs of heroin addiction is crucial, whether you’re questioning your relationship with the substance or suspect a loved one may be struggling.

Physiologically, frequent heroin use can lead to:

  • needle marks
  • skin infections
  • constricted pupils
  • significant weight loss

Emotional results of heroin use include:

  • extreme mood swings
  • apathy
  • a persistent sense of euphoria followed by deep depression

Behavioural signs may include:

    • secretive behaviour

    • social withdrawal

    • financial problems

    • neglecting responsibilities

Suppose you observe these indicators in a loved one. In that case, it’s essential to approach the situation with empathy and encourage seeking professional help. Remember, recovery is possible, and support is available.

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Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

For those using heroin, experiencing withdrawal symptoms clearly indicates dependence. Withdrawal can be an incredibly challenging phase, both physically and emotionally.

Common symptoms include:

  • intense cravings
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle aches
  • sweating
  • insomnia
  • anxiety

You may also experience restlessness, irritability, and a general sense of discomfort. Understanding that these symptoms are temporary and can be managed with proper support and medical assistance is crucial.

If going through heroin withdrawal, CATCH Recovery can refer you to one of our sister health facilities for immediate assistance by licensed specialists who can provide guidance and care throughout this challenging process. Remember, you’re not alone, and recovery is achievable.

How to Help If Someone Is Overdosing?

If you find someone experiencing an opioid overdose, immediate action can save their life. Firstly, ensure your safety and theirs. Call 999 immediately, providing accurate information about the person’s condition. While waiting for emergency services, if it’s available and legal in your area, administer Naloxone, an opioid receptor antagonist medication. Naloxone, also known as Narcan® or Kloxxado®, can rapidly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose and restore breathing. It’s crucial to familiarise yourself with local laws and regulations regarding possessing and administering Naloxone to ensure you’re prepared to help in an emergency. Your swift response can make a life-saving difference.

Facts and Statistics

  • According to recent data, an estimated 14,000 individuals are currently receiving treatment for heroin addiction.
  • Unfortunately, heroin-related deaths remain a concern, with over 2,000 fatalities reported in the past year.
  • According to the Data and analysis from Census 2021, approximately half of all drug poisoning deaths registered in 2021 involved an opiate (45.7%; 2,219 deaths).

Finding Treatment

When seeking treatment for heroin addiction in the UK, it’s important to consider the available options that best suit your needs. If you are specifically looking for outpatient care, CATCH Recovery provides comprehensive online and in-person addiction support and therapy packages tailored to support your recovery journey.

Remember, your path to recovery is unique, and finding the right treatment setting is crucial. Reach out to CATCH Recovery for guidance and support in accessing the appropriate level of care for your heroin addiction rehab.

Therapies Used in Counselling for Opioid Addiction

Counselling is crucial in treating opioid addiction, offering a safe and supportive space to address the underlying issues contributing to your addiction. As part of our treatment, various evidence-based therapies are employed to assist you on your path to recovery.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (cbt)

helps you identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviours associated with drug use. It focuses on developing coping skills, managing cravings, and promoting healthier decision-making.

Motivational Interviewing (MI):

aims to enhance your motivation to change addictive behaviours. Through empathetic and non-judgmental conversations, counsellors help you explore your ambivalence towards addiction, improve your self-efficacy, and ignite your internal motivation for positive change.

Contingency Management (CM):

utilises positive reinforcement to promote abstinence and encourage healthy behaviours. CM fosters motivation and creates a sense of achievement and self-worth by rewarding you for staying drug-free or meeting treatment goals.

Therapy Methodologies That Help You Heal

Family Therapy

Recognises the importance of involving family members in recovery. It seeks to improve communication, rebuild trust, and develop a supportive network for the individual. Family therapy can also address co-occurring issues and provide education and resources to family members.

Group Therapy

Allows you to connect with peers who share similar experiences. Sharing stories, providing mutual support, and participating in therapeutic activities foster a sense of belonging, understanding, and accountability.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction CATCH Recovery

At CATCH Recovery, our promise is rooted in care, kindness, and the belief that long-term recovery is achievable when we work together. We provide a range of counselling options for heroin addiction recovery to support you on your journey to lasting sobriety. Our compassionate team offers immediate assistance online or in person, fostering healing and personal growth.

We offer continued support and resources to empower your post-treatment journey. With CATCH Recovery, you’re not alone on this path. Together, we can build a brighter future, free from addiction.

Reach out to CATCH Recovery today. Our caring team is here to support you on the journey to long-term recovery.

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