Heroin Addiction and Rehab

Heroin is often called smack and is made from the seed pods of various opium poppy plants grown in Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. 

What Is Heroin?

This highly addictive opioid-based drug is most commonly found as a white or brown powder depending on its purity. Another form of heroin is a black sticky substance called black tar heroin. 

Heroin vs Morphine

Morphine and heroin have similar properties, so they produce many of the same effects. However, heroin is a semi-synthetic substance made up of morphine and combined with other chemicals, most of which are unknown. 

Heroin is two to three times more potent than morphine and crosses the blood-brain barrier much quicker, making it much faster acting than morphine. With morphine being more controlled and closely regulated, it’s less accessible than heroin. Heroin abuse may occur due to becoming addicted to prescribed morphine or opiate painkillers when it becomes difficult to obtain another prescription.

Heroin Rehab and Addiction Treatment

Heroin addiction can destroy your life quickly and will inevitably cause serious long-term harm and death. Trying to get clean after heroin abuse is extremely tough, and without heroin rehab, relapse is highly likely. 

Heroin treatment in residential rehab will start with a medically supervised detox, with medication to reduce the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. You will then attend an extensive and intensive therapy programme. This should also be followed by a strong aftercare programme, usually consisting of relapse prevention workshops, individual and group counselling, plus alumni activities and events. 

Our Brand Promise

At Step by Step Recovery, we are dedicated to providing the very best quality of care for every one of our clients. Our ultimate goal is to provide you with the tools to maintain a clean and sober life free from heroin addiction.

Step by Step Recovery Residential Heroin Rehab

At our fully residential facility, The Lighthouse residential rehab, in Essex, heroin detox and treatment are provided by our dedicated team of medical professionals. Our staff are available 24/7 during your stay to offer support and ensure your comfort and safety.

When you enter the Lighthouse for heroin rehab, you will be given a medically assisted detox and prescribed appropriate medication to help alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms. Our team of counsellors create a bespoke heroin addiction treatment plan for each individual, and your stay will ultimately depend on the severity of your addiction. We recommend a minimum 28-day residential stay with us to effectively treat heroin addiction and give you sufficient time to participate in and fully benefit from our therapy programme. 

Alongside a medical detox, our heroin treatment plan involves a wide range of evidence-based therapy to identify any issues that may have contributed to your addiction. Heroin treatment methods include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), process therapy, relapse prevention workshops, combined with holistic treatments. These include activities such as yoga and mindfulness, which focus on healing the mind, spirit, and body.

Transitioning from rehab to real life can be a scary prospect. After weeks of around-the-clock care, you may suddenly feel alone and out of your depth. It’s important to remember that you will have a great deal of support when you leave residential rehab. Before you complete your rehab stay, your addiction counsellor will sit down with you and put together a personalised aftercare programme to help you maintain your sobriety once you leave.

At Step by Step Recovery, we don’t believe recovery ends once you leave us. This is where your journey truly begins. As part of our heroin addiction treatment following a minimum of 28 days at The Lighthouse, you will have access to free lifetime addiction aftercare support.

Heroin Abuse and Methods of Use

There are various ways to use heroin; you can snort, smoke or inject it. Heroin is also mixed with other substances — most commonly, stimulants like crack cocaine — a practice called speedballing. Typically, both substances are heated, and the liquid is injected, but it can also refer to mixing and snorting the substances.

Often people will start by smoking heroin, typically referred to as chasing the dragon” by heating heroin on a spoon or tin foil above a flame and inhaling the vapours. Most users will then progress to drawing up the liquid into a syringe and injecting it straight into the vein. Due to the increased risk of overdose and catching diseases from dirty needles, injecting heroin is considered the most dangerous method. 

Heroin Paraphernalia

Various items are used to take heroin, depending on if it is injected, smoked, or snorted. Common things to look out for include the following:

  • Dirty, brownish balls of cotton 
  • Spoons or bottle caps
  • Shoelaces, pieces of rubber hose and string 
  • Aluminium foil
  • Straws or small tubes of paper or plastic
  • Tobacco and rolling papers.

Symptoms and Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a powerful substance that produces feelings of intense pleasure and euphoria and the absence of physical pain. Typically, after using heroin, it seems as if everything has slowed down for hours. Due to the strong effects of heroin and the duration of time these feelings last, addiction can take hold very quickly. 

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Shortly after taking heroin, specific short-term effects include the following:

  • Feelings of euphoria and extreme happiness
  • Feeling calm and relaxed
  • Shifting in and out of sleepiness, often referred to as being “on the nod”
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm, red skin
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchy skin.

Repeated use of heroin over some time will almost always lead to physical dependence, and your body will need heroin to function correctly. 

Long -Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin addiction can lead to various long-term psychological and physical symptoms. The most common psychological symptoms of heroin abuse or addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Guilt and shame
  • Mood changes and aggression
  • Inability to focus
  • Impaired judgement
  • Feeling confused or disorientated.

The most common physical symptoms of heroin addiction include the following:

  • Rapid or extreme weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Exhaustion and flu-like symptoms
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Skin infections
  • Endocarditis infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves
  • Collapsed veins
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Changes in brain function and structure.

Injecting heroin with dirty needles will also increase your risks of bloodborne diseases, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

Behavioural Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

In addition to psychological and physical signs of heroin addiction, there are behavioural changes that may become apparent, such as:

  • Neglecting work and daily responsibilities
  • Poor work performance
  • Secrecy and lying to conceal drug use
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Withdrawing from outside life
  • Asking to borrow money and financial difficulties.

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What Causes Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction typically starts with sporadic heroin abuse, which is often triggered by complex emotions and external stressful circumstances. Regardless of the method used to take heroin, it changes how your brain functions, and you can become addicted after using it just once or twice. 

Once you take a hit of heroin, you’re instantly free of any feelings of physical or mental pain. Physical dependence quickly occurs because heroin alters how your brain’s nerve receptors behave. These receptors become reliant on heroin to function normally, and without it, you will suffer highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.  

Over time, heroin alters areas of the brain responsible for perception and judgement. Your brain learns to emphasise the pleasurable feelings of using heroin and ignore the negative consequences. Due to its potency and long-lasting effects, heroin is one of the most highly addictive street drugs, and getting clean without heroin rehab is extremely difficult. 

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Overdose

Heroin binds with brain receptors to block pain signals and slow down breathing and heart rate. When you take a strong opioid like heroin for a prolonged period, your body builds up a tolerance to its effects. 

This means you will require more each time you take it to achieve the same high you experienced when you first started using it. Over time as you increase the amount you take, your risk of accidental overdose increases.

A heroin overdose can cause respiratory failure, killing you very quickly. Signs of a heroin overdose to look out for include:

  • Vomiting
  • Body going limp
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Choking or gurgling noises
  • Shallow or laboured breathing.
  • Slow pulse
  • Dizziness 
  • Blurred vision
  • Pale or bluish tinge to skin 
  • Skin that is clammy and, or cold.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, call 999 and advise that heroin has been taken. Although heroin is a Class A drug, emergency services are not going to arrest you, and it could save your or someone else’s life.

Naloxone for Heroin Treatment of Overdose

Have you ever heard of naloxone? It’s a powerful drug that can quickly reverse the effects of opioids like heroin, methadone, and Fentanyl. Carrying naloxone and knowing how to use it could help save someone’s life.

Anyone can use naloxone in an emergency! You don’t need to be a medical professional or a first aid expert. It’s crucial to act quickly if someone has overdosed. The most important thing you can do if you use heroin or know people who do, is to carry naloxone and know how to use it. If you need a naloxone kit, contact your local naloxone kit and training service

Don’t worry about not knowing how to use it because a helpful staff member will give you a kit and teach you how to administer naloxone in a prefilled syringe or a nasal spray. Whether you’re a heroin addict or an opiate drug user or know someone who is, having a naloxone kit at hand in case of an overdose can be the difference between life and death. But, it’s essential to remember that the effects of naloxone are only temporary. Always remember to call 999 and ask for emergency help after you use it.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms occur because your body has become reliant on heroin to function normally. To avoid the pain of withdrawal, heroin addiction will drive you to use it as soon as you start to experience unpleasant symptoms. 

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are also often mistaken for flu and other illnesses and vary in severity depending on factors such as frequency of use, dosage, and overall health. Although the withdrawal experience will differ from person to person, the progression of an opioid withdrawal usually follows a general timeline. 

The first symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically begin within the first 24 hours after your last dose. These include: 

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent yawning.

After the first 24 hours, symptoms begin to intensify, and it’s during this stage that relapse is likely if you are not in a residential heroin rehab facility. These include the following:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shivering
  • Blurry vision
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Flu-like symptoms.

Although heroin withdrawal symptoms can be agonising, they tend to calm down after around one week. However, this will depend on how long you’ve been using heroin, and ongoing heroin withdrawal symptoms may occur for months. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). While any symptoms at this stage should be mild, you should seek professional medical advice if you are still experiencing discomfort.

At Step by Step Recovery, we offer free advice on treating alcohol, drug and heroin addiction. We exist to provide non-judgemental support to help individuals beat addiction permanently. Please complete our online assessment form or call our understanding team on 0800 170 1222 for free, confidential advice.


In its purest form, heroin is a very fine white powder, but it is most commonly found as a grey, brown or black powder. Heroin can also resemble a black sticky-looking substance called black tar heroin.

Heroin is predominantly made up of an ingredient called diacetylmorphine, or diamorphine, which is what produces its psychoactive effects. It’s a highly potent chemical derived from the seed of opium poppies and makes heroin highly addictive. 

Once it hits the streets, heroin is “cut” with various additives. Although some may be harmless such as caffeine and sugar, other substances can be extremely poisonous, such as strychnine 1. Other opiates, such as Oxycontin and Fenayln are also used to cut heroin, substantially increasing the risk of overdose and death. 

When someone first uses heroin, they can often conceal it through lying and deceiving those around them. However, some more obvious physical signs of heroin addiction include watery eyes, runny nose, persistent flu-like symptoms, and itchy skin. As heroin addiction takes a grip, withdrawal from social interaction, friends, and family, combined with sudden mood changes, are all signs of heroin abuse.

Death from heroin overdose is usually a result of respiratory failure and is more likely if you inject heroin. The risk of overdose also increases if you abstain from using heroin for some time and go back to using the same amount you became used to. Your tolerance for heroin will have reduced significantly by this time, and the consequences can be fatal. 

While the individual symptoms of heroin withdrawal aren’t dangerous, a small fatality (death) rate is associated with sudden withdrawal. Severe withdrawal symptoms can also cause dehydration from diarrhoea and vomiting, which can be fatal. Other withdrawal symptoms can be very painful, so detoxing in a residential heroin rehab facility is highly recommended.

The safest way to recover from heroin addiction is through inpatient heroin rehab lasting between 28 days and 12 weeks. This typically includes a medical detox to overcome physical dependence and ease withdrawal symptoms, followed by a treatment programme to help resolve the psychological aspects of addiction.

At Step by Step Recovery, we offer free counselling on recovering from and treating addiction and provide residential rehab in Essex. For free, confidential guidance please fill out our online assessment form or contact 0800 170 1222, our free phone number.

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Page revised in March 2023, by Danielle Byatt, a Level 4 addictions counselling, Level 5 in Leadership & Management, BA applied social work. and Treatment Director at Step by Step Recovery.

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