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What is heroin addiction?

Heroin addiction can develop very quickly and is medically recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO ) and The National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as a chronic, progressive relapsing brain disorder; characterised by compulsive drug seeking and taking despite negative consequences.

Heroin addiction is considered a brain disorder because it causes structural and functional changes to the brain’s circuits that control reward, stress and impulse. The more heroin that is used, the more pronounced these changes become.

Even when heroin use has been successfully stopped, structural changes to the brain can remain for a long time and in many cases can last a lifetime.

This is why rehabilitation treatment from heroin addiction is so important.

Whilst heroin addiction cannot be cured, it can be arrested from further progression and the affected person can learn to live a heroin free life with the correct treatment and support.

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The consequences of a heroin addiction

Heroin is currently responsible for an alarming number of deaths around the world. Over the past decade there has been a steady increase in deaths attributed to the misuse of heroin throughout the UK.

  1. In England and Wales, there were 4,359 deaths relating to drug poisoning registered in 2018. This is the highest number of deaths recorded since records first began.
  2. In 2018, 2,208 of the 4,359 deaths were attributed to any opiate, thats more than half of all drug related deaths.
  3. 1,336 deaths were specific to heroin and morphine. Heroin and morphine are recorded as one as the body breaks heroin back down into morphine once ingested.

Left untreated heroin addiction only ever becomes progressively worse. The more heroin that is taken the more damage is caused to the brain. Negative consequences become bigger and more harmful.

Make no mistake, if someone is addicted to heroin it will be affecting all areas of their life in some way. Heroin addiction is an insidious disease that eventually infiltrates every aspect of a person’s being and those that are around them.

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Some consequences of heroin addiction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Dysphoria
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations (seeing of hearing things that are not there)
  • Obsessive and negative thought patterns
  • Reduced cognitive ability
  • Increased risk taking and recklessness
  • Memory impairment
  • Suicidal ideation

Heroin’s purity levels in the UK is historically high. Heroin is also often cut with other powerful drugs such as cocaine and fentanyl. This is causing more drug overdoses than ever before due to its volatile unpredictability.

What are the behavioural symptoms of heroin addiction to look out for?

If you are concerned a family member, friend or work colleague may be using heroin, look out for behavioural signs such as frequent absences from work or study, substandard performance and a general loss of interest in things that once seemed important.

Heroin users are often very secretive about their heroin use and will give elaborate stories to cover up their mistakes and absences. This means frequently lying to loved ones about their activities and whereabouts. A heroin user may also try to conceal any evidence of marks left by intravenous injections.

Keep an eye open for dramatic mood swings, changes in appearance, financial problems and increasing isolation from friends and family.

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bruising and track marks from injecting
  • Weight loss ( often very dramatic)
  • Intense itching
  • Skin lesions and sores
  • Grey unhealthy skin pallor
  • Opioid withdrawal symptoms – Similar to Flu like symptoms but more aggressive and accompanied by severe anxiety, depression, agitation, restlessness, insomnia, vomiting and diarrhoea.

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Risks and Side Effects of Heroin Addiction

The dangers of heroin are well documented. Studies in America have shown that almost a quarter of first-time users go on to develop a full-blown addiction.

The immediate feelings of well-being, euphoria and pain relief are countered by pernicious side effects that can put the user at serious risk of lasting mental and physical harm.

Users can quickly build up a tolerance to heroin, leading to the use of ever-greater amounts to achieve the desired effects. Once addiction kicks in, it can be extremely hard to reverse, and professional help is essential.

The risks and side effects of using heroin include:

  • Severe nausea
  • Choking on own vomit
  • Slowed breathing and even respiratory failure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness and mental confusion
  • Depression
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C or HIV for users who inject
  • Infection at the point of injection
  • Seizures

The Delamere approach to heroin addiction treatment

Without sustained professional help, the chances of recovery from heroin addiction are very slim.

At Delamere we have a multidisciplinary team of highly experienced hands-on professionals with unrivalled in-depth knowledge of heroin addiction and its treatment.

Our heroin treatment programmes are tailored to the individual. Where a heroin dependence is identified, a medically assisted detoxification will be delivered within our specialist detox unit with 24/7 nursing support. We are also able to facilitate full medical detoxes for those with numerous or complex drug dependencies and/or mental health illnesses.

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One to one and group counselling is designed to help patients understand the underlying causes of their problem and help them overcome them. We also deliver a vast array of innovative evidence based treatments designed to heal our patients on every level possible.

Without this level of professional help and expertise, it is all too easy for a heroin addict to give into cravings and temptation and revert back to heroin use. Even those with the strongest desire to quit heroin will usually find themselves back at square one. This is due to the aforementioned changes in the brain that heroin addiction causes. Heroin addiction must be addressed professionally and comprehensively if the person is to make a full and sustainable recovery.

If you are worried that heroin addiction has become a problem in your life, or in the life of someone you care about Delamere can help. Please call us today for a free of charge heroin addiction assessment and expert advice.

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  1. NIDA. The Science of Addiction. Drug misuse and addiction – Goldstein RZ, Volkow ND. Dysfunction of the prefrontal cortex in addiction: neuroimaging findings and clinical implications. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2011;12(11):652-669. doi:10.1038/nrn3119
  2. Office for National Statistics ONS Deaths related to drug poisoning in england and Wales 2018 by selected substances. Download Deaths related to drug poisoning by selected substances: 2018 registrations in xlsx format xlsx (1.1 MB)



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