Heroin Addiction and Treatment | Rehab Guide

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Drug syringe and cooked heroin on spoon

If you or a family member are suffering from heroin addiction, now more than ever before, it is vital that you seek professional help. Rehab Guide wish to draw your attention to the following shocking statistics relating to heroin effects and opiate misuse. Our hope is that this may spur you into taking life-saving action.

Last year in 2018, deaths related to drug poisoning in England and Wales increased by a staggering 16%. 4,359 people lost their lives to drugs, with specific opiates heroin and morphine being mentioned the most. This record level of deaths equates to 56 people dying on a daily basis from drugs in England and Wales alone. (1)

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Source: ONS – Opiate related deaths have reached an all-time high in England and Wales since records first began in 1993

In Scotland, the picture is even bleaker, with the drug death toll rising by a mind-blowing 27% in 2018, compared to statistics for 2017. Once again opiate-based compounds including heroin and morphine were found to be the number one offender (2)

Across the UK, males are accounting for approximately 70% of all drug-related deaths and middle-aged males are considered particularly at risk when it comes to heroin and other opiates. Street heroin is now stronger than ever before, and with more individuals becoming hooked on the deadly drug, the death toll is predicted to continue to rise over the next few years.

Sadly, from these unsettling statistics, which are an accurate representation of the deadly toxicity of heroin, a substantial proportion of addicts die from their dependency. These deaths are preventable.  Addiction is treatable, and recovery IS possible.

Call Rehab Guide now on 02072052845 to find out how we can help treat you or a loved one to escape the clutches of this dangerous, deadly and addictive drug.

What is Heroin?

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Heroin is an extremely powerful narcotic drug and infamous for its euphoric effects. It is also one of the most addictive drugs on the planet. In a frequent user, the drug creates tolerance, dependence and addiction.

Opiate drugs are both used for their medicinal value and for recreational use. Today, the many derivatives of opium are among the most addictive drugs known – Heroin; Morphine; Codeine; Opium; Methadone; Pethidine; Oxycodone are a few examples.

Heroin is a Class A illicit opiate with analgesic properties but is taken for recreational purposes. In the UK it can be purchased from street dealers and is imported into the mainland from all over the world. The identified primary producers include Afghanistan, Vietnam, Thailand, Columbia, Pakistan, Mexico and Iran. (3)

Heroin is processed from morphine, an organic substance derived from the seed pod of the opium poppy. Once heroin is ingested, the liver breaks the substance down back into morphine. This is why deaths occurring from morphine and heroin are classed as one of the same.

Common UK street names for heroin

Common street names used for heroin in the UK include:

Heroin, Horse, Skag, Brown, Smack, Dope, H, Black tar (4)

Heroin facts

Heroin’s appearance varies depending on the country and source it comes from; generally, it comes in shades of white, black and brown. In its purest form, heroin comes as a fine white powder but is then mixed with “cutting agents” to make it go further for sale. It also comes in a black tar form.

Common cutting agents used to bulk out the drug are not only potentially highly toxic but can also make the effects more pronounced. Common bulking agents vary from fairly innocuous substances such as baking soda, paracetamol and talc to highly potent and dangerous substances including rat poison, benzodiazepines, cocaine and fentanyl.

The most dangerous aspect of taking illicit street drugs is that the user never knows exactly what is in it, or its strength. Heroin has become one of the most (if not THE most) volatile and unpredictable substances available in the UK, especially since fentanyl’s introduction into the trade as a cutting agent.

Heroin’s purity has increased over the years, with up to 60/70% purity levels being reported in some areas of the UK. More information on heroin’s purity and use in the UK can be found in the United Kingdom Drug Situation: Focal Point Annual Report 2017.

How is heroin used?

Referred to as a recreational drug, the reality is that due to its potent and addictive properties, it rarely stays recreational for very long. This is one drug that can quickly become the beginning of a long term dependency or end in overdose with just one use. You can even become addicted after one use.

How is heroin usually taken? It is usually taken either by smoking it from a joint, inhaling its vapours off the foil “chasing the dragon” or injecting it in liquid form intravenously. All methods can lead to tolerance, dependence and addiction. They all have their risks and dangers, but intravenous use is the method that is responsible for the vast majority of overdoses.

Many people who have abused heroin start out smoking the drug; then, as their tolerance to the drug builds, they swap to intravenous use. This method of administration delivers a more powerful punch, and the effects of can be felt almost immediately. Most overdoses happen through intravenous injection as the drug is administered in one hit through the syringe instead of gradually through inhalation.

If the drug is contaminated or stronger than the user’s tolerance, intravenous use can and often does cause instant overdose, which can be fatal if not immediately medically treated.

Heroin effects 

All opiate drugs cause drug tolerance if taken frequently. Tolerance can happen rapidly. Once tolerant, the user will need to take more and more, with tolerance comes dependence.  Dependence develops from frequent exposure, and this often leads to dependency. Heroin physiological and psychological dependence is considered a  life-threatening condition.

Heroin tolerance

Once an individual is tolerant of heroin, they will find that they need more in order to achieve the same sought after euphoric effects. Tolerance is a vicious cycle of a plateau in effects and taking more and more as tolerance increases.

Once a tolerance to the drug has occurred, it is likely that the individual will also become dependent. Taking the same amount will only achieve in making them feel normal; taking any less will result in withdrawal symptoms.

Eventually, the level of tolerance progresses so much that they start to suffer withdrawal UNLESS they increase the amount they are regularly taking. An increase will initially provide the relief and euphoria they seek, that is until they develop a new level of increased tolerance. Drug tolerance and dependence are closely linked and is very much a physical sickness.

What are the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction?

Signs of dependence occurs rapidly when compared to other drugs. With the drug’s powerful euphoric side effects, this is not a drug that someone is just likely to use occasionally. Dependence can develop in as little as 5 to 7 days, although some will tell you they become dependent on the drug after only 3 days of taking it daily.

Once dependent on heroin, unless a regular dose of the drug is taken, withdrawal symptoms will develop. Also referred to as “dope sickness”, these symptoms affect the individual both physically and psychologically.

The only way to break dependence is to undergo a  detox.

Why is heroin so addictive?

Addiction occurs with frequent exposure to heroin, so much so that it chemically alters the brain’s reward system and its pathways. Dependency is characterised by progression and relapse. It is a deadly disorder of the brain as even once detoxed and completely heroin free, the damaged brain will still obsess over heroin, and the user will feel compelled to try using again.

Addicts need more than just a successful detox in order to be treated successfully.

Researchers are currently studying the long term effects of opioids on the human brain. Studies have linked the loss of the brains white matter with heroin use. This affects decision making, impulsion control, behaviours and response to stressful situations. (6-8)

The dangers of heroin use

Heroin is a highly addictive drug. The consequences of the heroin habit can affect an individual in many different ways and can change their life forever.

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Source Wikimedia

Heroin overdose is frequently associated with addiction. As addiction progresses, the sufferer becomes careless and reckless. They are more likely to take bigger and bigger risks with their health, social life, mental well being, relationships and security. The addict loses all concept and control of what is considered socially acceptable behaviour and will eventually resort to lying, cheating, stealing and committing a crime in order to sustain their addiction.

The physical and mental health problems commonly associated with addiction include:

  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who snort heroin
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses at injection sites, infections, cellulitis and even gangrene
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual dysfunction for men and menstrual irregularity in women
  • Malnutrition
  • Overdose, coma and death (9)

Risks associated with intravenous addiction

Very few users start out using intravenously. More often than not, it is part of the progression of their dependency Even those that swore they would never inject, once addicted, find themselves injecting on a regular basis; sometimes up to 5-6 times a day, or more, in chronic cases.

In order to reduce the risk of harm, an intravenous user will need several sets of clean “works” a day. (Works is the term used for paraphernalia associated with intravenous drug use).

For chronic users, obtaining clean injecting equipment on a daily basis can become impossible. As they become more and more unwell from the effects, they are increasingly likely to share needles with other IV heroin users or use used dirty and contaminated needles.

Those that inject and those that work in the sex industry to fund their addiction also tend to be more complex to treat. Sex workers are also at risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, infections and unwanted pregnancies.

Risks associated with intravenous dependency include:

Contracting –

Hepatitis C


Blood poisoning and infections

Instant overdose –

Can lead to brain damage through lack of oxygen to the brain

Organ failure



The most recent estimate suggests there were 101,600 people living with HIV in the UK in 2017. Of these, around 7,800 are undiagnosed, so do not know they are HIV positive. (10) However, it is estimated that only 2 % of these people living with the deadly virus contracted it through injecting drugs. While this proportion is relatively low, it should still be considered a related risk.

Am I addicted to heroin?

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If you are addicted, once detoxed, you will find it extremely difficult not to go back to the drug. Relapse rates amongst addicts are incredibly high as relapse is one of the defining characteristics of this addiction.

Can you get off heroin? If your experience with heroin is characterised by a desire to be clean but being unable to stop, and relapse is a repetitive cycle in your life, it is highly likely you are suffering from heroin addiction. This being the case, a detox will not be enough to ensure your recovery.

Identifying dependence is easy if you miss a dose and develop withdrawal symptoms, then you have a dependence.  Addiction is not so easy to diagnose, at least not for the person who is affected. Addiction affects your ability to think rationally when it comes to drugs and alcohol. Coming off heroin can take a very long time and a lot of physical and emotional pain until a user holds their hands up and admits defeat.

Addiction cannot be cured. It can, however, be arrested and treated successfully, and through this recovery can be maintained.

Withdrawal from heroin addiction & symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms is what stops most addicts from getting clean. The more you take and the longer you have been taking it for, the more severe the withdrawal you will suffer.

Common  side effects and symptoms are:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Insomnia
  • Intense cravings
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Hot and cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Uncontrollable leg movements
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Profuse sweating
  • Poor appetite (11)

Severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms:

Severe and dangerous withdrawal symptoms occur in those with chronic long term addiction or dependence. These withdrawal symptoms can become life-threatening if prompt medical treatment is not accessed.  Effects can cause:

  • Seizures
  • Malnutrition and dehydration
  • Paranoia
  • Choking on vomit
  • Delirium
  • Psychosis
  • Self-harm urges and suicidal ideation

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be dramatically reduced and managed with the use of certain pharmaceutical medications approved for detox. If you are addicted, and the fear of withdrawal is stopping you from getting clean, then a medically managed detox will help you immensely.

Treatment options for heroin addiction in the UK on the NHS

There are various treatment options in the UK for those that are addicted to heroin. The treatment you are offered and receive very much depends on whether you are able to afford medically assisted withdrawal detoxification or need to seek free addiction help through the NHS.

The NHS does not have the funds anymore to fund heroin rehab in the vast majority of cases. Over the past 5 years, budgets for drug and alcohol services have been slashed by a staggering £162 million. This has had a devastating impact on drug and alcohol services across the UK, resulting in lower engagement levels and more deaths from drugs and alcohol. (12)

If you do seek help for dependency through your local drug and alcohol team, it is likely you will be offered the following treatments-

  1. Keywork sessions with an allocated keyworker – The frequency of these sessions and the continuity of care provided varies from area to area depending on demand and funding
  2. A heroin substitute programme – You will be provided with an approved medication to replace the heroin and then slowly be reduced from the medicines in the community
  3. Access to support groups and educational groups
  4. Access to mutual aid groups such as Narcotics Anonymous and Smart Recovery UK
  5. Placed on a waiting list for professional counselling (this is not automatic and needs to be requested)
  6. Referral to mental health, social housing help, debt management etc

The reality is that the vast majority of individuals who suffer from addiction are unable to attain or sustain recovery in the community. Only those who are incredibly motivated to get and stay clean tend to succeed. Recovering from addiction within the community is possible but extremely challenging; it requires a lot of hard work and commitment.

Private treatment options for heroin addiction treatment in the UK

The private heroin treatment option that has proven to be the most successful in treating addiction treats both the physical and psychological aspect of dependency simultaneously. Using a bespoke approach to individual addiction treatment, all aspects of your addiction and how it affects you are treated comprehensively. This includes treatment for any dual diagnosis of addiction and mental health conditions and treatment for any additional behavioural or substance addictions.



Private treatment for heroin addiction treatment offers a number of options. We have listed the treatment options starting with the highest treatment intensity and ending in the lowest treatment intensity. The private treatment option that is likely to work for you depends on the severity of your dependency and how long you have been addicted for.

Fully residential heroin rehab

Fully residential heroin rehab includes a medical detox and treatment plan where dependence is identified and a comprehensive bespoke treatment programme. Your accommodation, food and treatment are all delivered under one roof, ensuring complete freedom from temptation. Fully residential rehabs tend to be smaller with a higher staff to patient ratio. They also tend to have doctors, nurses, counsellors, support workers and psychiatrists available 24/7 and are able to treat patients with complex treatment needs. Fully residential rehab is the preferred treatment option with the highest success rates of completion.

Quasi residential heroin rehab

Quasi residential treatment includes a medical detox where dependence is identified and a comprehensive bespoke treatment programme. Accommodation is separate from where you receive clinical treatment, and you are responsible for cooking your own meals and washing. Quasi residential rehabs also tend to accommodate more patients and have a lower staff to patient ratio. Temptation can be an issue if the rehab allows clients to go out in groups unsupervised, and no staff member resides at the rehab accommodation. Quasi residential rehab tends to be a more affordable rehab option and is best suited to those that are highly motivated and have less complex treatment needs.

Residential heroin detox

Detox is carried out as an inpatient within a rehab or detox clinic. The heroin is removed and substituted with an approved medication in order to manage and reduce withdrawal symptoms. This method succeeds in helping a patient to get clean from heroin. A full rehabilitation programme is always recommended to follow immediately after to help prevent relapse.

Outpatient heroin rehab

Outpatient heroin rehab private is best suited to those that have already detoxed from heroin, are highly motivated to attend rehab daily, and have a very good network of supportive family and friends around them. It is not suited for those that need a heroin detox or have no safe, temptation free place to stay outside of clinic hours. Staff to patient ratio and treatment availability vary depending on the cost of the rehab.

Counselling for addiction

Private counselling can often help address behaviours and thought patterns unhelpful to sustaining recovery. It can also assist in processing and accepting past events. This private treatment option is not suited to someone who is still using heroin. To fully benefit from counselling, the patient must be clear of all mind-altering chemicals that are not medically approved. Private counselling best benefits a heroin user in recovery who wishes to explore their addiction and past in a safe and professional environment.

If you or a loved one need help in sourcing, a reputable CQC registered rehab or private treatment option. Or you want advice on the treatment option that is most likely to work for you, call Rehab Guide today and speak with one of our friendly addiction treatment experts.

Medicines to help people stop using heroin

The NICE guidelines recommend the following pharmaceutical medicines to assist during a heroin detox. Any detox that is going to be successful needs to be bespoke. This means medically devising a detox that takes into account personal factors to ensure that the detox is as comfortable as possible.

Medications approved to treat dependence include:

  • Methadone
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex)
  • Dihydrocodeine
  • Lofexidine
  • Clonidine (13)

In some instances, medicines are used off label to manage and reduce withdrawals. Examples include diazepam and zopiclone.

Naltrexone treatment for heroin addiction

Once an individual has been successfully detoxed from heroin, they may consider having a naltrexone implant fitted. Naltrexone provides additional reassurance against relapse. Even if a patient with a naltrexone implant fitted does use heroin, they will not feel the euphoric benefits.

Naltrexone binds to the brain’s opioid receptors and blocks the heroin from activating them. Using heroin, or any opiate for that matter with a naltrexone implant fitted is pretty pointless. Naltrexone has also proved helpful in treating alcoholism and alcohol addiction.

Rehab Guide is able to arrange naltrexone implants to be implanted professionally. Call us to find out more about our highly regulated and approved naltrexone clinics.

Evidence-based treatments for heroin addiction

Evidence-based treatments include certain types and methods of therapy. Combining a therapeutic rehabilitation programme with a medical detox and medical support has proven to be the most comprehensive and successful way of treating any addiction

Our  rehabs offer a selection of the following evidence-based treatments, delivered by a multidisciplinary team of qualified addiction counsellors, doctors and therapists:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – CBT
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy – DBT
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Psychotherapy
  • Integrated therapy – A combination of person-centred counselling and psychotherapy
  • Medical detox
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • 12 step therapy
  • Educational interactive workshops
  • Relapse prevention therapy
  • Cutting edge holistic therapies including – Mindfulness, meditation, acupuncture, yoga, tia chi, fitness, nutrition, life skills and art,

A comprehensive rehab programme for addiction will include many of these therapies, each treatment tailored to your individual needs.

How long heroin stays in your system for when you have an addiction

Having a long term dependence or addiction means that heroin will remain detectable in your system for longer than an individual who uses heroin occasionally.

Other factors that can affect how long heroin stays in your system include:

  • The method of testing, i.e., urine test, blood test, saliva test or hair test
  • The length of time the person has been using regularly for
  • The amount and purity of heroin used
  • Whether it has been swallowed injected or smoked
  • The individual’s gender, BMI, metabolic rate, age, organ efficiency

Because of the above factors varying from person to person, it is not possible to give a definitive answer as to how long heroin stays in your system.  However, there are guidelines that are issued to local drug and alcohol teams that can be considered.

Urine – 2-3 days (14)

Urine is the most popular method of testing for heroin. Saliva tests can detect heroin in your system for slightly longer, and hair sample tests can detect any drug for up to 3 months.

Rehab for heroin addiction

If you or a loved one are looking for reputable addiction treatment and rehabilitation, call Rehab Guide today. All of our rehabs are CQC registered, highly regulated, run by qualified professionals and offer the latest in evidence-based treatments.

On receiving your call, we will conduct a no-obligation, free of charge addiction treatment assessment. From there we will be able to make recommendations regarding the best treatment options for you

Heroin addiction can feel like a life sentence, but this doesn’t need to be the case. There are highly effective treatments available, and we can help you access them. We will do all we can to assist you or your loved one in breaking free from addiction and achieving the seemingly impossible – continue to stay clean from heroin long term.









  1. ONS https://www.ons.gov.uk/
  2. Scottish Government https://www.gov.scot/news/1-187-drug-deaths-in-2018-up-27-percent-in-a-year/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroin#/media/File:HeroinWorld-en.svg
  4. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Heroin
  5. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/Focal_Point_Annual_Report.pdf
  6. Liu J, Qin W, Yuan K, et al. 
  7. Qiu Y, Jiang G, Su H, et al. 
  8. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Surratt HL, Kurtz SP. 
  9. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin#ref
  10. https://www.tht.org.uk/hiv-and-sexual-health/about-hiv/hiv-statistics
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/
  12. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-44039996
  13. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg52/evidence/drug-misuse-opioid-detoxification-full-guideline-196515037
  14. https://www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/illicit_drug_screen_times_-_jan_17.p

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