Skip to content

Heroin Glossary


Most Common Heroin Terminology

Known scientifically as papever somniferum, the opium poppy is the naturally occurring plant from which opium and other types of refined opiates like heroin are extracted from. Other refined opiates include codeine, thebaine, morphine and narcotine. Many different varieties of opium poppy exist and the colour of the flower and other physical characteristics can vary.

The seeds of a poppy plant are often used in food. Opium poppy legality varies across the world, with some countries having ownership of parts of the plant being illegal. Opium poppy production is mainly undertaken by farmers from impoverished communities across the world. The flower naturally flourishes in climates that are warm and dry.

There are a number of slang terms used to refer to heroin. Some of these are universal, although others will vary depending on the country and area. It is important to be aware of the fact that some slang terms refer to a specific type of a substance, such as black tar which refers specifically to black tar heroin.

Slang terms for a substance are often used on the street by those consuming and selling the drug in question. The below phrases are commonly used to refer to heroin in some manner.

  • black tar
  • horse
  • smack
  • junk
  • brown sugar

A speedball refers to mixing heroin and cocaine for consumption together. Speedballing is done when a user mixes these substances and injects them into their bloodstream using a needle, although it is also possible to mix the two drugs together and ingest them nasally by snorting them. Speedballing is done to produce a high that is stronger and more intense than taking either cocaine or heroin alone.

Speedballing is extremely dangerous because the body is forced to process two strong types of drugs at the same time. The taking of a depressant and stimulant drug at the same time forces the body to use more oxygen and stresses the respiratory system, brain and heart. There is also an elevated risk of overdosing due to the fact that cocaine wears off faster than heroin, leading to people overdosing on cocaine as they take more during a session of use.

Opioid receptors were first proposed as late as 1954 in a study on synthetic opiates. In our brains, we have an opioid system which is responsible for the control of pain, reward and any addictive behaviours. There are three key opioid receptors which are kappa, delta and mu. These receptors are naturally activated in the brain in response to the release of endogenous peptides including endorphin. They are, however, able to be activated by opiates like morphine, which is a strong opiate painkiller.

This makes morphine and heroin extremely powerful substances for use as a painkiller, albeit with very addictive properties.

Overdosing is a leading cause of death among users of heroin. A large cause of this is the fact that there is a very small difference between amounts of heroin used for recreational purposes and the amount required to trigger an overdose. Overdosing amounts will vary depending on the strength of the heroin consumed, the amount of regular and recent usage and the user’s physical health and state upon consumption.

A key issue that leads to heroin overdoses is the fact that tolerance of the drug can build quickly in a user. Even after taking a short break, tolerance can decrease to the point where a user can overdose by taking the same amount they did previously.

The term overdose refers to when a toxic amount of a drug builds up in the body, leading to significant and potentially harmful or fatal effects. Overdoses of heroin can be fatal or cause permanent damage to the body and brain.

Heroin overdoses can lead to the individual becoming unresponsive and unable to breathe properly. This can lead to what is known as brain hypoxia, where the brain becomes starved of oxygen. This can cause brain damage and may be fatal. Heroin overdoses are often also caused by a person using the same amount of heroin they used to when they had a higher tolerance, such as before having taken even a short break from the drug.

Hypoxia is a state that is entered when your body does not receive enough oxygen. This is a risk associated with heroin use. Hypoxia, as relates to the use of opioids, is a result of how they interact with the central nervous system.

The depressive effect of heroin on the respiratory system is believed to trigger brain hypoxia, which can lead to permanent brain damage and death. When a person overdoses on heroin, their breathing slows drastically, causing a lack of oxygen in the body. This can combine with unconsciousness and a slower heart rate. Essentially, the body forgets to breathe properly.

Naloxone is a type of medicine used to reverse the effects of an overdose. It is known medically as an opioid antagonist, meaning it works by attaching itself to opioid receptors in the brain, reversing their effects and blocking any other opioids from taking hold. Naloxone is important in its ability to restore a person overdosing to a normal breathing pattern, potentially saving their life. Heroin overdoses involve a person’s breathing slowing drastically, potentially leading to brain hypoxia.

Naloxone has no effect on a person who has not consumed opioids or has none in their system. It is not used for the treatment of opioid use disorder.  

Tolerance refers to the phenomenon wherein a person requires more of a drug to receive the same effects as it did previously. As a person consumes more of a drug, the body may ‘get used’ to its presence, leading to a diminished effect. Prescription drug tolerance is possible as well as tolerance to illegal drugs including heroin.

Heroin tolerance is a dangerous issue. Tolerance can both build and diminish rapidly, often leading to potentially fatal overdoses in situations such as when a user, after a break from the substance, takes the same amount they did previously when they had tolerance.

Withdrawal refers to symptoms experienced when a person stops using a drug. These symptoms will vary from substance to substance, with some such as alcohol potentially having fatal withdrawal symptoms.

Symptoms of withdrawal from heroin may last approximately a week, but they are very serious and potentially harmful. Users experiencing heroin withdrawal may experience nausea, shaking and muscle spasms, abdominal pain, sweating and nervousness, depression, agitation and a strong craving for more of the substance. If you are planning to stop using heroin and are concerned about withdrawal, please contact Help Me Stop or a medical professional for advice on how to do this safely.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid drug. Originally created in World War II, methadone was introduced to the United States of America and the wider world as a painkiller used to treat extreme cases of pain. In the modern age, methadone is used illegally as a recreational drug and is also sometimes used to help wean people addicted to heroin or narcotic painkillers off their dependency.

Methadone operates by altering the manner in which the brain’s nervous system responds to pain. It blocks the highs produced from drugs including codeine, heroin, morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone. It also produces similar feelings of a ‘high’ to these drugs.

Naltrexone is a medically prescribed substance that is primarily used in the treatment of alcohol and opioid dependence. Ingested either orally or through injection into the muscle, naltrexone blocks the effects of opioids in the brain, both outside and in.

Naltrexone was originally created in 1965. It is now used to support the treatment of individuals who are trying to beat their addiction to alcohol and opioids. Naltrexone has been shown in many studies to reduce the amount and frequency of drinking in individuals addicted to alcohol.

Naltrexone must be medically prescribed as part of a treatment plan for alcohol and opioid addiction. If you are in a similar situation and would like to enquire about the use of Naltrexone, please contact Help Me Stop or a medical professional.

Behavioural therapy is a form of treatment in which mental health disorders are addressed as a key focus. In behavioural therapy, the behaviours a person regularly takes part in that lead to harm are looked at in an effort to minimise their frequency and impact. One of the key principles of behavioural therapy is the understanding that any behaviour a person partakes in is a learned one, and that it can, therefore, be unlearned or deprogrammed.

Behavioural therapy is a powerful tool that is drawn on in most rehabilitation treatment programmes. By learning to understand their behaviour more objectively, participants are empowered to free themselves from patterns of behaviour that lead to harm.

Opiate drugs are a form of medication that originate from the opium poppy plant. Opiates are prescribed drugs that are often used as painkillers due to their strong ability to alleviate the sensation of pain. Opiates are what are known as sedative narcotics, meaning they reduce pain by depressing the activity of your central nervous system. The growth and farming of opium plants has been a phenomenon throughout most of our human history, with earliest known findings of opium plant growth dating as far back as 1500 BC.

Addiction to opiate drugs such as morphine is a widespread and damaging issue across most of the world.

Diacetylmorphine, the medical term for heroin, refers to the hydrochloride salt of a derivative of the opiate morphine. Morphine is a naturally occurring alkaloid that is extracted from opium poppy seed pods. This substance, made from morphine, is extremely addictive and is illegal to use and sell in many countries.

This substance operates by binding itself to opioid receptors located in the central nervous system of our bodies. It works as an analgesic agent and is used as a recreational drug across the world. This substance is extremely addictive and dangerous to use; overdosing on this substance can be fatal and lead to permanent brain damage.

Also referred to as impulse control disorder, behavioural addiction is understood in contemporary science as a form of addiction wherein a person is unable to control their compulsion to partake in a given behaviour even if it is causing them significant and apparent harm.

Although behavioural addiction may not involve any form of physical addiction to a substance, the chemical effects on the brain and its reward system can be very similar to psychological addiction to drink or drugs. The impact of behavioural addiction can be just as damaging to the individual and those around them as can be the case with addiction to drugs or alcohol.

The biological model of addiction focuses on the role genetics and biological forces in nature play on addiction. In this model, it is argued that the predominant influencer of behaviour that leads to addiction is the individual’s brain chemistry, which is in itself influenced primarily by genetic abnormalities and brain structure.

The biological model of addiction is important in learning to understand the science of addiction. By learning more about how a person’s physiology and genetics can influence their likelihood of developing an addiction to a substance, treatment and rehabilitation programmes can be improved to achieve higher success rates. Beating addiction as an individual is a path of self-discovery, making the biological model of addiction an important element for a treatment provider to understand and incorporate into their services.

Often also referred to as simply drug addiction, substance abuse disorders are understood medically as a disease in which a person is unable to control their use of an illegal or legal drug, even if it is causing them harm. Substance abuse disorders involve an influence on a person’s behaviour and brain chemistry, compelling them to consume a substance when they are aware of the negative consequences of doing so.

Substance abuse disorders vary in how fast they can develop depending on the substance being abused. Some drugs will have stronger physical addictive properties, whereas others may be more psychologically addictive.

Co-occurring disorders are when a person has both a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder. This is often referred to as a dual disorder or dual diagnosis. Co-occurring disorders are common amongst individuals who are addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Co-occurring disorders often include mood and anxiety-related disorders such as major depression, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. Individuals often turn to substance abuse in order to alleviate the symptoms of mental disorders such as these, leading them down the path of substance abuse, dependency and eventual addiction. This is one of the reasons co-occurring disorders are so common in the subject of addiction.

Self-medication is a hypothesis wherein a person uses substances to respond to and treat mental illness. Essentially, self-medication refers to the notion that people who abuse substances are doing so to alleviate a range of potential mental health conditions including depression and anxiety.

The self-medication concept also explains how individuals may be more likely to seek substances which alleviate the symptoms they negatively experience most effectively. Self-medication is dangerous as individuals doing so are not medical professionals and often have limited understandings of the substances they are abusing and the effect they may have on their bodies and minds.

To learn more about how you can get treatment for heroin abuse, contact Help Me Stop today. Our experts are standing by to answer your questions and offer help.