Skip to content

How Addictive Is Heroin?

Metal clockwork head in a sea of clouds showcasing different type of addiction

Are you concerned about heroin addiction in yourself or a loved one? It’s great to start with education and accurate information on the subject. In this article, we’ll be going over the addictive nature of heroin – what it’s like, how it feels and how it works.

What is addiction?

Addiction is best understood as a disease of the brain. In essence, it’s an affliction that means a person is unable to stop a pattern of behaviour – like doing heroin – that they know is harming themselves and those around them. The desire to consume heroin when addicted is uncontrollable, even though it is deteriorating their physical health and causing damage to their relationships and career.

Heroin addiction can progress rapidly, and it is regarded worldwide as one of the most addictive substances it is possible to consume.

How does heroin addiction start?

Although heroin is a highly addictive drug, it’s actually the subject of many misconceptions. The largest? It’s immediately addictive. Wrong.

Most people think that the second you consume heroin, you’ll be instantly hooked and have strong physical dependency and craving. Interestingly, that’s not true at all; many addictions to heroin begin through the use of legally prescribed opioid drugs, and many regular users of heroin don’t ever develop strong feelings of addiction and craving – although most do. What all heroin users do experience is ‘tolerance’, where they must use increasing amounts to get the same high as when they started using. This is a common factor in a large amount of drug use. 

Prescription drugs often lead individuals to develop addictions to illegal drugs like heroin because of withdrawal symptoms. This is one of the reasons why heroin is so dangerous; a person can feel in control of using it when they regularly consume the drug, but will quickly feel incredibly strong withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it. For people prescribed opioids, these withdrawal symptoms can be too hard to bear, leading them to use heroin. Heroin use can lead to other drug use as well.

What are withdrawal symptoms like?

Heroin users will typically start to experience withdrawal symptoms within six to twelve hours after their last dose of the substance. These effects of heroin withdrawal can be very similar or indeed identical to prescription opioid drugs. Heroin, however, usually leaves the body faster than painkillers, making withdrawal symptoms hit faster.

Heroin withdrawal will usually involve extreme physical discomfort. Users will experience strong feelings of nausea and insomnia, often vomiting regularly and suffering from diarrhoea. This goes hand in hand with flushes of fever and sweating and strong, sustained aching of the muscles across the body, which may be accompanied by muscular and abdominal cramping.

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on a number of factors including the body weight, age and physical health of the user. The amount they consumed and the frequency of that consumption will also affect withdrawal. Underlying and pre-existing medical conditions can also affect the duration and intensity of symptoms. 

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) are often experienced for a longer period and may include periods of anxiety, depression and fatigue. Mood swings and panic attacks are also common PAWS symptoms and all may be experienced for as much as two years after ceasing consumption of the drug. It is usually the case, however, that the severity of withdrawal symptoms will steadily decline over time the longer a person has been free from heroin use. It is also very important to remind any heroin user who has made it through their initial withdrawal that their tolerance for the drug can drop quickly. That means if they relapse they are at a greater risk for a heroin overdose. This makes using heroin after getting clean a risky proposition. Heroin users who break their habit should make sure they have long term support as they start their new drug free lives.

We can help

We hope you have found this article helpful and informative. Please get in touch with the Help Me Stop drug addiction treatment team today by calling 0208 191 9191 or using our contact form. As a mental health facility, we are ready to help you break your addiction and live drug free. For information on our groundbreaking online and non-residential rehabilitation programmes, please visit this page of our site.

Recent Articles

Building a Recovery Community

Having recently returned to Help Me Stop as Director of Treatment Services I want to share some thoughts on the importance of developing our recovery community further. I am honoured
Read More
university building

Drugs and University

University is an exciting time for young people but it also comes with a lot of risks. Peer pressure, new surroundings and often a new-found sense of freedom, can result
Read More
sober living word on green road sign with sunset in background

Sober Summer Nights

The beer gardens are open and summer is here, so how are you going to go about those sober summer nights spent socialising? Here is everything you need to know
Read More