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Heroin and mental health

3-minute read

Heroin is a drug made from the opium poppy. It is addictive, and addicts can find it very hard to kick the habit.

Heroin is linked to mental health and social issues such as depression, money, work and legal problems. Mixing heroin with other drugs can be very dangerous.

Heroin is usually injected into a vein, but it can also be smoked or snorted. It’s also known as horse, smack, hammer, H, dope and junk.

Effects of heroin use

Heroin is a depressant drugs which means it slows down the messages to and from your brain. It can make you feel content, drowsy and relaxed. It also dulls physical and psychological pain. It can also make you stop breathing. Learn more about the physical effects of heroin.

People who use heroin regularly are more likely to develop mental health problems such as:

  • psychological dependence, where their thoughts and emotions revolve around the drug
  • confusion
  • mood swings, depression and anxiety.

People who use heroin regularly might also:

  • neglect their health
  • have financial problems because they spend a lot of money buying drugs
  • have relationships problems
  • find it hard to do their work properly
  • have an overdose, either accidentally or deliberately
  • pick up infections such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV
  • suffer physical illnesses
  • run into legal problems.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues as a result of drug use, try healthdirect’s symptom checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Kicking the habit

Kicking a heroin habit can be tough. Withdrawal symptoms start between 6 and 24 hours after the last dose and are worst after 2-4 days. They usually last for about a week and include cravings, depression, diarrhoea, increased heart rate, vomiting and loss of appetite.

Some mental health symptoms can last for years after the last dose, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and continued cravings.

There are many different ways to treat a heroin addiction. Counselling and support groups are common approaches. Some people recommend methadone, which is a prescription drug used as a replacement for heroin. Find out about methadone on the Druginfo website.

Find more help on the National Drugs Campaign and Druginfo websites. You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Druginfo on 1300 85 85 84 if you need to talk to someone about drugs.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2017

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