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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 problems, such as depression, and social issues such as 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 relationship 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

Access to overdose-reversing medication

Naloxone is a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. A pilot program, funded by the Australian government, will offer certain individuals in NSW, SA and WA this medication (including the nasal spray Nyxoid) for free and without a prescription during the period 1 December 2019 to 28 February 2021.

Learn more about the Take Home Naloxone pilot here, or contact the Pharmacy Programs Administrator to find out how to register.

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 to 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, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and continued cravings, can last for years after the last dose.

There are many different ways to treat 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 Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

Find help on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14, DrugInfo on 1300 85 85 84 or the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 if you need to talk to someone about drugs.

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

Last reviewed: July 2019

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Heroin - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

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Heroin Effects, Addiction, Overdose and Withdrawal | Your Room

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Naltrexone - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

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Buprenorphine - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

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What are drugs? | Australian Government Department of Health

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This medicine contains the active substance naloxone. Naloxone belongs to a group of medicines that cause temporary reversal of the effects of opioids such as methadone or heroin.

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Indigenous resources - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

With state governments and Aboriginal community controlled health organisations, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation has developed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational and information resources, including your community and: alcohol, ecstasy, hallucinogens, heroin, ice and speed, prescription drugs, synthetic drugs, tobacco, yarndi (cannabis).

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Methadone - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Methadone is a prescription drug, and is part of a group of drugs known as opioids. Opioids interact with opioid receptors in the brain and elicit a range of responses within the body

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