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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

Heroin is part of a group of drugs known as opioids which interact with opioid receptors in the brain and can elicit feelings of pain relief, to relaxation, pleasure and contentment.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Heroin Effects, Addiction, Overdose & Withdrawal | Your Room

Heroin comes with many short and long term side effects. Find out what to do in the case of addiction, overdose or withdrawal and places to get help.

Read more on NSW Health website

Naltrexone - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Naltrexone is a prescription drug. It belongs to a group of drugs known as opioid antagonists which block the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

Buprenorphine - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Buprenorphine (pronounced bew-pre-nor-feen) is a prescription drug. It is taken as a replacement in the treatment of heroin and methadone dependence.

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Opioids - Alcohol and Drug Foundation

Opioids include any drug that acts on opioid receptors in the brain, and any natural or synthetic drugs that are derived from or related to the opium poppy.

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

What are drugs? | Australian Government Department of Health

Drugs affect the way your body and mind function; they can change how you feel, think and behave. People take drugs for different reasons and in different ways. Find out about legal and illegal drugs.

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Prescription opioids | Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA)

Pharmaceutical opioids are now responsible for far more deaths and poisoning hospitalisations in Australia than illegal opioids such as heroin.

Read more on TGA – Therapeutic Goods Administration website

Nyxoid - Medicines.org.au

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.

Read more on Medicines.org.au website

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).

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

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

Read more on Alcohol and Drug Foundation website

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