Heroin Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Worried someone you know may be using heroin? Learning about heroin addiction signs can help you make an educated judgment.

Heroin Addiction Signs

Heroin Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Worried someone you know may be using heroin? Learning about heroin addiction signs can help you make an educated judgment.

Table of Contents

Heroin Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Heroin is a highly addictive type of opioid drug that is derived from the seed pod of a specific type of poppy plant.

It typically looks brown and powdery in appearance and can be ingested by many methods. The substance primarily induces euphoria, and has a sedative effect on the nervous system. Understanding heroin addiction signs and the health risks of using heroin are important steps to helping yourself or someone else treat the disorder as effectively as possible.

Risks of Heroin Addiction

The risks of overdose and injury from heroin use have always been a significant risk factor for individuals dependent on the drug. However, with the advent of fentanyl on the illicit substance market, the risk of lethal overdose has increased dramatically. Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, has started being used by suppliers of illicit substances to “cut” or dilute more expensive substances like heroin. Fentanyl is significantly easier to overdose on than other drugs making it especially dangerous for those unaware of its presence in what they may be consuming.

What Is Heroin Addiction?

Addiction is not the same as dependence. Simply put, addiction is marked by changes in behavior; dependence is a series of physiological changes as a result of chemical interactions between drugs and bodily systems. 

Behavioral changes associated with addiction are caused by alterations in brain function related to drug use; symptoms of withdrawal and increased drug tolerance are characteristics of chemical dependence. These core differences between addiction and dependence hold true with heroin. 

Definition of Addiction

One of the main signs of heroin addiction is a person’s compulsive need to use that substance despite any negative consequences they might face. 

The addicted person may know that heroin is bad for their health or that using heroin puts their relationships at risk. But these factors are insufficient to bring about a change in behavior when compared to the euphoric feelings they receive from using heroin and, sometimes more importantly, the distress they feel when unable to use heroin.

Risk Factors of Addiction

A combination of factors affects an individual’s risk of becoming addicted. These risk factors include:

  • Genetics/biology
  • Age of first use
  • Family history of substance use
  • Co-occurring disorders (other mental health concerns)
  • Frequency of heroin use
The terms used to describe addiction disorders have changed over the years, but it is important to understand what they mean if you or a loved one is exhibiting heroin addiction signs. 

Definition of Dependence

Heroin Addiction Signs

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines dependence as the state in which an organism requires the presence of a drug in order to function normally.

The brain is a highly adaptive organism, and makes constant efforts to respond to the changes in its baseline chemical state. Exposure to heroin over time influences the brain’s baseline chemical state to adjust in response to anticipated exposure to heroin.

As a result of chemical adaptation, more heroin is needed to achieve the same level of intoxication over time. When a drug-dependent person stops taking a substance, the brain’s balance is severely disrupted, and this is what causes symptoms of withdrawal.

Important Statistics on Heroin Addiction and Dependence

Heroin usage has increased in the U.S., and according to Drug Abuse Statistics, a large part of that increase is the misuse of prescription opioids. Other key findings on heroin include:3
  • 14,000 Americans die annually from a heroin overdose
  • 902,000 Americans report using heroin annually
  • 6.25 million Americans will use heroin in their lifetime
  • 80% of all Americans who use heroin used prescription opioids first

How Common is Addiction?

Heroin use disorder affects hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. Whether a person is addicted or dependent on the drug, finding treatment is the best way to reduce the risk of dying from an accidental overdose.

Heroin Addiction Signs

There are several signs and symptoms of heroin addiction and dependence to be aware of. People who use heroin are typically fluctuating between states of intoxication when high, and flu-like side effects in between use. 

What Are the Short Term Effects of Heroin?

It isn’t necessarily easy to tell if someone is using heroin by simply observing them, but there are some external indicators. These can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Severe itching
  • Slowed breathing and pulse
  • Feeling of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Small pupils
  • Feeling drowsy or relaxed
  • Flushed or warm skin
A person under the influence of heroin will also have muddled, confused thinking. They might frequently slip into a semiconscious state or “nod off” mid-thought.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin?

The long-term effects of heroin use can be devastating, transforming a once healthy, vibrant person into someone frequently sick who withdraws from the activities they once enjoyed.

Behavioral Symptoms
Some behavioral heroin addiction signs include:

  • The presence of drug paraphernalia
  • Needle marks (“track marks”) on arms or other places
  • Legal problems
  • Unexplained financial issues
  • Lying, secretiveness
  • Lack of possessions — valuable items they once had are gone without explanation

Psychological Symptoms
Some psychological symptoms include:

  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Depression
  • Poor judgment
  • Feeling hopeless about their future
  • Inability to focus
  • Confusion and disorientation
Long-term use of heroin comes with severe health risks. Physical signs of heroin addiction include liver diseases, brain damage, the risk of HIV, and life-threatening respiratory infections.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

A heroin overdose occurs when an individual ingests more heroin than their system can metabolize fast enough. 

There is not one specific amount of heroin that will cause an overdose, because it depends on a person’s tolerance level, the quality of heroin they are using, the method of ingestion, and the length of time since their last dose. Because opioid drugs depress breathing, the immediate risk of overdose is death.

Overdose is one of the most dangerous signs of heroin addiction relapse. When a person goes through withdrawal, their body’s tolerance is reduced from what it previously was, which a person may not be aware of during a relapse. 

Overdose Symptoms

Symptoms of overdose include:
  • Shallow breathing
  • Pale skin with a blue tint to fingers or lips
  • Spasms, seizures
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Coma

What to Do in Case of an Overdose

Symptoms of an overdose typically begin within ten minutes after consumption. If you suspect someone you know has overdosed, call 911 immediately. Perform CPR if you are trained to do so, and administer naloxone, if available.

Heroin Addiction Withdrawal

People who are physically dependent on heroin will show signs of heroin withdrawal if they go too long without using the substance. Withdrawal is typically divided into early and late stages, but many symptoms can overlap. Late signs of heroin withdrawal can be more severe than those experienced during the early stage.  

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms may include:
  • Fever
  • Profuse sweating
  • Body aches
  • Intense cravings
  • Abdominal pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea, vomiting

Factors that Influence Withdrawal

Several factors influence the length and severity of withdrawal. However, the first signs of heroin withdrawal can begin a few hours after the last dose. Physical symptoms usually subside within a few weeks, but psychological symptoms such as cravings and depression can last for many months. The risks of heroin withdrawal can be quite severe and it is important to not dismiss them as a mere discomfort. 

If you or someone you know is at risk of going through heroin withdrawal, seek the appropriate medical immediately. Withdrawal can be managed safely in most cases, but only with the right care.  

Finding Heroin Addiction Treatment

Effective and compassionate treatment for heroin addiction is available at Arrow Passage Recovery. Our programs include detox, therapy, and medication-driven treatments to ease painful withdrawal symptoms. 

Our team of trained counselors, nurses, and addiction treatment experts want nothing more than for our clients to have the best outcomes possible by having the best people on their side. 

Opportunities for Healing at Arrow Passage Recovery

Give yourself, or someone you care about, the best chance at successful heroin use treatment, by getting them the expert and quality care that they need to manage this disease. 

By supporting patients’ needs, and managing their symptoms with a wide-array of treatment options, patients are able to focus on a future free from the stress and agony of a substance use disorder – instead of focusing on administration and execution of their detox process. We offer both inpatient and outpatient treatment options to suit each person’s unique lifestyle. Contact us today if you recognize heroin addiction signs in yourself or someone you love. 

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