Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Understanding Heroin Abuse

Learn About Heroin Abuse

Heroin is fast-acting opioid drug that causes an intense surge of euphoria within a matter of seconds. While the effects associated with heroin may seem pleasurable, this illicit drug is extremely dangerous and highly addictive. Commonly found as a white or brown powder or sticky tar-like substance, heroin is most commonly ingested via injection. It can also be snorted or smoked. Once it enters the body, heroin is converted into morphine and interacts with brain receptors that play a role in the management of pleasure, blood pressure, and respiration.

Unfortunately, heroin addicts are usually unable to see the damage that this drug is causing, the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction, and will often deny that a problem exists. Many times an individual is unable to overcome a heroin addiction without the help of a medical or mental health professional. Luckily, there are a number of heroin treatment options that can help a heroin addict overcome the disease of addiction.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders

Many times an addiction, such as a heroin addiction, is accompanied by the presence of an additional mental health disorder. The following are among the more common co-occurring disorders that may be present with a heroin addiction:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder


Heroin Abuse Statistics

It has been estimated that about four million Americans have used heroin at least once their lives. Furthermore, research has indicated that approximately 350,000 individuals have used heroin in the past year and about 125,000 have used the drug in the past month. Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 70,000 deaths can be attributed to opioid overdose every year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse and addiction can be attributed to several different factors including individual, family, peer, social, and environmental factors. The following are some of the causes and risk factors that may increase the likelihood that a person will become addicted to heroin:

Genetic: Genetic factors have been known to play a role in the development of a heroin addiction, both directly and indirectly. Certain temperaments, such as impulsivity and novelty thinking that increase an individual’s likelihood for developing a substance abuse problem may actually be genetically determined. Furthermore, studies have been conducted showing that individuals whose parents developed a heroin addiction are at increased risk for the disease themselves.

Environmental: External or environmental influences have also been known to increase a person’s vulnerability for developing an addiction to drugs like heroin. Family history of addiction can also be an environmental cause, as individuals who are exposed to drug use at a young age are more likely to engage in this behavior themselves. Furthermore, living in areas with high crimes rates, experiencing abuse or neglect, or growing up in a chaotic household can also increase a person’s risk for developing a dependency on heroin.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of heroin abuse
  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Associating with peers who abuse drugs
  • Abuse of other substances
  • Depression
  • Being male
  • Poor coping skills
  • Low self-esteem

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

Heroin abuse and addiction is a serious problem for the user and for those closest to them. While the presence of a heroin addiction is not always easy to identify, a number of signs and symptoms will eventually make themselves known. If you notice any of these signs and symptoms in your loved one it may indicate a heroin problem exists:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Engagement in reckless behavior
  • Acts aggressive or hostile towards others
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants even in hot weather (to hide evidence of injection drug abuse)
  • Begins breaking promises and other commitments
  • Tends to avoid eye contact with others
  • May begin to sleep more than usual
  • Financial difficulties
  • Has recently formed a new group of friends
  • Acting secretive or is deceptive

Physical symptoms:

  • Has a disheveled appearance
  • May have body odor
  • Runny nose
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Multiple scabs and sores
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Itching
  • Drastic weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Loss of concentration
  • Disorientation
  • Inability to focus
  • Impaired ability to make good decisions
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Drastic mood swings


Effects of Heroin Abuse

Not only can a heroin addiction have an extremely devastating impact on an addict’s body, but it can completely destroy his or her overall life. While initially these effects are not always apparent to an addict, prolonged heroin abuse can lead to a number of long-term effects. The following are among the many common negative effects of heroin abuse and addiction:

  • Job loss
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems, including incarceration
  • Relationship problems
  • Onset of many mental health conditions
  • Infection of the heart valves and lining of the heart
  • Liver disease
  • Abscesses and skin infections
  • Collapsed or scared veins
  • Kidney disease
  • Increased risk for contracting chronic illness or viruses such as HIV
  • Overdose
  • Death

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Heroin Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When a heroin addict abruptly stops using heroin, symptoms of withdrawal can set in as quickly as a few hours after the last dose of the drug. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal is characterized by a pattern of symptoms that are opposite to the agnostic effects of the drug. These symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Severe cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Yawning

Effects of heroin overdose: One of the largest risks associated with heroin abuse and addiction is the ever present risk of overdose. A heroin overdose is extremely dangerous and should be considered a medical emergency. In addition to an increased risk of death, a heroin overdose may cause an individual to experience the following:

  • Slow and difficult breathing
  • Not breathing at all
  • Extremely small pupils
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Bluish colored nails and lips
  • Muscle spasms
  • Delirium
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Coma

Thanks to the safe and supportive environment at Starlite Recovery Center, I have stopped shooting up heroin. I am forever grateful for the help I received, and am about to celebrate my first month of sobriety thanks to the staff at Starlite!

– Michelle T.