Warning Signs of Heroin Abuse
Heroin is a serious public health issue. Recent surveys indicate that around 1 million people a year use heroin, with over 500,000 of them meeting the criteria for a heroin use disorder.1\If you are using heroin, you may think that you have your use under control, but heroin is highly addictive, and over time, you become tolerant to it. Tolerance means that your body adapts to your usual dose of heroin and you no longer get the same rush as you used to. Consequently, you keep taking more heroin to get those same euphoric feelings as before. Unfortunately, as you develop tolerance, you eventually will become physically dependent upon heroin, which means that you need heroin to feel normal; if you stop using it, you will suffer withdrawal symptoms. Addiction, which is the compulsive need to use heroin despite the consequences of using it, usually follows.2
Right now, you may be concerned that you are using too much heroin and worry that you may be in danger of heroin addiction. Or, you may have a loved one who you fear might have an addiction. This page will help you understand more about the warning signs of heroin abuse, what it can look like, as well as how to get help if you need it.
Physical Symptoms of Heroin Abuse
No one starts using heroin with the intention of becoming addicted. People start using to make themselves feel better in some way, or perhaps turn to heroin after developing an addiction to prescription painkillers. Regardless of how it starts, some people can hide heroin addiction to a point, but signs begin to emerge as a person continues to use heroin. Some of the physical signs to look for that indicate heroin addiction are:3,4
- Sores or abscesses on the skin from injecting heroin.
- Hardening or knots in the veins, or sclerosis, also from injecting heroin. These may be anywhere on the body, but are usually seen on the arms.
- Extremely dry nose and mouth.
- Disheveled appearance, poor hygiene.
- Complaints of severe constipation.
- Gaining or losing weight.
- Loss of appetite.
- Small pupils when under the influence of heroin.
- Hiding their arms with long sleeves.
- Falling asleep at unusual times from drowsiness due to heroin use.
- Using more and more heroin to get high as they become tolerant to heroin’s effects.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
Another physical sign of heroin addiction is withdrawal after someone stops using heroin. This usually occurs around 12 hours after the last use of heroin and can include symptoms like:1(3.3 section)
- Tremors and shakiness.
- Gooseflesh and chills.
- Excessive runny nose.
- Diarrhea and/or stomach pains.
- Body aches.
- Intense cravings for heroin.
How Does Someone on Heroin Act?
When someone is using heroin, they will usually try to cover it up and act “normal.” When they first take heroin, they usually fall asleep and experience a euphoric rush. However, as they continue to use heroin, there are some signs to look for, though some of these could be attributed to other conditions, such as depression. If someone is abusing heroin, signs might include:3,4
- Not following through with family responsibilities, such as caring for children or an elderly family member.
- Unexplained absences from work or school
- Getting fired from work or flunking out of school.
- Using heroin under high-risk conditions, such as when driving.
- Giving up things they used to enjoy, such as certain hobbies or leisure pursuits, and using heroin instead.
- Stealing to support a heroin habit.
- Being isolated or avoiding other people.
- Abrupt personality changes or mood swings.
- Making unsuccessful attempts to stop using.
- Using more than they intended.
- Using syringes, or other drug-related items, such as bent spoons or residue of white or brown powdery substances.
What Does Heroin Paraphanalia Look Like?
Heroin can be snorted, so a user could have rolled-up dollar bills or pieces of paper lying around; short straws are also used to snort the drug. Users may use foil or pipes to smoke heroin. If injected, users may leave a syringe or burnt spoon lying around. In order to make the veins more prominent, people often use rubber tubing or a tourniquet.
Heroin often comes in tiny baggies, so the presence of empty plastic bags with white, tan, or dark brown residue in them can be a sign of heroin abuse. Black tar heroin is a sticky, almost black substance, and users may leave this residue on surfaces where the drug is used.
Finding a Local Heroin Rehab Center
Realizing that you or a loved one has a heroin addiction is scary; you may be feeling overwhelmed and unsure what to do next. Treatment for heroin addiction is critically important, as trying to quit on your own is not advisable. Medically supervised treatment to help you deal with your intense cravings for heroin is the best way to manage your heroin withdrawal and start you on the path to recovery. There are multiple treatment options, using various forms of medication, that can help you manage the uncomfortable symptoms of heroin withdrawal.5American Addiction Centers is here to help you or a loved one get help for heroin addiction, both in Nevada and nationwide. American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of heroin addiction rehab, that offers individualized treatment provided by a team of caring and compassionate staff members. Start your journey to recovery today by calling American Addiction Centers at our free and confidential helpline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
We can be reached at 702-800-2682.
- Pergolizzi Jr, J. V., Raffa, R. B., & Rosenblatt, M. H. (2020). Opioid withdrawal symptoms, a consequence of chronic opioid use and opioid use disorder: Current understanding and approaches to management.Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 45(5), 892-903.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Is there a difference between physical dependence and addiction?
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub
- New York State Department of Public Health. (2017). Opioids: Recognizing the signs.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
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