Warning Signs of Heroin Addiction

Physical Signs of Heroin Addiction

Friday, June 28, 2019 | By Cooper Samp

You have heard about the opioid epidemic sweeping the country, but how do you know if it is affecting someone you know? Due to the nature of addiction, those who use heroin are often very discreet and thus can be difficult to detect. Knowing some of the signs of abuse can help you make an informed decision before confronting your loved one about their problem. 

Heroin use in America has been steadily increasing year after year; some people believe this is in direct relation to the overprescribing of pharmaceutical painkillers in recent years. Some people start with prescription drugs, never realizing that using opioids and similar painkillers may leave them predisposed to long-lasting addictions. If these people are no longer prescribed their prescriptions, they often turn to illegal alternatives to nurture their dependence. 

How Big of a Problem Is Drug Abuse?

As stated earlier, heroin and opioid drug usage overall has been on a steady rise in the last 20 years. In 2016 about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year. The impact of heroin use is felt all across the United States, with heroin being identified as the most or one of the most important drug use issues affecting several local regions from coast to coast. The issue with this drug not only lies in its health effects but its overly increasing overdose rates. In 2017, 47,600 deaths were related to opioid overdoses; 15,482 were directly related to heroin overdoses. A large contributing factor to these overdose rates is a synthetic opioid called Fentanyl. This drug is incredibly potent; with the amount of just three grains of sugar being a lethal dose. Often times this opioid is mixed with heroin and other street opioids to increase potency and reduce costs. In 2016, 45.9% of all opioid deaths were contributed to Fentanyl. 

This problem extends beyond the individual and into his or her family and community. Many older generations now have grandchildren living with them as parents are incapacitated from drug use. The health care system is burdened with caring for these individuals’ health concerns, and even law enforcement agencies have found their resources taxed in responding to drug-related crimes.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Mexico, Columbia, and primarily South Asia. Heroin is currently labeled as a schedule 1 drug, meaning it has no currently accepted medical use and contributes a high potential for abuse. This drug is an analgesic meaning it decreases pain throughout the body and gives the person an overall relaxed and calm feeling. 

The look of heroin can be black, brown, or even white and is sometimes referred to as hell dust, smack, or big H. Users can smoke, or inject heroin but the common method is snorting it. 

What Are the Behavioral Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Behavioral signs of heroin abuse can be the most telling as they are often prevalent throughout. Typical behavioral signs of heroin addiction include the inability to maintain eye contact, secrecy, and hostile behaviors. Extreme behaviors are common as they may feel fluctuating spurts of depression and/or anxiety which relates to the last time they used. 

In addition to their behaviors, their social life can also be warning signs to their continued use. For instance, the individual may lose motivation in school or work; extracurricular activities and/or social activities they once loved may fall by the wayside. 

Infographic displaying the warning signs of heroin addiction

What Are the Physical Signs of Heroin Addiction?

People use heroin for the feeling instant high it creates before making the user feel very relaxed and sleepy. As healing enters the body it quickly rushes to the brain and attaches itself to opioid receptors. These receptors help relieve pain and make us feel calm. Like all other opioids, heroin specifically affects the cardiovascular and respiratory system. 

Physical signs and symptoms include some of the following:

  • Small pupils
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Dry mouth

These are the immediate signs of heroin use but further physical signs will develop following prolonged use of the drug. Because the drug affects primarily the heart, users may develop heart disease which could include an infection of the heart lining. Like most other substances, the liver and kidneys may also become diseased and start to fail. Women may experience irregular menstrual cycles while men can suffer from sexual dysfunction. 

What Are the Visual Signs of Heroin Addiction?

The behavioral signs of heroin abuse are very similar to many other substances and can even share similarities with mental health conditions like depression. Understanding the visual cues of heroin addiction can help you decide if your loved one has specifically a heroin problem. 

Visual signs can include paraphernalia, such as needles, straws with burn marks or pipes. If your loved one is injection heroin, the signs are evident. Often times you will encounter needles in the trash but typically he or she may have a newly unkempt appearance or may even be hiding his or her body to cover up needle marks.

If this individual is not a part of your everyday life it can be hard to notice the signs. A very common sign is sleepiness or nodding off for no obvious reason. Alongside these sings, their pupils will also be very small, which is described as “pinpoint.” 

Heroin dependence can happen within days of use. During this stage, a person will be unable to quick “cold turkey” without physically painful withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal symptoms, such as vomiting, restlessness, cold flashes, or full body pain, may occur if the person does not use heroin after becoming dependent. The severity of withdrawals depends on the severity of use, but typically withdrawal symptoms will kick in within 3-4 hours after use. 

Opioid withdrawal timeline and symptoms infographic

Being addicted to any substance is difficult. Even though it is not true, individuals with addiction often feel ashamed and embarrassed by their actions. They feel as though they have failed. For this reason those who are addicted to drugs like heroin hide it as best as they can. By understanding these visual signs of heroin addiction, you can decipher whether or not your loved one is struggling. 

How Can Our Heroin Treatment Center Help?

If you have determined your loved one has a heroin addiction, please reach out to an addiction specialist. These can range from psychologists to licensed mental health counselors. They will be able to guide you through the necessary procedures on how to handle talking to your loved one in the most healthy and effective manner to promote a dialogue that can help them understand their problem. It can be hard to approach this conversation without judgment or shame, but even without any, the individual addicted will almost always feel attacked. This is why it is always advised to seek professional guidance before approaching your loved one. 

Our addiction specialists here at Coalition Recovery are available 24 hours a day and ready to help you through this process. We can help guide you through the necessary steps to help you get your loved one help. Our treatment facility offers the full continuum of care – from detox to day/night treatment and even outpatient care. No matter the situation, we can help find you or your loved one the help they need. Don’t wait. We’re just a call or click away. Learn more about our Drug Rehab Program for individuals suffering from heroin use disorder. 

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