signs of heroin use

Heroin Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Heroin abuse is a lethal and widespread epidemic. If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to heroin, read on to learn more about:

  • Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction
  • Heroin dependence and heroin withdrawal
  • Short and long-term effects of heroin addiction
  • Causes of heroin addiction
  • How to help a heroin user

Signs of Heroin Abuse

It’s scary to think someone you love could be struggling with heroin abuse. It’s a deadly drug that’s taken far too many lives. Some heroin users are skilled at hiding their drug use, but many symptoms of heroin abuse may still be apparent.

If you’re concerned a loved one might be using heroin, look for these warning signs and symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Alertness followed by extreme drowsiness or nodding off
  • Constricted (small) pupils
  • Teary eyes, sniffling and runny nose
  • Skin abrasions from needles (track marks)
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Weight loss
  • Wearing clothes to disguise track marks and weight loss
  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Neglecting family, work and school obligations
  • Apathetic about former interests or friends
  • Yawning and extreme tiredness
  • Moodiness
  • Dark circles or puffiness around eyes
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Financial problems from spending money on heroin
  • Stealing from family and friends
  • Selling personal items or gifts
  • Secretive behavior
  • Slurred or confusing speech

Some of these heroin addiction signs are a result of using the drug. Others may occur without the drug when the user is experiencing heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

People with heroin dependence experience heroin withdrawal symptoms in the drug’s absence. For people with severe heroin addictions, full-blown heroin withdrawal typically kicks in 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin and in some cases even sooner.

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms like runny nose, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting
  • Powerful heroin cravings
  • Sleep disturbances like insomnia
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Sweating or “the chills”
  • Behavioral signs like extreme depression and anxiety

You shouldn’t attempt heroin detox on your own. Heroin detox in a treatment facility ensures your safety as you eliminate opiates from your body. Medical professionals can alleviate some of the painful withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings with research-backed medications. We make sure heroin detox is safe and as comfortable as possible.

Risks of Heroin Abuse

Heroin can affect intravenous users within 7 to 8 seconds after injection. Intramuscular injection takes an average of 5 to 8 minutes to take effect. Snorting or smoking heroin usually produces peak effects within an average of 10 to 15 minutes. Heroin provides a feeling of euphoria, builds tolerance quickly, and is extremely addictive. Death from heroin overdose is an ever-present risk, as is disease.

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse, effects of heroin addiction may include:

  • Collapsed veins from regularly injecting heroin
  • Skin infections and abscesses from needle use
  • HIV, hepatitis and other diseases spread through blood transmission from shared needles
  • Liver disease due to metabolization of toxic substances in heroin
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Pulmonary complications such as bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis from poor health and depressed breathing
  • Heroin dependence that leads to painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms
  • Heroin overdose

Risk of Heroin Overdose

Heroin users are at high risk for heroin overdose for several reasons.

Varying Strength of Heroin

Like most illicit drugs, you can never know the true potency or strength of heroin because it’s made illegally. There are no restrictions or regulations on its ingredients or the amounts used.

Fatal Compositions

Just like you can’t know the strength of heroin, you also can’t be sure exactly how illicit drug makers are cutting heroin. For instance, many cut heroin with fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 80-100 times stronger than morphine and is normally used for sedating large animals or in people with terminal illness. The CDC warns that fentanyl is contributing to an alarming number of heroin overdose deaths, even issuing a nationwide public health advisory about the increases in multiple states.

Poor Health

Heroin users often neglect their physical health. Heroin dependence has such a hold on them that it becomes their main focus. They don’t eat right or exercise. They may neglect hygiene and not seek out healthcare when they’re sick. Some heroin users may be struggling with serious diseases like HIV or hepatitis because of their drug abuse. In cases where the heroin user is in poor health, too much heroin may cause overdose more quickly. Additionally, sudden withdrawal can be fatal in people already in declining health.

Heroin Tolerance

Data show that people who quit heroin and then relapse are at great risk for heroin overdose. Regular heroin users quickly develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring more and more heroin to get the desired effect. People who relapse on heroin often misjudge the amount they need to achieve a heroin high. They have less tolerance to heroin after being off the drug. Smaller doses can cause a heroin overdose.

Causes of Heroin Addiction

There isn’t one cause of heroin addiction. It’s usually a combination of circumstances that work together to create the perfect storm for developing drug addiction. Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction are similar to those of other drugs. They may include:

Mental Illness

Mental health issues commonly co-occur with substance abuse and addiction. Much research points to the strong link between these two behavioral health conditions. It’s known as a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. One study specific to heroin and co-occurring disorders found 47% of people addicted to opioids had an anxiety disorder or mood disorder. Another study found heroin and depression rates as high as 60%.

Trauma

People struggling with the emotional aftermath of trauma are at greater risk for substance abuse and addiction. Drugs and alcohol can become a way to numb difficult feelings or memories. One study found 92% of people in inpatient drug rehab for heroin had past trauma exposure and 41% had lifetime PTSD.

Trauma can arise from an event like military combat, physical abuse or assault. It can also result from early attachment issues like emotional abuse, neglect or enmeshment. An unpredictable home environment and challenging relationships with caregivers can cause trauma. Witnessing others in adverse situations can also contribute to PTSD.

Genetics

Genes may account for about half of your risk of developing substance abuse. This means if a close family member struggles with alcohol or drug abuse, you’re more likely to do the same. Some preliminary research has even identified specific gene expressions tied to one’s likelihood of developing heroin addiction.

Prescription Drug Addiction

One unique risk factor for heroin addiction is abuse of prescription painkillers. These types of medications have a high risk of addiction. Many people develop psychological and physical dependence on them. They start to abuse heroin because it’s easier and cheaper to obtain. The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports almost 80% percent of heroin users used prescription opioid painkillers before turning to heroin.

How to Help a Loved One with Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is a devastating condition. It hijacks your loved one. You can get them back, but they may need to spend time in an intensive treatment program. Some research shows heroin relapse rates as high as 90%. It’s imperative that your loved one enter a drug rehab that provides effective heroin treatment which helps them build skills to prevent relapse when they return to everyday life.

People with addictions aren’t thinking straight. Their main focus is substance abuse. Addiction is a disease of the brain. Your loved one has a psychological and physical dependence on heroin that requires specialized medical and behavioral treatment. However, it can be difficult to convince a heroin user to enter an inpatient treatment program when they’re not motivated to do so on their own. Consider reaching out to a professional to help you and your loved ones with this process. Clarity Way can connect you with resources to help you and your loved one begin moving toward recovery: 888-879-1289.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction

Getting off heroin is difficult, but not impossible. At Clarity Way recovery center, we’ve seen people take back their lives from the devastating effects of heroin addiction. Our approach to opioid treatment is compassionate and grounded in evidence. We’ll teach you the necessary tools to stay sober and fulfilled when you leave inpatient treatment. If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin, don’t wait another day — call Clarity Way and get the help you need now: 888-879-1289.

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