Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Symptoms of Heroin AddictionShort-Term Use of Heroin

Over 3.8 million people have used heroin at least one time in their life, and nearly 600,000 individuals in the United States are addicted to heroin. In 2007, 13.6 percent of treatment facility admissions were for addictions to heroin.  Over the past few years, the number of teenagers becoming addicted to Heroin have greatly increased.

Most users start out with experimenting with the drug by smoking or snorting. There are many symptoms of short-term use that can be identified by the people around them.  Friends and family may notice the following symptoms and behaviors in a loved one struggling with heroin addiction. Keep in mind that these symptoms and behaviors are also common in other types of substance addiction.

  • Contracted pupils
  • Shortness of breath
  • Disoriented behavior
  • Nodding off, followed by periods of hyperactivity
  • Mood swings
  • Needle marks on extremities
  • Lethargy and withdrawal from family and friends, unexplained absences
  • Theft of money, appliances, jewelry, etc. from the household
  • Drug paraphernalia, such as gum wrappers with burn marks, syringes, spoons with burn marks, etc.

The first time a user injects heroin can cause many other symptoms as well.

Short Term Symptoms

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the intensity of the following side effects can vary, according to the purity of the heroin used.  Some of the common short-term symptoms of using heroin are often overlooked because they are not unique to heroin use.  Some of the short-term symptoms are listed below:

  • Decreased heartbeat
  • Depressed respiration
  • Shortness of breath
  • Small pupils
  • Euphoria
  • Disorientation
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness or “crashing”
  • Changes in Behavior
  • Alternating between being highly active and being extremely tired.

It is often hard to see the physical symptoms of those addicted to heroin, but there are other ways to identify the addiction. Users who are addicted to heroin will also have objects in their possession that are used to prepare, consume, and inject the drug. Having objects around is evidence that a loved one or co-worker is addicted to drugs, even if there are no noticeable physical symptoms.

  • Having needles and syringes without having a medical need for them
  • Burned spoons that are used for heating/cooking the heroin for injection.
  • Straws, gum wrappers, or aluminum foil with burn marks
  • Plastic bags containing white powder
  • Items used to tie off the arm for injection, including missing shoestrings
Long Term Symptoms

Along with financial and legal consequences, heroin addicts will experience the following if they continue use:

  • Collapsed veins or “tracks”
  • Abscesses and infections from needle use
  • Infectious diseases, such as AIDS, HIV, hepatitis, blood poisoning and bacterial infections from contaminated needle use
  • Brain damage
  • Increasing probability of overdose and death

People who start experimenting with heroin often become addicted to the drug.  As heroin use continues and increases, users build up a tolerance to the drug, so they start to inject the drug more often, eventually resulting in addiction.  The addict’s sole purpose in life becomes securing an adequate supply of the drug in order to avoid the pain, nausea, and despair of withdrawal.  Increased use of heroin is very dangerous and is more likely to cause an overdose.  There are additional symptoms that occur with the extended use of heroin that may be easier to identify, such as:

  • Runny nose without having a cold or any other sickness
  • Needle tracks on arms from increased use of needles
  • Slurred Speech
  • Weight loss that cannot be explained with diet and exercise
  • Infections at the injection sites
  • Cuts and bruises from picking at the skin
  • Loss of menstrual cycles in women

There are some symptoms of being addicted to heroin that will continue to affect the user even after they have stopped using the drug. Constant use of the drugs can cause some symptoms that will continue for the rest of their lives. Some of the long-term symptoms are listed below:

  • Liver disease
  • Collapsed veins
  • Scarred veins from constant injections of heroin
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Risk of contracting HIV or AIDS from sharing needles with other users
  • Contracting diseases from other users
  • Infections in the body
  • Chances of overdosing
  • Bad teeth and decreased dental hygiene
  • Decreased immune system that can lead to additional problems and cause constant sickness
  • Loss of memory
  • Insomnia
  • Coma
  • Death

Look For ChangesIndividuals who are addicted to heroin often have many changes in their behavior. Friends and family who are close to the person addicted to heroin may be able to see a change in the way that they react to different situations and how they act around people. Not all users who become addicted to heroin will have the same symptoms. Some of the changes to look for include:

  • Lying or having other deceptive behavior to prevent other people from finding out about their addiction
  • Stealing money or valuable jewelry from family and friends is also common, as they need a way to support their habit
  • An increased amount of time sleeping
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities that were once important
  • Spending less time with old friends and family and hanging out with others who are addicted to heroin
  • Wearing long sleeves and pants even in warmer weather to cover up needle marks
  • Doing worse in school or losing a job because they stopped showing up
  • Losing interest in future goals and dreams
  • Not worrying about their physical appearance and having lower self-esteem