Heroin Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin abuse & addiction

Developing an addiction to heroin can wreak havoc on the lives of those who become consumed by it. Both highly addictive and extremely dangerous, heroin is an illicit drug that creates feelings of pleasure and euphoria while also prohibiting the body’s ability to feel pain. This pleasant high is appealing to many and, because of its ability to rapidly cross the blood-brain barrier, it is a high that is induced almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, despite the pleasurable feelings that it elicits, this substance can quickly consume all aspects of an individual’s life, preventing him or her from functioning appropriately at work, in school, at home, or in social situations. Additionally, the longer that an individual continues to abuse heroin, the more damage he or she will inflict on his or her physical and mental health. The disturbances that can arise as a result of heroin use are far-reaching and long-lasting and will inevitably impact not only the lives of those using, but the lives of their loved ones as well. Fortunately, there are beneficial treatment options that individuals can engage in that can help them overcome their devastating heroin addiction and resume a happy, healthy, and sober life.


Statistics for heroin abuse

Studies have shown that an estimated 13.5 million people throughout the world abuse opioids, and that approximately 9.2 million specifically use heroin as their drug of choice. Additionally, men are believed to be twice as likely as women to abuse heroin.

Causes & Risks

Causes & risk factors of heroin addiction

The causes and risk factors that are involved in the development of a heroin abuse problem are believed to lie in a number of different components, which are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: An individual’s genetic background can impact his or her susceptibility to developing an addiction to a substance like heroin. Those who have a family history of substance abuse and addiction are much more likely to abuse substances themselves than are those who do not have the same type of genetic background.

Environmental: The environment that individuals spend a significant amount of time in can have a monumental impact on their vulnerability to experimenting with the abuse of heroin. For example, individuals who are exposed to a lot of stress or chaos in their home, work, or school lives may seek out a means of numbing the negative emotions that arise as a result of that stress or chaos. And that numbing agent may be found in the use of heroin. Additionally, individuals who are surrounded by the use of heroin or other substances are at an increased risk for abusing the drug themselves as they come to view it as being an acceptable form of recreation.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of chemical dependency
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Personal history of abusing other drugs or alcohol
  • Peer pressure
  • Chronic exposure to stress, violence, and/or crime
  • Having easy access to heroin
  • Possessing low self-esteem
  • Personal history of experiencing a trauma

Signs and Symptoms

Signs & symptoms of heroin addiction

The signs and symptoms that are exhibited by someone who is abusing heroin will vary in type, duration, and intensity from person to person. Common examples of various symptoms that may act as indicators that someone is struggling with a heroin addiction include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants despite warm weather in an attempt to hide possible track marks from injecting the substance
  • No longer participating in activities or hobbies that one once enjoyed
  • Associating with a new peer group
  • Frequent absences from work or school
  • Suddenly receiving failing grades or struggling to perform at the expected level occupationally
  • Incessantly picking at one’s skin
  • Lying
  • Stealing

Physical symptoms:

  • Persistent flu-like symptoms (including fever, vomiting, and feeling achy)
  • Constipation
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Bruising or scabbing on the skin
  • Presence of needle marks on the arms or legs

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty being able to concentrate
  • Difficulty controlling impulses
  • Difficulty using decision-making skills
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Frequent mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hostility
  • Excitability
  • No longer having interest in things that one was once interested in


Effects of heroin abuse

The prolonged abuse of heroin can leave individuals vulnerable to experiencing a number of negative consequences throughout all areas of their lives. The effects of heroin abuse can be vast and may include the following:

  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary action being taken at school, including possible suspension and expulsion
  • Dropping out of school
  • Occupational failure, including job loss and possible chronic unemployment
  • Financial strife
  • Homelessness
  • Family discord
  • Relationship disturbances
  • Interaction with the legal system, which could potentially include incarceration
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors

In addition, the prolonged use of heroin can cause a decline in the physical and mental health of users. Examples of such effects can include the following:

  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Organ damage
  • Contraction of viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Onset of, or worsening of, symptoms of mental health conditions

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who struggle with an addiction to heroin are sadly often faced with the distress of suffering from symptoms of other mental health conditions as well. Examples of disorders that are commonly cited as co-occurring alongside heroin abuse and addiction include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose Effects

Effects & symptoms of withdrawal from heroin

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When an individual has been abusing heroin, his or her body becomes accustomed to the presence of the substance. When that individual then suddenly stops using heroin, his or her body must adapt to the absence of the drug in his or her system. The body’s period of adaptation to not having the substance is known as withdrawal, and it can be an extremely uncomfortable experience for those withdrawing from heroin. Various signs and effects that could be indicative of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Intense, overpowering cravings for heroin
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chills
  • Feelings of restlessness

Effects of heroin overdose: When heroin is ingested at such a high dosage that an individual’s body is not capable of appropriately metabolizing it, an overdose will likely occur. Overdosing on heroin can be life-threatening and medical treatment should be sought in order to prevent a grave outcome. Signs that could indicate that someone has overdosed on heroin may include:

  • Labored breathing
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Disorientation
  • Lips turning a bluish color
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Dry mouth
  • Muscle spasms
  • Constricted pupils
  • Hypotension
  • Weakened pulse
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Lapsing into a coma

Keystone has a world class heroin addiction program. My daughter admitted after almost dying, she needed serious help. They took her in and brought her back from the brink of death. I'm so glad to have my daughter back... I'd recommend Keystone to anyone in need of help with their addiction.

– Anonymous Patient

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