Heroin Addiction Symptoms: Recognizing the Signs and Getting Help

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Heroin Addiction Symptoms

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What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine from the opium poppy plant. It is taken from the poppy plant’s sticky, naturally occurring substance. It is typically a white or brown powdery substance but can also be found in liquid form.

Heroin can be snorted, smoked, or injected directly into veins. This illicit drug is generally procured from the streets, though many people initially develop their opioid addiction due to prescription opioids. Knowing the causes and risk factors of drug abuse, as well as the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse is important so you can help yourself or a loved one.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Abuse?

The most common symptoms, signs, and indications of heroin abuse are a strong craving for more. Heroin users may also experience physical symptoms such as drowsiness, constricted pupils, dry mouth, and nausea or vomiting.

Additionally, those abusing heroin may exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental illnesses when not taking the drug. Other signs of addiction include increased tolerance to the drug, lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, and an inability to control how much heroin is used.

What are the Early Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Early signs of heroin addiction can include changes in sleeping patterns, such as sleeping for long periods of time or during the day. Heroin users may also experience a shift in their eating habits, gaining or losing weight quickly.
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Other early signs may include avoiding family and friends, financial trouble, changes in hygiene habits, and intense cravings for the drug. Heroin can also have unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which is why avoiding the drug entirely is the best course of action.

What are the Physical Symptoms of Heroin Addiction?

Physical symptoms of heroin addiction include constricted pupils, nausea and vomiting, difficulty breathing, and changes in heart rate. Heroin users may also experience a decreased appetite, insomnia, itching skin, and profuse sweating. Additionally, those addicted to heroin may suffer from frequent mood swings or depression and memory loss.

What are the Behavioral Symptoms of Heroin Addiction? 

Behavioral symptoms of heroin addiction may include lying, stealing, and a sudden change in friends. Those addicted to the drug often become isolated from family and friends as they focus on getting more of the drug.

Since it is a central nervous system depressant, it can lead to many co-occurring disorders and mental health issues. Individuals with opioid dependence may also become secretive or defensive when asked about their activities.

Additionally, those addicted to heroin may engage in risky behaviors such as sharing needles with others. Understanding heroin addiction is imperative if you want to avoid losing a loved one to this highly addictive drug.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Overdose?

The symptoms of a heroin overdose can vary greatly depending on the individual, the amount they take, and other factors. Common signs of a heroin overdose include:

  • Respiratory depression or difficulty breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Bluish lips or fingernails (cyanosis)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Slow heart rate
  • Weak pulse
  • Vomiting
  • Low blood pressure and lowered body temperature.

If you suspect someone has overdosed on heroin, it is important to seek medical help right away, as the consequences can be life-threatening. Treatment for a heroin overdose may include naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of heroin or other opioid medications, thereby saving a person’s life.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are the body’s reaction to suddenly not having heroin or opioids in its system. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Intense drug cravings.

Severe withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)

Heroin withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and even dangerous if not managed properly. Hence, it is important to seek medical help if you are trying to quit using heroin or other opioids. Treatment options can include medication, counseling, and support groups.

How long does heroin withdrawal last?

The length of time heroin withdrawal lasts can vary from person to person, depending on the severity of their addiction. Generally, the symptoms peak within a few days and begin to subside after five to seven days. However, some people may experience lingering effects for weeks or months after stopping use.

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It is important to note that although heroin withdrawal symptoms are typically not life-threatening, there is still a risk of developing complications or relapsing during the process. Therefore, it is important to seek professional help when trying to quit using heroin.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does heroin addiction progress?

Heroin addiction can progress quickly, with many people experiencing significant physical and psychological dependence within a few weeks or months of regular use. It is important to note that the effects of heroin are cumulative and can lead to increased tolerance over time, which may result in using higher doses of the drug.

What are the long-term effects of heroin addiction?

Long-term use of heroin can lead to many severe health risks, including organ damage, depression, and an increased risk for infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. People who abuse heroin may also experience memory loss, difficulties concentrating or making decisions, and changes in behavior or personality. In some cases, the long-term effects of heroin addiction can be fatal.

How does heroin addiction treatment work?

Heroin addiction treatment typically involves a combination of medication, counseling, and support groups. Medications such as methadone or buprenorphine can help reduce cravings for the drug and withdrawal symptoms. Counseling sessions may provide individuals with coping skills to manage triggers or stressors that could lead to relapse.

What are the relapse prevention strategies for heroin addiction?

Relapse prevention strategies can be very helpful in managing the risk of relapse. Some tips include identifying triggers and developing coping skills, staying away from people or places that may remind you of using heroin, engaging in activities to keep your mind occupied, and seeking support from family and friends. It is also important to seek professional help if necessary.

How can I get help for heroin addiction? 

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, numerous resources are available to help you get the support and treatment needed to begin recovery. Seeking professional help from a qualified substance abuse counselor will provide access to evidence-based treatments such as medication, counseling, and support groups. Additionally, organizations like Narcotics Anonymous can provide valuable peer-to-peer support and guidance.

What are the symptoms of heroin withdrawal?

The symptoms of heroin withdrawal can vary from person to person but generally include flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sweating. Other common symptoms include irritability, anxiety, insomnia, shaking or tremors, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and cravings for the drug. Symptoms may begin within 6-12 hours after the last dose.

How long do heroin withdrawal symptoms last?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms generally peak within three to five days after the last use and begin to subside by the fifth or seventh day. However, some people may experience lingering effects for weeks or months after stopping use.

What are the most severe symptoms of heroin withdrawal?

The most severe symptoms of heroin withdrawal include hallucinations, seizures, and delirium. It is important to note that these symptoms are rare and typically only occur in those who have been using large amounts of the drug for a prolonged period of time. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.

How can I ease heroin withdrawal symptoms?

The best way to ease heroin withdrawal symptoms is to seek professional treatment. Medications such as methadone or buprenorphine can help reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms, while counseling sessions may provide individuals with coping skills to manage triggers.

What are the dangers of untreated heroin withdrawal?

Untreated heroin withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening. Some of the potential dangers include extreme dehydration, electrolyte imbalances that can lead to cardiac arrhythmias or seizures, and malnutrition. It is important to seek professional help if you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction.

What should I expect during heroin withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal can be difficult, and it is important to be prepared. Generally, most people experience flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and sweating that peak within three days after the last use and begin to subside by the fifth or seventh day. It is common to experience cravings for the drug, irritability, insomnia, and abdominal pain.

Where can I get help for heroin withdrawal?

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. Treatment centers, such as those found at certified opioid treatment programs, provide evidence-based treatments such as medication-assisted therapy and counseling sessions.

What are the common symptoms of heroin use?

Common symptoms of heroin use can include changes in behavior, mood swings, drowsiness, slowed breathing and/or heart rate, constricted pupils, slurred speech, difficulty concentrating, confusion or disorientation. Additionally, individuals may experience weight loss or gain due to appetite changes.

How does heroin use affect a person's physical appearance?

Long-term heroin use can cause physical changes such as skin discoloration, scarring from needle tracks, and a sunken appearance due to malnutrition. Individuals may also experience serious dental problems if they smoke the drug.

What are some of the short-term effects of heroin use?

Short-term effects of heroin use can include an initial rush followed by a feeling of warmth and relaxation. Other short-term effects may include constricted pupils, drowsiness, impaired judgment, confusion or disorientation, slowed breathing and heart rate, nausea, and vomiting.

What are some of the long-term effects of heroin use?

Long-term effects of heroin use can include changes in behavior, depression, anxiety, insomnia, physical intolerance to cold temperatures, and increased tolerance with continued use. Some individuals may experience kidney or liver damage due to frequent drug injections.

How does heroin use affect a person's mental health?

Heroin or drug use can have serious effects on a person’s mental health. Chronic heroin users may experience depression, anxiety, mood swings, and an increased risk of suicide. People who inject the drug may be at an increased risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C due to sharing needles.

What are some of the risks associated with heroin use?

Heroin use carries many risks, including addiction, overdose, organ damage, an increased risk of suicide, legal consequences, and an increased risk of HIV and hepatitis C infection due to needle sharing

Author

Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

RADT
David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen
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LMFT
Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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