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The Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Use

It’s devastating to watch heroin hijack your loved one’s life. It can feel hopeless and scary, but we want you to know that recovery is possible. Heroin addiction doesn’t get better on its own though, and there are real risks that come with it, like long-term health damage and overdose. It’s important to get your loved one the help they need as soon as possible. If you’re concerned a loved one is struggling with addiction, there are some signs and symptoms of heroin use you should be aware of. 

Signs of Heroin Abuse

You may experience a rollercoaster of emotions at the thought that a loved one is using heroin — concern, fear, anger, and despair. These are all natural feelings to have. Heroin is a deadly drug that’s taken far too many lives. Some heroin users are skilled at hiding their drug abuse, but many symptoms of heroin addiction may still be apparent.

Short-Term Signs of Heroin Use

People who use heroin behave in a certain way when they’re high or coming off a high. 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. A heroin high can last around four to five hours. Signs of heroin use during this time may include:

  • Alertness followed by extreme drowsiness or nodding off
  • Constricted (small) pupils 
  • Teary eyes, sniffling, and runny nose
  • Yawning and extreme lethargy/tiredness
  • Moving and talking slower than usual
  • Slurred or confusing speech
  • Dark circles or puffiness around eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching

Long-Term Signs of Heroin Abuse

Heroin is highly addictive, and you can become physically dependent on it quickly. When people become addicted to heroin, they start showing physical and behavioral signs/symptoms like:

  • 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
  • Mood swings
  • Frequent flu-like symptoms: runny nose, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
  • Financial problems from spending money on heroin
  • Stealing from family and friends 
  • Selling personal items or gifts
  • Secretive behavior

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

A key heroin addiction sign is withdrawal. People with heroin dependence go into withdrawal when the drug leaves their system. For people with heroin addictions and physical dependence, full-blown heroin withdrawal typically kicks in 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin, and in some cases even sooner.

Effects of withdrawal from heroin include:

  • Flu-like symptoms like runny nose, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
  • Powerful heroin cravings
  • Sleep disturbances such as 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. It can be dangerous, and relapse is common when people quit opioids cold turkey without medical interventions. Heroin detox in a treatment facility ensures you’re safe while you eliminate opioids from your body. Medical professionals can ease painful withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings with research-backed medications. They’ll make sure you’re safe and as comfortable as possible during detox.

Why Is Heroin Overdose So Common?

Preliminary data from April 2020 through April 2021 estimates 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. for that period. More than 75,670 of those deaths were opioid overdoses. Some reasons why heroin overdose is common include:

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. If you take your usual dose, it may be more potent than you’re used to, putting you at higher risk for overdose.

Fatal Compositions

Just like you can’t know the strength of heroin, you also can’t be sure exactly how illicit drug makers are making it. For instance, heroin is frequently cut with fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic opioid. Fentanyl is 80-100 times stronger than morphine and is normally reserved for surgery pain or cancer pain. Because it’s so potent and some heroin users aren’t aware it’s in their drugs, fentanyl fuels thousands of opioid overdose deaths every year.

Poor Health

Heroin users often neglect their physical health. When you’re addicted, heroin dependence has such a hold on you that it becomes your focus. You don’t eat right, exercise, or get enough sleep. You may neglect hygiene and not seek healthcare when you’re sick. Some heroin users may be struggling with serious diseases like HIV or hepatitis from sharing needles. If you’re in poor health, high amounts of drugs can be especially taxing on your body.

Heroin Tolerance

Data shows 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 or their former regular dose can cause a heroin overdose.

Risks and Effects of Heroin Abuse

Heroin provides a feeling of euphoria, builds tolerance quickly, and is extremely physically 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 depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis from poor health and depressed breathing.
  • Heroin dependence that leads to painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
  • Heroin overdose.

How to Help a Loved One With Heroin Addiction

People with an addiction to heroin aren’t thinking straight. When you abuse heroin, it changes your brain’s chemicals and reward center. Heroin becomes your life, and your brain sends messages that you need the drug to survive. 

Your loved one has a psychological and physical dependence on heroin that requires specialized medical and behavioral health treatment. However, it can be difficult to convince a heroin user to enter addiction treatment 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. Vogue Recovery Center can connect you with resources like a trained interventionist to help you and your loved one begin moving toward recovery.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction

Getting off heroin is difficult, but not impossible. We’ve seen so many of our clients do it and go on to live fulfilling lives in recovery. Our approach to heroin addiction treatment is compassionate and grounded in evidence. We teach clients the necessary tools to stay sober when they leave drug addiction treatment.  Vogue Recovery Center offers: We take most insurance plans, and we aim to make our admissions process simple and stress-free. Call us today for a free, confidential consultation.



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