Heroin Symptoms and Warning Signs

Side effects of heroin addiction are some of the most dangerous of any drug. Being aware of the symptoms of heroin abuse can help save someone’s life.

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Signs of Heroin Use

Bloodshot eyes and constricted pupils

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs available. No one intends on becoming addicted to heroin, but many people using it eventually find themselves unable to feel normal without it.

It can be hard to detect when someone is using heroin, and many users are good at hiding it.

While needle or “track” marks are a telltale sign of heroin abuse, it’s rare that new users inject the drug.

Some signs of heroin abuse are:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Constricted “pinpoint” pupils
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Secretive behavior
  • Changes in appearance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Extreme drowsiness or nodding off
  • Financial problems, borrowing money

The Dangers of Heroin

Most people know that heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs because of its addictive potential. There are also short- and long-term effects of the drug, as well as indirect risks that can be life-threatening.

Intravenous heroin users have a higher risk of being infected with viruses like HIV or hepatitis.

Blood-borne viruses pose a risk for people addicted to heroin because they often inject the drug and share their needles. Risky sexual behavior can also contribute to higher rates of viruses among heroin users. There is also a high risk of spontaneous abortion for pregnant women.

People who are addicted to heroin have an increased risk of attempting suicide. Sometimes suicides are committed through intentional overdoses. Heroin abusers who are also suffering from underlying mental conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder, have a compounded risk of suicide.

Sometimes the resulting depression that comes with withdrawal is enough to trigger a suicide attempt. If you or someone you love is struggling with a heroin problem, get in touch with a treatment provider for help.

Other symptoms of heroin addition include:

  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Slurred speech
  • Paranoia
  • Shortness of breath
  • Collapsed veins
  • Severe itchiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting

The side effects of heroin use get worse over time. The longer someone uses heroin, the more destruction the drug can wreak on the immune system and internal organs. The risk for getting both communicable and noncommunicable diseases increases. Prolonged heroin abuse can also lead to heart, lung and liver disease.

Heroin suppresses breathing and heart rates, so there is a high risk of fatal overdose. Even a nonfatal overdose can cause permanent brain damage or coma.

The Centers for Disease Control estimated that approximately 8,000 Americans died from heroin-related overdoses in 2013.

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Recognizing a Heroin Addiction

Due to its physically and psychologically addictive qualities, experimenting with heroin can quickly lead to addiction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual outlines 11 signs that are indicative of an addiction to heroin. These includes using more heroin than intended, developing a tolerance to it and using it despite known negative consequences. The more symptoms of heroin abuse a person exhibits, the more severe their addiction is considered to be. Here is the full list of 11 criteria:

  • Heroin is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control heroin use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain heroin, use heroin, or recover from heroin’s effects.
  • Craving, or a strong desire to use heroin.
  • Recurrent heroin use resulting in failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home.
  • Continued heroin use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of heroin.
  • Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of heroin use.
  • Recurrent heroin use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Continued use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by heroin.
  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following: (a) a need for markedly increased amounts of heroin to achieve intoxication or desired effect (b) markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of heroin.
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following: (a) the characteristic heroin withdrawal syndrome (b) the same (or a closely related) substance are taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms

There are many treatment options available to help people overcome their addiction, and thousands of people receive treatment for heroin every year.

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Intervention for a Heroin Problem

People addicted to heroin are often reluctant to seek treatment for their problem. For those in the early stages of their addiction, this may be because they don’t feel their drug use has become a problem yet. For those with a severe addiction to heroin, they may have tried stopping several times already and find it impossible to quit. In either scenario, staging an intervention may be the best way to persuade them to get help.

During my intervention, I had my father, sisters and brother in the room reading me letters on how they felt and what they wanted for me in life. I refused to get help while I was there, but on the car ride home I was dropped off at the airport and went to a 90-day rehabilitation center.

- Victor W., in recovery from heroin and other drugs

Withdrawal and Treatment

Heroin addiction is especially characterized by the physical dependence that develops with abuse, as well as psychological dependency. Factors of physical dependence include withdrawal symptoms and a need for markedly more heroin to achieve intoxication.

Unlike drugs that cause comparatively mild physical dependence (such as marijuana and cocaine), withdrawal symptoms for heroin addiction can cause severe physical pain and sometimes occur as quickly as within two hours of the last use. There are also psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

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Some of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include depression, muscle pain and cold sweats.

These symptoms typically last about one week after the last use of heroin, but residual symptoms (also known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms or PAWS) may last for several months. Heroin withdrawal often requires the help of a professional treatment center and medication to safely manage. These treatment centers also offer therapy and support groups in a distraction-free environment. Find a treatment center for heroin addiction near you today.

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