Heroin Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Heroin addiction can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin addiction

Heroin is a highly addictive and illegal opiate drug that can very quickly ruin a person’s life. This dangerous narcotic is thought to be abused because of the euphoric effects it produces in such a short period of time. Most often injected, snorted, or smoked heroin abuse can rapidly lead to tolerance, meaning an individual will need to take more and more of the drug to feel the desired effects. As an addiction develops heroin can cause serious damage to an addicts mind, body, and overall quality of life. Fortunately, while recovery from heroin addiction can be a long difficult process, there are treatment options available that can help a person break the vicious cycle of addition and help an individual achieve a sober, happy lifestyle.


Heroin addiction statistics

It has been estimated that 3.8 million people in the United States have tried heroin at least once in their lifetime. Additionally, heroin addicts and abusers represent about 13.6% of admissions to treatment facilities, and heroin overdoses account for about 164,000 emergency room visits a year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction

There are a number of different factors that need to be considered when trying to understand how an individual comes to develop an addiction to heroin. Some of the main factors that can put an individual at an increased risk for the development of a heroin addiction are explained in more detail below:

Genetic: Researchers will agree that anyone who has a family history of substance abuse and/or addiction is at a higher risk for abusing or becoming addicted to substances, like heroin. This genetic predisposition is thought to be the result of a specific gene that, when passed down, makes a person more vulnerable to abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

Environmental: There are many environmental influences that can potentially trigger the onset of a heroin abuse problem. Some of these influences can include things such as chronic stress, exposure to substance abuse at a young age, and having peers who abuse substances like heroin. Additionally, those who have been subjected to violence or are the victims of abuse are more likely to turn to drug use, of which can quickly lead to addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of chemical dependency or mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Struggling academically
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Lack of caregiver involvement
  • Poor parenting during formative years
  • Lack of effective, appropriate coping skills
  • Low self-esteem / low self-worth
  • Exposure to chaos
  • Easy access to substances
  • Lack of employment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

There are a number of signs and symptoms that may indicate an individual may be using heroin. While some of these symptoms are going to be more noticeable, other symptoms are not as easy to spot. Furthermore, not everyone is going to react to heroin in the same way and, therefore, symptoms will differ from person to person. Some of the signs and symptoms that may point to a heroin abuse problem may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Missing work
  • Not fulfilling daily responsibilities
  • Hyperactivity followed by fatigue
  • Behavioral changes
  • No longer participating in things that were once enjoyed
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Constant Lying
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants, even during hot weather
  • Increased amount of time spent sleeping

Physical symptoms:

  • Lack of hygiene
  • Track marks on legs and/or arms
  • Infections on the skin from injection sites
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Poor coordination
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Constant runny nose
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Inability to reason
  • Delayed thinking
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Detachment from reality
  • Difficulties making decisions
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Changes in temperament
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Irritability


Effects of heroin addiction

The abuse of heroin comes with a number of adverse consequences, which will take over a person’s life and leave behind a wide path of destruction. If continued to be left untreated, heroin abuse can end in death. Some of the negative ramifications that can occur if a person fails to receive care for a heroin abuse problem may include:

  • Loss of career
  • Financial difficulties
  • Homelessness
  • Destroyed family relationships
  • Engagement in risky or illegal behaviors
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Onset of another mental health condition
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Infections of the heart or heart valve
  • Compromised immune system
  • Possibility of exposure to viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV
  • Collapsed or scarred veins
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Suicide
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

Not only can heroin abuse lead to the development of other mental health conditions, but for those who are already struggling with a mental illness, a heroin addiction can exacerbate the associated symptoms. The following mental health disorders are known to occur alongside a heroin abuse problem:

  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

When a person who has become physically dependent upon heroin stops using the drug, withdrawal symptoms will begin to set in. Heroin withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and dangerous, which is why it is recommended that it be done under the supervision of a mental health or medical professional who can provide constant supervision. Some of the effects that may occur during heroin withdrawal may include:

  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Muscle and/or bone pain
  • Depressed mood
  • Seizures
  • Intense cravings to use heroin
  • Irritability or mood swings
  • Psychosis
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal ideation

Anytime someone abuses heroin, there is always a high chance that an overdose could occur. When an individual takes more heroin than the body can metabolize, an overdose occurs and can result in serious, harmful symptoms or death. If you suspect someone if suffering from a heroin overdose, medical attention should be sought immediately. Some of the signs that may suggest someone may have overdosed on heroin include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blacking out
  • Coma
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack

I am so grateful to have gone and recovered from my heroin addiction at Harbor Oaks. I would not be where I am now without the incredibly supportive staff.

– Former Patient
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