Heroin Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Heroin Abuse

Learn About Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid that is so potent that it can destroy the life of an individual who abuses it. Often referred to as horse, smack, or tar, heroin is a synthesized version of morphine, which is a chemical found in the poppy plant. When an individual consumes heroin either through smoking it, injecting it, or snorting it, his or her body changes the heroin back into morphine. When taken, the drug stimulates receptors in the brain that are linked to pleasure and the alleviation of pain, as well as involuntary functions such as heart rate and breathing.

The abuse of heroin causes individuals to become exposed to serious sudden and long-term damage, including addiction and overdose. Continual heroin abuse and the development of heroin use disorder can lead to an extensive amount of damage to an individual’s psychological, social, and physical wellbeing.

It can be exceptionally trying for an individual to conquer a heroin use disorder without the help of trained professionals. However, numerous treatment options for heroin addiction have been created to help individuals end their dependence and begin living happier, healthier, and more productive lives.


Heroin Addiction Statistics

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) shows that heroin abuse is continually on the rise within the United States, especially amongst individuals aged 18 to 25. Approximately 2% of adults in the United States have abused heroin at least one time in their lives, while roughly 150,000 people abuse it for the first time each year.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that the number of individuals within the country who met criteria for heroin use disorder increased over 100% within a period of 10 years, increasing from 214,000 in 2002 to 467,000 in 2012. A 500% increase in deaths related to heroin between 2001 and 2013 was also reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Addiction

Abusing a substance like heroin and developing heroin use disorder as a result might be impacted by a number of causes and risk factors, such as:

Genetic: Numerous studies, including research that utilized twins and adopted children, found a link between genetics and an individual’s vulnerability of developing heroin use disorder. The heritable trait of impulsivity has also been found to be a risk factor for substance use disorders such as heroin use disorder.

Environmental: Access to heroin and/or hanging out with individuals who abuse it are considered environmental risks for abusing this substance. Other environmental risks can include low socioeconomic status and experiencing high stress levels.

Risk Factors:

  • Easy access to heroin
  • Gender (men are more likely than women to abuse heroin)
  • Impulsivity and novelty seeking personality
  • Age (heroin abuse often begins during late teens or early 20s)
  • Poor stress management skills
  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance use disorder(s)
  • Prior substance abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Below are some of the common signs that suggest an individual is abusing heroin:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Cessation of or decreased participation in significant activities
  • Possession of syringes, hypodermic needles, and other drug paraphernalia
  • Lying or otherwise acting deceptively regarding whereabouts and/or activities

Physical symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Sensation of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Scabs, sores, and/or abscesses
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Constricted pupils
  • Itchiness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Irregular heart rate

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Impaired judgment
  • Problems focusing or thinking clearly

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Severe mood swings


Effects of Heroin Addiction

Chronic heroin abuse that goes untreated can lead to a number of dangerous outcomes, primarily because of the physical damage that heroin can cause, as well as the impact that it can have on an individual’s decision-making skills. Some of the effects of continual heroin abuse can include:

  • Financial ruin
  • Arrest and incarceration
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Academic failure and expulsion
  • Strained or ruined relationships
  • Family discord
  • Homelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Viral infections like HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C
  • Diseases of the liver or kidneys

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin Addiction and Co-Occurring Disorders

Those who have developed heroin use disorder are placed at an increased risk for experiencing the below listed co-occurring disorders:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Withdrawal & Overdose

Know the Effects of Heroin Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When an individual who is dependent on heroin tries to stop or reduce his or her use, he or she can go through an uncomfortable and painful withdrawal process. These symptoms can make it challenging for individuals to defeat their heroin use disorder without the help of professionals. Symptoms can begin just a few hours after one’s last use. Below are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms to take notice of:

  • Anhedonia
  • Strong cravings for heroin
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Dysphoria
  • Other flu-like symptoms
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

Effects of heroin overdose: When an individual abuses a substance like heroin, he or she places himself or herself at risk for overdose, which can be deadly. Anyone who displays the following symptoms after consuming heroin may need medical attention immediately:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Muscle spasms
  • Shallow breathing
  • Blue tinge around mouth or fingertips
  • Irregular breathing
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Significant drop in blood pressure
  • Slowed heart rate