Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

Symptoms of Heroin Use

Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate known for it’s intense euphoric and relaxing/sedating effects. For this reason, it has an extremely high potential for abuse and addiction. Heroin is usually found as a whitish powder or dark sticky substance (black tar heroin) and can be taken orally as a pill, smoked, snorted or injected.

Heroin use is associated with the development of tolerance and dependence. The former is characterized by the brain’s propensity to reduce response to a substance after repeated exposure, which results in the user needing increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the same effect. The latter occurs when the brain adapts to heroin’s presence and can no longer function normally without it.

Withdrawal symptoms that manifest upon cessation of heroin are a hallmark of physical dependence.

Moreover, when a person discontinues heroin use or significantly cuts back, he or she will usually experience uncomfortable symptoms as a result. Thus, these effects are often among the main catalysts for relapse.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

The physical, psychological, and behavioral signs and symptoms of heroin use are similar to its side effects. There are a variety of different side effects related to heroin use, including common side effects, and withdrawal and overdose symptoms.

Side Effects

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the following are some of the common side effects that can occur following heroin use:

  • An initial rush of euphoria
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Severe itching
  • Slowed heart rate after initial rush
  • Drowsiness for hours
  • Heaviness of limbs
  • Clouded thinking

Behavioral Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

When heroin use evolves into a priority, a person’s entire life shifts and this drug becomes the focus. For this reason, there are likely to be noticeable changes in the person’s outward appearance and behavior. Oftentimes, despite the myriad of problems heroin use can cause, a person who is in the throes of addiction will continue to prioritize the drug over personal responsibilities and relationships.

The following are some typical behavioral signs and symptoms related to heroin use that can warn concerned loved ones that there is a need for treatment:

  • Presence of drug paraphernalia (needles, burnt spoons, etc.)
  • Negative changes in behavior
  • Changes in social group
  • Use of street slang related to heroin (“H”, Horse, Smack, Dope, etc.)
  • Friends/family missing valuables or money
  • Neglect of important obligations such as work, school, and family
  • “Track marks” on the body – injection wounds, abscesses
  • Wearing pants/long sleeves even in warm weather to cover injection sites
  • Disheveled appearance, poor hygiene
  • Legal and financial problems
  • Deception and secretiveness
  • Adamant denial of a problem despite clear evidence to the contrary
  • Chipping (intermittent heroin use)

Overdose Symptoms

A severe reaction to heroin abuse (overdose) requires immediate medical attention. Toxicity levels of heroin may be associated with the purity of the heroin or the presence of more potent additives such as fentanyl.

The following are common signs of a heroin overdose:

  • Bluish lips and/or nails (cyanosis)
  • Disorientation
  • Shallow, difficult, or stopped breathing
  • Delirium
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Muscle spasticity
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Drowsiness
  • Weak pulse
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Coma

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can manifest as a sign of physical/chemical dependence in regular heroin users or after a binge or a period of heavy drug use. Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically begin 6-12 hours after the last use, peak within 1-2 days, and subside over the course of 5-7 days.

In some cases, loved ones of those using heroin may not realize that it has been occurring or the extent of use. However, if they gain knowledge that withdrawal symptoms are present, they may quickly become aware of the extent of the heroin use problem.

The following are common withdrawal symptoms related to heroin:

  • Dysphoria (bad mood, irritability)
  • Insomnia
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Drug cravings
  • Body aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Runny nose
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea and vomiting

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Our center offers comprehensive addiction treatment programs in partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient formats. These programs are designed to meet every person’s individual needs, and various mental, emotional, and medical care options are available.

As you begin to experience the freedom of a life that no longer revolves around drugs or alcohol abuse, our programs can help you sustain sobriety by offering continued support through all phases of your recovery.

If you are ready to end the cycle of addiction, call us today and let us help you find the best treatment option you need to start your journey to recovery and long-lasting wellness!

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