Heroin Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Addiction

Learn about young adult heroin addiction

Derived from morphine, heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug. Heroin is the most commonly abused and most rapidly active opioid, and is usually sold as a white or brownish power that is cut with other substances such as starch, powdered milk, or quinine. One of the reasons that heroin is such a dangerous drug is that is impossible to know the purity of the drug an individual is using, which leads to an extremely high risk for overdose. Additionally, it is not unheard of for heroin to be cut with poisons, which can cause a number of additional negative physical complications.

When heroin is ingested, the body converts it back into morphine, which binds to the opioid receptors in the brain that are involved in the perception of pleasure and pain. Heroin will cause an individual to feel a rush of euphoric feelings, followed by a long period of drowsiness. Because prolonged heroin abuse will lead to tolerance, heroin abusers will need to take more and more of the drug to get the same effect and eventually will become dependent upon it. Professional treatment for heroin addiction is strongly advised.


Statistics of heroin addiction

According to the most recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH), 3.8 million Americans have reported using heroin at least once in their lifetimes. Additionally, between 600,000 and 700,000 Americans have used heroin within the past twelve months.

Heroin abuse has been cited as the primary cause for the almost 15 million cases of opioid dependence worldwide, according to The World Health Organization (WHO). WHO also estimates that nearly 70,000 deaths can be attributed to opioid overdoses each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction

Anyone, no matter their age, sex, or socioeconomic status, has the potential to become addicted to heroin. There are, however, several certain factors that make certain individuals more vulnerable for the development of a substance use disorder. Here are some of the specific factors that may cause a person to abuse and become addicted to heroin:

Genetic: Addiction may be determined by inherited genetic factors. Individuals who have prior drug abuse in their family may be at an increased risk for struggling with heroin abuse or addiction.

Environmental: Highly stressful environments, history of trauma or abuse, growing up in a home where individuals openly abuse drugs, and having close friends who abuse heroin are all environmental factors that can cause an individual to begin using heroin themselves.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Being male
  • The presence of a mental health disorder
  • Peer pressure
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Prior drug abuse

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction in young adults

Heroin abusers and addicts may exhibit a wide variety of signs and symptoms. However, not everyone will react to this drug in the same way, so symptoms will vary from person to person. Some examples of heroin abuse symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Lying or deceptive behavior
  • Substantial amount of time spent alone
  • Worsening of job or school performance
  • Lack of attention paid to personal hygiene and physical appearance
  • Wearing long sleeves and long pants, even in hot weather
  • Reckless and risk taking behaviors
  • Unexplained financial problems
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Hostile behaviors toward loved ones
  • Lack of interest in hobbies or interests
  • Loss of motivation toward future goals

Physical symptoms:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Weight loss
  • Runny nose
  • Needle tracks
  • Infections or abscesses at injection sites
  • Cuts, bruises, or scabs from skin picking
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Loss of menstrual cycle

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Disorientation
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Impaired ability to make good decisions
  • Hallucinations
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Drastic mood swings
  • Panic
  • Anxiety

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Effects of heroin addiction on young adults

The scope of destruction that heroin abuse can inflict is far and wide. Heroin abuse can negatively impact a person’s physical health, mental stability, financial status, employment, and interpersonal relationships. The following are some of the long-term effects of heroin abuse:

  • Scars, scabs, and abscesses
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections
  • Serious illnesses, such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS
  • Liver disease
  • Impaired kidney functioning
  • Poor circulation
  • Respiratory problems
  • Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Brain damage
  • Panic, anxiety, and paranoia
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems including incarceration
  • Strained or destroyed interpersonal relationships
  • Inability to meet responsibilities or obligations

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders we treat

It is fairly common for those who abuse heroin to simultaneously be struggling with another mental health condition. Many times, the heroin abuse begins as an attempt to cope with the symptoms of an untreated mental health condition. Disorders that are known to occur alongside a heroin addiction include:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Panic disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Chronic pain
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: Those who attempt to stop using heroin after prolonged abuse are likely to experience a number of withdrawal symptoms that are commonly unpleasant and often painful. The fear of the symptoms that an individual may experience during withdrawal can prevent him or her from trying to give up heroin and get clean. Some withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Intense heroin cravings
  • Profuse sweating
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Severe cramping
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Insomnia
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Restlessness

Effects of heroin overdose: A heroin overdose occurs when an individual consumes more heroin than his or her body is able to metabolize. The signs that an individual may be suffering from a heroin overdose may occur rather quickly after the drug has been taken, or it may take a while for symptoms to begin to appear. In either case, if you suspect that someone is overdosing on heroin you should seek medical treatment immediately. Signs and symptoms that may indicate a heroin overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • White patches on the tongue
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Sleepiness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Death

We are affiliated with the following organizations, which provide accreditation, education, and training to ensure quality behavioral health and addiction treatment.
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP)
  • Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council
  • The Jason Foundation