Do you know the signs of heroin use? Most of us think we could tell if someone in our lives was struggling with an addiction. The problem is that the idea of addiction that most of us have from social media, TV, and movies is pretty extreme, and may not always reflect the lived reality of people dealing with drug addiction.
The truth is that there are drug addicts at every level of society, from successful CEOs to middle-class office workers, to service workers, and everything in between. Not all addiction looks the way it does on TV, and not all people dealing with addiction will have the same symptoms or show the same signs of their addiction to the people around them.
Identifying and helping someone with an addiction can be a lot more challenging than many people expect. If you’re here because you’re worried about someone close to you, or because you want to learn more about what heroin addiction can look like, you’re in the right place. We’ll talk about potential signs and symptoms, how to get help, and more.
If you’re here because you’re worried about yourself and are concerned that you might be dealing with a heroin addiction personally, you’re in the right place. Congratulations on taking the step to look into this; it can be hard, and we’re glad you’re here.
What Is Heroin, Really, And Why Is It Dangerous?
Before we jump into the signs of heroin use, it’s best to start with details on what this commonly abused drug is. The easiest place to start is the basics, what this drug is, and why it’s so dangerous.
Let’s begin with the drug classification of heroin. Heroin is an opiate, and is typically made from morphine. In some cases, it may be made directly from opium poppies, which are refined into morphine and then made into heroin. However, that’s typically rarer because opium poppies are highly regulated and are typically illegal to grow except in licensed facilities for the purpose of creating legal opiate drugs.
When most people think of heroin, they think of a white powder drug, but that’s not very helpful for a couple of reasons. The first is that many drugs are available as a white or off-white powder, which doesn’t necessarily help you narrow down what someone might be taking.
It can also be a bad identifier because not all heroin is a white powder; it may also be a brownish color, or have a sticky black semi-liquid suspension, often called black-tar heroin because of the color and texture.
Different kinds of heroin are weaker or stronger, more or less expensive, and may need to be used differently. Not all heroin users will use the same kind of heroin all the time, and there may be regional differences in quality and availability that change what you should look out for if you’re concerned that someone you know might be using heroin.
How Is Heroin Used
Knowing how heroin is used can make it much easier to recognize the signs that someone is using. Plus, different ways of using heroin can have different side effects and cause different signs and symptoms of addiction, so understanding them gives you much more information to deal with the situation.
Heroin can be injected, smoked, or snorted depending on the type and how it’s prepared.
One of the more common myths about heroin, and one that many first-time users are told when they are given the drug, is that people who smoke or snort the drug don’t get addicted to it.
The truth is that heroin is highly addictive no matter how it’s used, and that most people’s chosen usage method is more about preference, what kinds of heroin are available, and how they know how to dose the drug and control their intake.
As addiction progresses, many people may change how they use heroin, especially if they are told that certain methods of ingestion are more effective or give a more potent high when they use it. The method of using the drug may also depend on how they are taught to use it, or which method they think will be easiest to hide.
That can lead to many possible signs of use from wearing long sleeves to frequent upper respiratory infections.
As with most drugs, tolerance to heroin increases with use, so many people increase how much they take over time; this may also lead to changing how they use heroin in hopes that a different method of use will increase the effectiveness of the drug without forcing them to take more.
Signs Of Heroin Use and When To Worry
Knowing the signs of heroin use is essential to handling an addiction problem should it arise. Heroin addiction is incredibly difficult to approach and to talk about, even when you’re dealing with people you’re close to.
There are a few different things to look out for if you’re worried someone might be dealing with heroin addiction.
The possible signs and symptoms break down into three distinct categories:
- Paraphernalia and physical tools needed for drug use;
- Behavioral and psychological signs of drug use;
- Physical signs of drug use;
The reason for breaking these into three different groups is because it’s really a combination of all three that will help you tell the difference between a drug problem and problems that are happening because of mental health challenges, physical health challenges, and can even help you tell the difference between different kinds of heroin in certain situations.
This is important because when you talk to someone about drug use, you want to have as much information as possible before approaching them about it so that you can have a better understanding of what they may be going through or how serious the problem is.
For example, most people who use heroin will have small baggies around. They may also have aluminum foil, especially in small squares, lighters, needles, pipes, or rubber tubing. Tourniquet supplies are another common piece of paraphernalia that’s more specific to injected drugs than other drugs. The usage supplies found are often the most obvious signs of heroin use.
Behavior is also likely to change when someone is using heroin. The user might seem distant, less engaged or interested in life, and surprisingly less enthusiastic about things they used to be excited about. Reliability and timeliness may also be an issue; they might excuse themselves and come back in a different mood, not come back at all, or take an especially long time while they are gone.
Often, but not always, heroin users will see their professional performance at work or school decline, especially as they start using more and more often, or in larger and larger doses. One common symptom of heroin that can make social situations more difficult is that it can impact your short-term memory and make it harder to remember specific events. People who have started using heroin might seem suddenly forgetful, or like they consistently get the details of things wrong when talking about them.
Physically, heroin users might have flushed skin, constricted pupils, and little self-control when actively using. They may also fall asleep suddenly or seemingly randomly, have significant weight changes, especially weight loss, or complain of problems like dry mouth or constipation, which are all signs of taking heroin.
Some of these symptoms are shared with other drugs, especially other opioid drugs, but also many other illicit drugs.
It’s important to remember if you’re trying to help someone, that the drug itself isn’t always as important as the side effects and consequences of the drug use, especially if you’re trying to show someone what their drug use is costing them.
How To Help Someone Who Shows Signs of Heroin Use
Getting someone help with addiction is complicated and difficult, especially if they don’t yet want help, or don’t realize they need it.
Interventions can work, but the drama of the intervention may not be helpful in the long term.
If you’re trying to help someone with a heroin addiction, it’s important to first prepare yourself mentally for how they may act or how they may react towards you. Sometimes people aren’t ready to overcome their addiction, and you have to be prepared for that if it’s true of someone you care about.
Remind yourself that they may relapse or struggle with their addiction several times before escaping it. Relapse is very common, and withdrawing from heroin and other drugs can be very mentally, emotionally, and physically difficult.
That said, one of the best things you can do to help someone with addiction is to offer them compassion and understanding. You don’t have to accept their addiction, but you should make sure they know that they aren’t what you have a problem with; it’s the consequences, the costs of the addiction (both the mental and physical), and the social and emotional costs of the addiction.
You should also educate yourself on the different support and treatment options your loved one may be able to access. The easier you can make it seem to get into addiction treatment, the easier it will be to convince your loved one that addiction recovery is possible for them.
With that in mind, one of the better options for overcoming heroin addiction, especially in complicated cases or cases where physical health may be a barrier to recovery, is an addiction treatment center.
Comprehensive treatment that includes mental and physical health is often key to overcoming an addiction.
At Absolute Awakenings, we believe in treating all the aspects of addiction to help give you or your loved ones the best possible chance of success with an addiction-free life. Contact us to learn more about our treatment programs and how we can help.
Overcoming addiction is possible. Whether it’s you or someone you love, don’t give up hope.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heroin DrugFacts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published December 16, 2022. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
- Gans S. Heroin: Everything You’ve Been Afraid to Ask. Verywell Mind. Published August 10, 2021. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/basic-facts-about-heroin-67378
- Holland K. Signs of Heroin Addiction. Healthline. Published September 1, 2017. Accessed February 14, 2023. https://www.healthline.com/health/signs-heroin-addiction
Absolute Awakenings Treatment Center Editoral Guideline
At Absolute Awakenings, we take information integrity seriously. We have dedicated our resources to ensure that all content published to our blog is medically sound. As such, all content on our blog has been thoroughly reviewed by a doctorate level clinician such as a Medical Doctor, or Psy.D, so that you can trust all of the data we publish.