Heroin Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Heroin is known specifically for its addictive properties. When individuals consume heroin, they are hit with feelings of extreme euphoria, pleasure, and a sense of detachment from their surroundings.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin addiction

These euphoric feelings can easily cause them to keep abusing this substance, increasing their chances for developing an addiction to it. Even though the feelings that the abuse of this drug elicits are pleasurable, the dangers of its use are much more severe. All aspects of an individual’s life can be drastically impacted when acquiring, consuming, and recovering from the use of heroin becomes his or her primary focus. The longer that the abuse of this substance continues, the more likely it is that an individual will become tolerant to it, which can lead to chemical dependency. When a chemical dependency develops, it means that an individual’s body can no longer function without the presence of heroin in the system. As soon as a heroin dependency and addiction has developed, it can be exceptionally challenging to defeat without receiving treatment.


Heroin addiction statistics

Research has proven that approximately 13.5 million people worldwide abuse opioids, with an estimated 9.2 million abusing heroin. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 1.8% of individuals between ages 18 and 25 have abused heroin, and nearly 2% of individuals ages 25 and older have abused this substance.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction

There are many causes and risk factors that can influence an individual’s likelihood of becoming addicted to heroin. Some of these factors can be explained further in the following:

Genetic: Addictions and genetics have always shared links. Those with family members who abused or were addicted to heroin possess a greater risk of abusing this drug than those who do not have this type of family history.

Environmental: Specific environmental factors can add to one’s chances of starting to experiment with heroin. For instance, those who are surrounded by others who abuse heroin, whether they are friends or family members, are more likely to participate in this same abusive behavior than those who are not exposed to this type of substance abuse. In addition, suffering one or more traumatic events or being the victim of abuse or neglect can cause individuals to want to abuse substances like heroin.

Risk Factors:

  • Chronic exposure to violence, crime, and stress
  • Having experienced a trauma
  • Ease of availability in obtaining heroin
  • Having a low self-esteem
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Personal history of abusing other substances
  • Possessing an impulsive personality
  • Associating with peers who use heroin or other substances
  • Possessing a novelty-seeking temperament

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

The signs and symptoms that might be apparent when an individual is struggling with heroin use disorder will vary from individual to individual, but can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts or long pants, even when the weather is warm, in order to hide track marks from where the substance has been injected
  • Suicidal behaviors
  • Using heroin in situations where it is physically hazardous to do so, such as while operating a vehicle
  • No longer participating in activities that one once enjoyed
  • Frequent absenteeism from work
  • Failing to put an end to the use of heroin despite frequent attempts to do so
  • Decline in occupational performance
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Using heroin in greater quantities or with more frequency than one initially intended
  • Failing to adhere to social, familial, personal, and occupational responsibilities

Physical symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Frequent bruising or scabbing of the skin
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Constipation

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Inability to use sound judgment and reason
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Confusion
  • Concentration difficulties

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Excitability
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in things that one once found enjoyable
  • Depression


Effects of heroin addiction

When individuals do not obtain care for a heroin addiction, they are putting themselves at risk for suffering a number of consequences that possess the potential to destroy all areas of their lives. Some examples of the potential effects of heroin abuse can include:

  • Homelessness
  • Incarceration
  • Lost friendships
  • Demise of marriages or partnerships
  • Occupational failure
  • Financial strife
  • Loss of child custody
  • Interaction with the legal system
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors

In addition, the continual abuse of heroin can negatively impact one’s physical and mental health. Some examples of these consequences can include:

  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Organ damage
  • Erectile dysfunction in males
  • Disturbances of reproductive functioning, including irregular menses, in women
  • Clogged blood vessels
  • Perforation of the nasal septum from snorting the substance
  • Irreversible cognitive impairment
  • Scars from injecting the substance intravenously
  • Contraction of viruses, such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, cellulitis, tuberculosis, and endocarditis

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

Sadly, it is not uncommon for individuals who are addicted to heroin to also struggle with symptoms of other mental health conditions at the same time. Examples of disorders that can occur simultaneously with heroin use disorder can include:

  • Conduct disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Major depressive disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Heroin withdrawal and overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When chronic heroin use is stopped suddenly, there is a possibility that withdrawal symptoms will develop. The period of withdrawal can occur when the body looks to reregulate itself to the state it was in prior to one’s heroin abuse. This process of withdrawal can be very uncomfortable, and potentially even dangerous. Some of the signs and symptoms that can indicate that an individual is suffering from heroin withdrawal can include:

  • Yawning
  • Fever
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Intense cravings for heroin
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Bone pain
  • Abdominal cramping

Effects of heroin overdose: A heroin overdose occurs when an individual consumes more heroin that his or her body can properly metabolize. In some instances, the body will attempt to adjust to the larger amounts of the substance by trying to excrete it, typically through vomiting. However, this is not always successful, causing the individual to require emergency help. If an individual displays any of the following symptoms, it should be treated as a sign that an overdose has occurred and that medical attention is immediately required:

  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Labored breathing
  • Constricted pupils
  • Heart attack
  • Weakened pulse
  • Hypotension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Tongue discoloration
What our clients are saying

Shooting up heroin was the only thing that I could think about everyday. That was when I got treatment at Huntington Creek because they are the best in my area. It was only through them was I able to make a full recovery from my heroin addiction.

– Former Patient
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