Heroin addiction is a terrifying disease. Not only is it one of the most addictive drugs on the market today, it’s also one of the deadliest.
In fact, the CDC reports that opioid overdose deaths have hit disturbing new highs recently. In 2015 alone more than 33,000 people died from overdosing on opioids. And while a significant portion of these deaths have been attributed to prescription opioids like OxyContin, abusing heroin is also on the rise.
The problem has gotten so widespread that many government agencies have begun calling it an “opioid epidemic.” Plus, it looks like it’s only getting worse with each passing year.
The combined addictiveness and lethality of heroin addiction makes it crucial that you know how to spot the signs of abuse early on; doing so will mean you can help someone close to you to get the treatment they need before the problem gets even more dangerous.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of 9 signs to be on the lookout for if you think your loved one is abusing heroin. Once you identify the problem, you can both work towards fixing it.
1. Watch Out for Signs of Intoxication from Heroin Abuse
The first hint of heroin abuse is the easiest to pick out – signs of actual heroin intoxication. While it might not be likely that you’ll catch your loved one in the act, if you do you’ll probably know something is up right away.
Here are just some of the physical symptoms of heroin intoxication:
- Clouded mental capacity and functioning
- Dry mouth
- Tiny pupils
- Runny nose
- Skin Flushing
- Heavy, sluggish movement
- Passing in and out of consciousness, sometimes referred to as being “on the nod”
It’s worth mentioning, however, that these symptoms merely point to heroin abuse but could also be indicative of another problem as well.
2. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Heroin Paraphernalia
When it comes to spotting a drug abuser, one of the most concrete pieces of evidence can be found in identifying substance paraphernalia. While drugs like prescription pills may not have any noticeable traces, heroin takes a fair amount of additional work to get into the body.
As such, a heroin user might store syringes, rubber tubing, and burnt spoons around the house and perhaps under their mattress. Heroin also typically comes in powder form so if you see any powdery residue or tiny baggies, it could be a sign of heroin abuse.
3. Be on The Lookout for Behavioral Cues
While these tend to be a little more subtle than actual physical signs of heroin abuse, sometimes an abrupt change in behavior is one of the most noticeable differences in someone who’s using heroin.
Here are just a few behavior changes to watch out for that might indicate heroin addiction:
- The individual shows a noticeable change in social activity, frequently making excuses for not attending get-togethers.
- They may abandon activities that they used to enjoy such as clubs, sports, watching movies, or other hobbies.
- The individual could have a hard time fulfilling obligations.
- They may be much more secretive and deceptive about what they are doing or where they are going.
4. Recognize Denial
This one can be tricky. Denial is the bread and butter of most substance abusers’ playbooks. Whether they’re casually shrugging off the conversation or they become noticeably defensive about the accusation, a heroin addict is likely to try and hide their substance abuse problem from you at all costs.
Either way though, an unwillingness to discuss a subject rationally and calmly just might point to an underlying problem.
5. Acknowledge the Secondary Signs of Heroin Addiction
There are a variety of other heroin abuse indicators that are easy to overlook as well. For example, you may notice that a few valuables have gone missing recently or that the money you thought you had in your wallet is no longer there. These could be signs that your loved one is looking for ways to fund their drug habit.
They may also be in the middle of a variety of legal, work, or school related troubles as well. These could be traced back to a failure to meet their various obligations, resulting in engaging in illegal activities, an inability to hold a job, or simply not showing up to class.
What’s more, they may show that they have a lot of street knowledge about heroin, referring to it as one of its many street names.
6. Learn to Spot the Physical Symptoms
When you’re dealing with an injectable drug, of course there are going to be a variety of physical symptoms to watch out for. Some of the most notable ones are:
- Track marks – These are the result of chronic use of an injection site. It’ll often look irritated and possibly infected.
- Skin picking – Though not as common as it is with meth addiction, incessant picking at the skin can occur with heroin, resulting in numerous small scabs all over the body.
- Weight loss – Heroin abuse is typically accompanied by nausea and vomiting. As such, many abusers don’t eat as much as they should.
- Abscesses – One side effect of using injectable drugs is that injection sites are particularly prone to becoming infected.
- Sexual dysfunction – Many heroin addicts will experience sexual dysfunction like impotence or an irregular menstrual cycle.
7. Be Aware of the Medical Complications That Result from Addiction to Heroin
Given the potency and lethality of this drug, it’s no wonder that chronic abuse of heroin will typically lead to a plethora of medical conditions.
When it comes to injecting heroin, many addicts will experience collapsed veins and skin infections at some point during their substance abuse. They may also contract a variety of blood-borne diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C if they engage in needle sharing.
Chronic heroin snorting will be accompanied by infection and damage of the mucosal tissue and could perforate the nasal septum altogether.
What’s more, the toxicity of the substance may also lead to:
- Liver and kidney disease
- Infection of the heart lining
- Bacterial infections
- Pneumonia and tuberculosis
- Arthritis and other rheumatologic problems
Spot the Signs – Start the Recovery
Learning to spot the warning signs of heroin addiction is one of the first steps towards confronting your loved one about their substance use disorder.
And even though opioid addiction rehab can be quite difficult, getting the person you care about the treatment they need early on can be a real life changer.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2017 April). Opioid Overdose. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2017 Jan.). Drugfacts: Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2014 Nov.). What Are the Medical Complications of Chronic Heroin Use? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-medical-complications-chronic-heroin-use