Learn About The Symptoms & Signs of Heroin Addiction

The signs, symptoms, and effects of heroin addiction can be different for every person impacted. Learning about heroin addiction is one of the first steps towards getting better.

Understanding Heroin

Learn about heroin addiction and substance abuse

Heroin is commonly known for its dangerously addictive properties. When individuals consume this substance, they are impacted with feelings of euphoria, delight, and a sense of detachment from their surroundings. These pleasurable feelings often cause them to continue using the substance, increasing their risk for developing an addiction to it. Despite the pleasurable feelings that the drug brings on, the dangers of using it are more extreme. All areas of an individual’s life can be negatively affected when acquiring, consuming, and recovering from the use of heroin becomes his or her top priority. The longer that the abuse of this substance continues, the more likely it becomes for an individual to develop a tolerance to it, which can be followed by the onset of chemical dependency, which means that his or her body will no longer be able to function without the presence of heroin. Once this dependency develops, it can be exceptionally hard to overcome without obtaining treatment.


Heroin addiction statistics

Extensive research has provided evidence that roughly 13.5 million people worldwide abuse opioids, with an estimated 9.2 million of those using heroin. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 1.8% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 have abused heroin, and nearly 2% of individuals aged 25 and older have abused this substance as well.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction

There are a handful of causes and risk factors that can affect an individual’s likelihood of becoming addicted to heroin. Such factors are discussed in the following:

Genetic: Addiction has long been recognized to possess a genetic link. Those who have family members who abused or who were addicted to heroin are more likely to battle similar concerns than those who do not have the same family history.

Environmental: Specific environmental factors can increase an individual’s likelihood of starting to experiment with heroin use. For instance, people who are surrounded by others, including family and friends, who abuse substances such as heroin are more likely to partake in the same behavior than if they did not have this type of exposure. In addition, experiencing a traumatic event or being the victim of neglect or abuse can cause individuals to self-medicate through substance abuse.

Risk Factors:

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

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

The signs and symptoms that might be displayed by an individual who is battling heroin use disorder will vary from individual to individual, however they might include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

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

Physical symptoms:

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

Cognitive symptoms:

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

Psychosocial symptoms:

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


Effects of heroin addiction

When individuals do not obtain treatment for a heroin addiction, they are putting themselves at risk for suffering from any number of detriments that can have the potential to devastate all areas of their lives. Some of these effects can include:

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

In addition, the chronic abuse of heroin can cause extreme upset on the physical and mental health of those who consume it. Examples of these forms of detriments can include:

  • Stroke
  • Onset of new, or worsening of current, mental illness symptoms
  • Chronic suicidal ideation
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack
  • Organ damage
  • Erectile dysfunction, in males
  • Disturbances of reproductive functioning, including irregular menses, in women
  • 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
  • Clogged blood vessels

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 one or more mental health conditions at the same time. Examples of disorders that are known to co-occur with heroin use disorder include:

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

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When chronic heroin use is stopped suddenly, there is the potential for withdrawal symptoms to develop. A state of withdrawal occurs as the body makes an effort to regulate itself to the way it functioned before heroin was introduced. This withdrawal process can be highly painful, and in some cases, dangerous. Examples of signs and symptoms that indicate that someone is experiencing heroin withdrawal can include:

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

Effects of heroin overdose: An overdose happens when an individual ingests more heroin than his or her body is able to metabolize. In some instances, the body will attempt to adjust to the excessive amount of the substance by working to excrete it. But this is not always successful, leaving individuals in a state of dire emergency. If an individual displays any of the symptoms below, it should be viewed as a warning sign that an overdose has occurred and that medical attention is required as soon as possible:

  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Constricted pupils
  • Heart attack
  • Hypotension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Labored breathing
  • Disorientation
  • Weakened pulse
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Lips turning a bluish color

This was the best place I could have ever chosen to go get help at! Unlike other behavioral health places in the Memphis area, Crestwyn is a very nice facility staffed with the kindest and most helpful people ever!

– Former Patient