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Heroin Addiction: How to Know If Someone Is Abusing Heroin

Heroin abuse is becoming more of a problem every year, but determining whether or not someone is on heroin isn’t always easy. When some people abuse heroin, it may be obvious but there are others who might be hiding their drug use completely.

With the Heroin Epidemic plaguing the nation, heroin abuse and addiction have become more common – and deadly – than ever before.

The reality is that thousands are dying from heroin overdoses every year and drug addiction does not discriminate, which means it could happen to your friends, coworkers, parents, kids, or loved ones.

In fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that almost 494,000 people at age 12 or above in the United States reported abusing heroin in 2017. Heroin use has also increased in rural and suburban areas, whereas abusing heroin used to be more common in urban settings.

What Is Heroin and How Is the Drug Used?

Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid drug. Abusing heroin can result in physical and psychological dependence on the drug. It is classified as a Schedule I Controlled Substance, which means that there is currently no accepted medical use for it. However, heroin is often sold illegally on the street.

As a result, it is often cut with other substances, including fentanyl, which has become the leading cause of overdose deaths in recent years.

There are many drug slang terms for heroin. Street names for heroin include dope, smack, junk, and h. Drug users may also mix heroin with other drugs like cocaine, which is referred to as a speedball, or methamphetamine, which is known as a screwball.

Heroin users may ingest, snort, smoke, or inject the drug. Heroin users often turn to the drug as a cheaper alternative to prescription pills and/or as an unhealthy coping mechanism to deal with problems in their lives.

While many drug users initially turn to heroin for its effects, they typically end up using it to prevent the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can occur as a result of heroin dependency.

What Is the High from Heroin Like?

In order to know whether or not someone is abusing heroin, it helps to understand what the high from heroin is like and what it may look like when a person is high on heroin.

Once a drug user takes heroin, the drug gets to the brain fairly quick. The high from heroin can result in feeling calm or relaxed. Because heroin is an opioid, it can relieve pain. Heroin is often referred to as a “downer” whereas drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine are considered “uppers.”

Heroin can make you feel itchy, sick, nauseous, confused, heavy, and/or tired.  A heroin user may even “nod” off.

After excessive, habitual use, a heroin user may no longer feel the initial desired effects, such as euphoria and relaxation. They may only continue to use to prevent them from feeling the effects of withdrawals, such as nausea, vomiting, body aches, constipation, etc.

With heroin being as addictive as it is, it’s extremely difficult to use the drug and not become dependent on it. Heroin is rarely, if ever, abused for recreational purposes. People who use heroin end up using it habitually, result in them becoming physically and psychologically dependent on the substance.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

There are several different signs of heroin addiction to become aware of. Some of the most apparent signs of heroin use include:

  • •Tiny pupils
  • •Breathing problems
  • •Itchiness
  • •Dry mouth
  • •Nodding off

In addition, there are also behavioral signs of heroin addiction to look out for, such as:

  • •Lying and manipulating
  • •Refraining from making eye contact
  • •Slurring words
  • •Poor performance at school, work, sports, etc.
  • •Isolating from family and friends
  • •Excessive sleep

Some physical signs of heroin addiction that you should watch out for include:

  • •Weight loss or weight gain
  • •Track marks from needle use on arms and/or legs
  • •Abscesses from IV use

You should also watch out for drug paraphernalia, such as:

  • •Syringes
  • •Burned spoons or bottle caps with residue
  • •Tin foil with burns
  • •Glassine or waxed paper bag with a stamp on front
  • •Straws that have been cut or burnt
  • •White or beige powdery residue

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

It’s also important to go over the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. A heroin addict can experience drug withdrawal symptoms after 4 hours or within 24 hours of their last use.

The severity of the withdrawal symptoms can depend on several factors, including how frequently the individual uses heroin, how much they use, and the method that they use to administer the drug.

Some heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • •Increased anxiety
  • •Cold sweats
  • •Anger
  • •Nausea and/or vomiting
  • •Muscle aches and/or pain
  • •Runny nose
  • •Teary eyes
  • •Decreased appetite
  • •Constipation
  • •Intense drug cravings

Heroin withdrawals can be dangerous, which is why seeking heroin treatment at a medical detox center is critical. During medical detoxification, heroin addicts are safely weaned off the opioid and monitored for the duration of the taper.

Medical doctors will also be able to provide the appropriate medications to minimize discomfort during the detox process whereas if a heroin addict attempts to detox on their own, they will experience the unpleasant effects.

How Prescription Opioid Abuse Led to Heroin Addiction

So how exactly does heroin addiction happen?  The truth is that nobody wakes up and decides to become addicted to heroin.

Typically, a drug user will turn to substances like heroin as a way to cope with issues in their life or to “self-medicate” an underlying co-occurring disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

While heroin addiction can manifest from heroin abuse, the most common reason people are becoming addicted to heroin today is largely due to the overprescribing of prescription painkillers.

First, they get prescribed prescription painkillers, like OxyContin, Percocet, or Roxicodone, which have a high risk of dependency. Then, they develop a tolerance and end up needing to take more of their prescription to feel the same effects.

They may even resort to stronger painkillers and later purchase more from others on the street illegally. When their prescription pill habit becomes too expensive, they turn to heroin.

As a result, it is apparent that heroin addiction could happen to anybody, regardless of how much or how little they have, how they were raised, or their socioeconomic background. Heroin addiction is a serious problem and with drugs like fentanyl being mixed in heroin, the risks of overdoses and overdose deaths have skyrocketed.

Knowing the signs of heroin addiction, symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and treatment for heroin addiction have never been as critical. Treatment for heroin addiction can begin with a medical detox and inpatient rehabilitation.

Through this, a heroin addict can be safely weaned off all substances and then receive essential treatment that will help them address the underlying issues of their condition while developing healthier coping mechanisms.

The Watershed Addiction Treatment Programs offers a full continuum of care for the treatment of drug addiction and alcoholism. Whether you are struggling with an addiction to heroin, cocaine, prescription pills, methamphetamine, alcohol, or any other substance, The Watershed can help. Call The Watershed for assistance today.


To speak with one of our trained alcohol treatment and drug rehabilitation referral counselors, call The Watershed’s 24-Hour Addiction Helpline at 1-844-550-8829.


It’s never too late to call.


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