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Five Signs Your Loved One Is Using Heroin

Dr. Anna Pickering

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Anna Pickering

April 3, 2019

While there are many physical signs, and external symptoms of heroin abuse, knowing the immediate signs can help you secure the appropriate type of treatment for you or a loved one.

Heroin is quickly becoming the most deadly drug in the United States. Stories of heroin can be seen on the news and heroin addiction has impacted communities everywhere. If you suspect someone you know is using heroin, you may be looking for answers. How do you find out for sure if they’re struggling with heroin abuse?

1. Physical Signs of Heroin Use

Physical signs of heroin use include immediate side effects and external signs of use. Some immediate side effects of heroin use may include a rush of euphoria, flushed skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the arms and legs.

You may have noticed your loved one acting extremely happy during this “rush,” or experiencing unusual or uncharacteristic feelings of well-being.

Prolonged use of heroin may cause external signs of use, or changes in appearance. Many people who abuse heroin don’t pay great attention to their hygiene or physical health. They may begin sleeping for long periods of time, experience other sleep troubles, or begin rapidly dropping weight.

Because heroin is often abused intravenously (through injection), people who regularly abuse heroin may wear long sleeves at all times to hide evidence of track marks or skin lesions or infections.

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2. Behavioral Changes Of Heroin Use

Using heroin can cause behavioral changes due to changes in brain chemistry, rapid mood shifts, and the pressures of maintaining addiction or dependence.

When people abuse heroin, it connects to opioid receptors in the brain, effectively changing the brain’s chemistry. Once an addiction has formed, the person begins aligning life activities with drug seeking and use.

Regular use of heroin may cause rapid mood swings because you can go from a euphoric high to a depressed low very quickly—this quick change, and the desire to avoid it, often contributes to continued abuse.

Maintaining addiction can be all-consuming. Avoiding withdrawal by constantly seeking the drug, telling lies or keeping secrets to hide your abuse, and trying to maintain life’s obligations while under the influence are just a few outwards signs of heroin use.

3. Changes To Health

Chronic heroin use causes many changes to overall physical health. A few changes that may be signs your loved one is using heroin include:

  • Abscesses and other skin infections
  • Chronic runny nose
  • Constant nodding off (“on the nod”)
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy skin
  • “Pinpoint” (small, constricted) pupils
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Weakened immune system

If your loved one have developed a tolerance, or can no longer feel the effects of the drug, they may begin taking it more and more which contributes to risk of overdose. Going “on the nod” or slipping in and out of consciousness is a period that can precede overdose. If a person begins slipping in and out of consciousness, and is undergoing dangerously slowed breathing (respiratory depression), they may fall into a coma. All too often heroin overdoses result in death.

Another sign your loved one may be using heroin is that they frequently are getting “sick”. When heroin starts leaving their system the individual starts feeling flu-like symptoms known as withdrawal. These symptoms will immediately go away the second they use again. This cycle continues, unless an addicted individual has a constant supply of the drug. Heroin withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, however it can be very uncomfortable and drive the person to continue using heroin.

Overall, prolonged heroin use changes your health and wellness in a way that can’t be reversed without abstaining from the drug or seeking adequate treatment.

4. Changes To Environment

If you have noticed changes to your loved one’s environment and you are wondering if these changes are signs of using heroin, you may be right.

In keeping up with an addiction, many people abusing heroin will begin keeping company of others who are also abusing the drug, and spend much or all of their time with these people. Your loved one may also let personal living conditions slip, much like personal hygiene and health. Personal surroundings may become increasingly dirty or disorderly, or they may even begin leaving paraphernalia out in the open.

Before they reach the point of letting things go, the person may go to great lengths to hide their drug use. This can include keeping things locked away, meeting drug use acquaintances or street dealers in private, and carefully covering their tracks. With time, they may even have violent outbursts when accused of or approached about drug use, both due to the sensitive nature of the topic and the effects of heroin.

In any case, if your loved one begins exhibiting signs of secrecy, changes in appearance, changes to health, and changes to behavior, they may be using heroin and it may be a good idea to search for evidence of paraphernalia.

5. Evidence Of Drug Paraphernalia

At first, you may not find evidence of heroin use in or around your loved one’s personal things, but as heroin addiction takes over their life, they may forget or lack interest in hiding the evidence. The following are some objects used for heroin abuse, or signs of current or recent use:

From Injecting:

From Smoking:

  • Lighter or matches
  • Paper for rolling
  • Straw
  • Pipes
  • Plastic baggies
  • Pens, cut or torn apart

Snorting heroin doesn’t leave much evidence like other powdered drugs, but people often use papers to snort on and straws or cut-up pens.

What Do I Do If My Loved One Is Using Heroin?

If you suspect someone you know is using heroin, it’s best to seek help right away. Heroin is an opioid that is causing both physical and mental dependence, making it very hard to quit on your own.

Seeking treatment in the form of an inpatient rehab center is the best thing you can do to help remove them from the environment of using heroin. They most likely will need to be detoxed under medical supervision before beginning treatment.

Treatment for heroin addiction and dependence involves a combination of counseling, group therapy, individual therapy, medication, and may include alternative methods like wilderness or adventure therapy, and more.

Find Help For Heroin Addiction And Dependence

If your loved one is struggling with heroin abuse, addiction, or dependence, we can help you find the right treatment program and the best rehab center available. Contact us today.

Centers For Disease Control And Prevention - Heroin

Center For Substance Abuse Research - Heroin

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Drug Facts: Heroin

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