Signs of Heroin Addiction, Side Effects, Withdrawals and Treatment Option

Signs Of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction remains one of the most pressing issues for the US to deal with today. The drug has ruined the lives of many young people and has led to untold losses, both emotionally and economically. Unfortunately, the drug is still tough to contain and keep under control. On a personal level, it can be helpful to know the signs of heroin addiction if you feel a friend or loved one may be engaging in addictive behavior.  

Heroin is an opioid derived from morphine. It works as a painkiller, but it has the side effect of creating a euphoric feeling in a user. Many heroin users became addicted to opioids through measured medical use with a prescription from a doctor.

However, since doctors cut back on these opioids, these users had to find another way to deal with their desires. Heroin entered the scene as a cheap alternative to prescription painkillers.

Heroin is easy to manufacture on the street, and there are several varieties available. It comes in the form of a powder, usually quiet, but can also have a wide array of colors ranging from pink to brown.

Black tar heroin is imported from Mexico and is among the most dangerous of the lot. The danger in heroin comes from how easy it is for a person to become addicted to it and it’s sometimes quite hard to get signs of heroin addiction.

In the early years of its use, at the turn of the twentieth century, doctors would prescribe it to relieve pain. It was thought, back then, that it was more valuable than morphine, with a lower chance of a person becoming dependent on the drug. That assumption turned out to be false, as heroin is just as addictive (if not more so) than morphine. 

Doctors cut out its use in traditional medicines, but it became a valuable form of income for many street gangs because it’s so easy to package and distribute. Heroin addiction keeps a user coming back for more of the substance, ruining their lives and relationships in the process. But how does it manage this?

What is Heroin Addiction? 

The terms addiction and dependency are often used interchangeably, but they are distinctly separate. When someone becomes addicted to a substance, their brain changes to make them perform actions they usually wouldn’t. When someone takes heroin, they get a flood of dopamine (the feel-good chemical) into their brain. 

Typically, the brain would produce this as a reward for a job well done. Heroin short-circuits this process by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and causing it to release massive amounts of dopamine.

The resulting euphoria is what most people who become addicted to the substance chase. Unfortunately, each time the person gets that dopamine flood after the first contact with heroin, the depth of the impact is much less. Tolerance for the drug starts to kick in.

What is Heroin Addiction

Why is Heroin So Addictive? 

When someone becomes tolerant of a drug, their body needs more to get the same feeling they had before. With heroin, this tolerance meshes with the brain’s tolerance to dopamine. The user becomes depressed and goes from fits of manic energy to complete lethargy.

Tolerance forces the person to take more heroin with each dose, raising the risk of an overdose. The brain’s chemistry changes to make it impossible to function without heroin present in the user’s body.

This condition is known as dependence, and it’s a precursor to addiction. Many individuals who are dependent on drugs can still function generally to a large extent. 

Addiction is a brain disease that forces the person to behave differently from how they usually would. When someone becomes addicted to heroin, they disregard social norms.

It’s not uncommon to see them forget to perform basic hygiene tasks, as they’re focused on their next chance to use the drug. Heroin addiction can even lead someone to risk their lives to obtain the substance. 

How to Tell if Someone is Using Heroin

When someone starts using heroin, it may not be immediately evident that they’re a heroin user. Most first-time users don’t experience the drug in its most well-known intake method – via a needle.

Instead, they are more likely to take the substance through its less traditional means. Many users start by snorting powdered heroin through a straw, others by smoking the drug – a method referred to as “chasing the dragon.” 

Others have their first brush with the drug alongside a more socially acceptable drug like marijuana. It’s not uncommon to see heroin users mix the substance with marijuana into a joint and smoke both.

Because it is challenging to spot immediate differences in a person’s body when they use these methods, it may be a while before the heroin user starts showing apparent signs of their use.

Physically, several tell-tale signs of heroin consumption can be spotted in a regular user, even if they don’t have obvious signs of heroin addiction. When someone uses heroin, they show some or all of these symptoms:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Slurred speech
  • Constricted pupils
  • Manic energy

After taking the drug, they hit a point of heroin comedown, where their behavior changes. At this point, the signs of heroin addiction are:

  • Lethargy, or lack of energy
  • Extreme drowsiness or nodding off in the middle of a conversation
  • Lack of motivation to do anything

The cycle of use and comedown becomes easy to spot after a while. It’s vital to remember that using heroin doesn’t necessarily mean being addicted to it. However, if someone uses heroin often, it’s a good bet that they’ll become dependent on the drug before too long. 

Heroin Addiction Symptoms

Addiction is primarily a brain disease that changes how someone thinks about the world around them. When someone becomes addicted to heroin, their demeanor and personality change.

Long-term addiction symptoms might not show until after the drug has become a vital part of their lives. Some of the more common signs of heroin addiction include:

  • Loss of interest in activities: Activities no longer give the same pleasure that heroin does and so become unimportant.
  • Poor financial management: Over time, the individual may spend lots of money getting drugs from their dealers, neglecting other responsibilities like food or rent.
  • Changes in appearance: When a person becomes addicted to heroin, they don’t pay much attention to their appearance or personal hygiene because it’s not as essential as finding more of the drug.
  • Change in dress: Seasoned users will realize that their frequent usage will show up in needle tracks on their arms or legs. They may take to wearing long sleeves or long pants to hide them.
Heroin Addiction Symptoms

How to Recognize a Heroin Addiction

Heroin drives users to consume more of the drug with each use, making it one of the most addictive opioids produced. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V) outlines eleven criteria that a medical professional could use to spot the signs of heroin addiction. These are:

  1. Heroin consumption happens with more significant amounts of the drug being taken and over a more extended period each time.
  2. The user may desire to cut down or completely stop their use but is unable to do so.
  3. Much of the person’s time is spent acquiring or using heroin or going through the symptoms of a heroin comedown.
  4. The user has an urge to consume heroin often. This craving is difficult, if not impossible, to deny and gets stronger over time.
  5. Regular heroin use impacts the person’s ability to perform at work or school. Since much of their time is spent dealing with heroin, it becomes a central part of their lives.
  6. Even though heroin has adverse effects on the person’s social or familial bonds, they keep using it. They are aware of how much the drug affects their lives but are powerless to stop it.
  7. Tolerance to the drug increases with each use. The person tends to need more of the drug to get the same response from their body. Using the same volume of the drug as previously consumed will result in a diminished effect.
  8. The person gives up important social, recreational, and occupational activities to seek out the drug and get high.
  9. The person continues to use the drug, despite knowing the psychological and physical impact on them. 
  10. The user puts themselves in harm’s way or enters into hazardous tasks just to obtain the drug so that they can get high.
  11. Withdrawal will occur if the person stops taking the drug, characterized by either typical withdrawal symptoms or using some other substance to stop those symptoms from happening.

Recovering from Heroin Addiction: Can Heroin Addicts Recover on their Own?

Heroin addiction is a bad place to find oneself, but it’s not the end of the world. On the contrary, with the proper treatment, a person can successfully leave heroin addiction behind.

Most rehab facilities have structured programs that help recovering persons find their bearings. It usually starts with the first visit, where the facility creates a profile for the user. 

At The Discovery House, we ask a few questions about your background and have a mental health professional sit in to develop a mental profile we can use later in our recovery treatment. Addiction is a highly personal issue, and recovery treatment needs to cater to their specific addiction.


When a person first enters heroin addiction recovery, they must first remove the substance from their body. Unfortunately, since heroin makes itself indispensable to the brain, the body will fight against recovery. 

 Detoxification is the process of breaking physical dependence on heroin. A recovering person will go through managed withdrawal at a facility. The staff will do all they can to keep the person comfortable as they go through this.

Withdrawal symptoms may vary in duration and intensity depending on how long the person has been a user and how long they last consumed the drug. The facility’s medical staff is on-call to ensure that any issues that may arise can be dealt with immediately.

Detoxification may last anywhere from five to seven days, but the body will have purged itself of heroin at the end of it. The next step is to deal with psychological dependence.

Long-Term Treatment

Psychological treatment can be done at either inpatient or outpatient facilities. These treatments usually rely on behavioral therapies to help recovering persons cope with their urges and avoid using them in the future. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method that focuses on helping a person spot negative thoughts that may lead to their urges.

The premise is that, by spotting these thoughts early and avoiding them, the addicted person doesn’t feel that unerring urge to seek out the substance. The most important part of this therapy is that it gives a recovering person agency.

They no longer feel powerless and a slave to their urges. Instead, they can be proactive in how they approach their recovery.

Inpatient facilities benefit from keeping a recovering person away from situations or people that might cause them to relapse. Outpatient treatment facilities allow a recovering person to retain their lifestyle and job while they attend therapy sessions.

At the end of these structured therapy sessions, individuals will still need support to continue. Some reconcile with their families but must seek out others who are going through the same struggle. 

California is one of the best places to go through rehab because the recovering community is plentiful. There will always be someone who can identify with a particular situation and help the person overcome it.

The area is also home to a wide variety of recovery facilities so that a recovering individuals can find one that suits their needs. Recovery must be a personal choice, but once someone makes it, they will need help to see it through. Asking for help is not weakness; it’s proof of dedication to recovery.

Dealing with Long-Term Heroin Addiction

Dealing with Long-Term Heroin Addiction

Long-term heroin addiction can be overcome with the right tools and support. The Discovery House is dedicated to helping individuals trying to overcome their addiction in the most holistic way possible.

Our staff is trained to deal with detox and offers support for therapeutic approaches to addiction recovery. Our medical team has dealt with hundreds of cases, so you know you’re in experienced hands.

Are you ready to begin the road to recovery with staff that will guide you and helps you every step of the way? Contact us today to set up your appointment and let us help you take back control of your life.