Symptoms and Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is something that people see on their televisions every night in police dramas and intervention reality programs. It is also the drug that tends to show up in stories about celebrities who lose their lives at young ages. Despite the stigma and negative reputation of heroin, it is still widely used in the United States among people of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Heroin addiction can tear a family apart, and it can also result in death. The most important thing that people can do when it comes to this drug is to learn the facts about it and understand its warning signs, side effects, and dangers.

The scientific name for heroin is diacetylmorphine. Some of the street names for heroin are more familiar to pop culture: “smack,” “horse,” “black tar,” and “junk.” The actual drug that is synthesized from the opium poppy and becomes heroin is not dangerous to the touch. It only becomes dangerous when it is ingested into the body. The majority of the world’s heroin is synthesized from plants grown in Afghanistan, but Mexico produces a significant amount as well. Heroin starts off as a white powder that can be snorted. However, the low boiling point of heroin makes it easy to smoke or to turn into a liquid that can be injected into the body. The most common methods for taking heroin include smoking it through a small pipe, injecting it into an easily accessible vein in the arm, or injecting it between the toes. Heroin is illegal in the United States, so it must be purchased from an illicit drug dealer.

Some of the immediate effects of heroin use can be visibly seen during and after the heroin has been taken. Some of the more common signs include a shortness of breath, a labored walk that exaggerates the weight of the arms and legs, a noticeable change in attitude, and periods of extreme perception that are immediately followed by suddenly falling asleep. Signs that someone is using heroin that are unique to the drug itself include track marks on the arms or feet, shoelaces that seem to always go missing (they are being used to tie off the arm during injection), burn marks around the mouth, and a droopy appearance to the face.

There are more specific behavioral signs associated with heroin use that people should pay close attention to as well. Loved ones and close friends may notice that a heroin user suddenly neglects hobbies, misses important appointments, and lies to cover their habit. Heroin users will also start to lose self-esteem and shy away from public gatherings. There will also be slurred speech as well as an inability to get the user to make consistent eye contact. Heroin users who used to be trustworthy friends will suddenly start stealing money to support their habit. Another common behavioral change is wearing long-sleeved shirts and socks in warm summer weather. The heroin user wears the clothing to cover up the track marks that go with injecting the drug.

The visual and behavioral signs of heroin addiction can be alarming and even confusing to family members. But it is important to remember that a heroin user needs help to kick their habit immediately. The long-term use of heroin can lead to such side effects as significant and unexplainable weight loss, a persistent dry mouth, and cuts that never seem to heal because the heroin user is constantly scratching or picking at the affected areas. Another side effect of heroin use is the infections that can come from injecting the drug into the same spots on the arms or feet. After a while, those infections can become abscessed and start to spread. Women who become addicted to heroin will start to miss their menstrual cycles and may see their cycles disappear completely.

One of the more terrifying effects of heroin is the complications that can occur from using dirty needles. There is an issue with HIV infections among heroin users that loved ones of users cannot ignore. The possibility of a fatal heroin overdose is enough to frighten any family into taking action to help a loved one using heroin. But the added possibility that the user could contract AIDS is equally as terrifying.


Special thanks to Ryan for sharing this article!