Heroin addiction can severely impact a person’s life and the lives of their friends and family.

A person experiencing heroin addiction may not wish to discuss the fact that they take heroin with others due to fear of stigma or judgment. However, talking with a person in this situation and supporting them in getting treatment could help save their life.

Getting treatment can help a person develop a plan for a healthier relationship with heroin, whether that is abstinence or reducing their use.

This article will explain the signs of heroin addiction, including mental and physical signs. It will also describe how a person or their loved ones can get support.

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Signs of heroin addiction can include many physical and mental symptoms and changes to a person’s lifestyle.

These may include:

  • intense cravings or a strong desire to take opioids
  • issues fulfilling obligations at home, work, or school related to taking heroin
  • continuing to take heroin despite it causing physical and psychological issues

Withdrawal signs to look out for

Heroin is an opioid. This drug class includes the following:

Addiction is the most severe form of substance use disorder associated with opioids, such as heroin.

People with an opioid use disorder experience an intense, overwhelming desire to take opioids. They also have increased tolerance to opioids and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking them.

A person showing signs of heroin withdrawal may exhibit changes in behavior, such as increased aggression, or physical symptoms, such as shaking and sweating.

Learn more about heroin addiction and opioid use.

If a person thinks a loved one may have a heroin addiction, they can look out for physical signs, including:

A person who takes heroin may also experience:

Physical signs of heroin withdrawal might include:

Learn more about heroin.

A person experiencing a heroin addiction may display behavior changes or an altered mood. For instance, they may become more:

Some people with a heroin addiction may become secretive or lie to avoid people finding out.

Mental signs that a person is taking heroin may include confusion and euphoria.

People who are in withdrawal may exhibit signs of agitation and anxiety.

A person with a heroin addiction may develop new friendships with people who also take the drug.

They may also feel they have no choice but to steal money and valuables from people around them to pay for heroin. This may lead them to experience legal trouble.

Heroin paraphernalia is the equipment a person uses to get heroin into their body.

It may include:

  • a small spoon
  • needles
  • tin foil
  • pipes
  • a plastic pen case or a cut-up drinking straw

Additionally, a person may be able to identify heroin from the packaging it comes in, such as:

  • balloons
  • folded up aluminum squares
  • gelatin capsules
  • small plastic bags

People usually take heroin because it can do the following:

  • relieve pain
  • induce euphoria
  • provide relief from opioid withdrawal symptoms

All the other effects of heroin on the body tend to be negative. These include:

  • Respiratory depression: This is probably heroin’s most severe effect. The drug can cause a person’s breathing rate to get so slow that it no longer effectively exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. This is fatal in an increasing number of people with a heroin addiction.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Heroin also slows the movement of the gastrointestinal tract, which causes constipation.
  • Fluid in the lungs: Some people with a heroin addiction can experience fluid in the lungs, which can be severe or life threatening.
  • Compartment syndrome: This syndrome occurs when pressure within the muscles reaches dangerous levels, causing pain.
  • Cognitive issues: Some research suggests long-term heroin use can cause cognitive issues such as memory problems and difficulty making decisions.
  • Neurological issues: Heroin may also cause neurological disorders, such as toxic leukoencephalopathy, which is progressive damage to the white matter of the brain, particularly the layer known as myelin.

A person can also develop extreme physiological dependence on heroin, meaning their body struggles to function without it.

If a person experiences an overdose or poisoning due to taking heroin, doctors will administer naloxone (Narcan).

Treating heroin addiction usually involves one of two medications: buprenorphine or methadone. Doctors consider buprenorphine to be more accessible and to have better outcomes.

Behavioral therapies can also effectively treat heroin use disorder, especially alongside medication.

For instance, contingency management involves rewarding people with points for negative drug tests. They can then exchange the points for things that encourage healthy living.

Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help modify a person’s expectations and behaviors related to taking heroin. It can also give them skills for coping with stressful events in life.

Doctors tailor their treatment approach to the individual needs of the person.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a free national helpline. The service is confidential and available 24-7, every day of the year.

It offers a treatment referral and information service in English and Spanish to people experiencing substance use disorders and the loved ones of people with these conditions.

People can also visit the Get Smart About Drugs website to find various resources.

Heroin addiction can have severe consequences for people and their loved ones. While this issue can be challenging to talk about, having a conversation with a person about their relationship to heroin may help save their life.

Signs that suggest a person may have a heroin addiction include intense cravings and continually taking heroin despite physical and psychological issues related to the drug.

Heroin addiction can lead to death. It is important to help support a person experiencing this form of substance use disorder to seek treatment as soon as possible.