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Signs of Heroin Abuse

Heroin is a powerful opiate refined from naturally occurring morphine extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant.  Abuse of the drug is a serious public health problem in the United States. Major health problems that can result from heroin abuse include miscarriages, heart infections and death from overdose. People who inject the drug also risk infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Heroin usually appears as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance, known as “black tar heroin.”  Its most common routes of administration include injection, smoking and snorting.


Regular use of heroin produces tolerance (needing more and more of the drug to have the same effect). Over time, the body becomes physically and psychologically dependent on the substance. When dependent users stop using heroin, they commonly experience severe withdrawal symptoms including:

  • restlessness
  • muscle and bone pain
  • hot and cold flashes
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • insomnia

Identifying Heroin Abuse

When heroin is pure, it is a white powder that usually contains other substances like glucose, talcum powder or even brick dust. Impure heroin on the other hand is a brown powder and contains caffeine. If looking for signs of heroin abuse, you may look for the small packets of paper that it comes wrapped in. Heroin is usually injected, smoked or snorted.  Heroin addicts normally will choose this method of ingestion because they get the quickest rush, (7-8 seconds) while if they inject into a muscle they have to wait (5-8 minutes).  Additional signs of heroin abuse include the paraphernalia it’s self. You may see hypodermic needles, cotton balls for straining the drug or water, spoons and bottle caps that the user uses for cooking the heroin into a liquid form.  While smoking and snorting heroin doesn’t give the user that immediate rush, all three forms of this drug abuse are addictive. The paraphernalia you might find if the user is snorting or smoking include razor blades, rolled dollar bills, pipes and straws.

While you may not find the physical evidence of the heroin addiction, you may need to be aware of common physiological signs that usually exist too. The user may complain of dry mouth and have a droopy look about them. They may become disoriented and have bouts of wakefulness followed by drowsy periods. Constricted pupils and in some cases a runny nose or episodes of nausea all follow the usage of heroin.

The heroin addict may clean up their evidence and use in private so as not to alert anyone of their illegal habit. But, there are often other signs that family and friends may notice that indicate there is a drug addiction problem going on. Look for a messy appearance and hygiene issues. You may also notice missing cash and valuables or a constant request to borrow money. The drug abuser may have little or no motivation and have no interest in former friends. Lying, deception and anger towards others are also common in heroin addicted users. However, keep in mind, many of these signs could also be typical of high school aged behaviors and should not singularly be taken as a sign of addictions.

Because heroin is the type of drug that it’s easy elevates an addict’s tolerance, it takes progressively more heroin to achieve the high that was once achieved with only a small amount of it. That’s why it’s so important to identify the signs of heroin addiction early, before the physical breakdown occurs from the massive amounts of the drug needed for an addict to get their rush.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

The first thing that a heroin addict is going to have to do on the start to recovery is detox their body. This means they need to cleanse their body of the damaging toxins that heroin contains. There are two main ways to go through heroin detox, medically and naturally. Natural detox is much like the smoker who goes cold turkey. The user simply stops using the drug all together and slowly their body adjusts to life without the drug. This is a very difficult way for a heroin addict to come off heroin and they will most certainly experience stressful, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that have driven many back to heroin – just to stop the sickness and discomfort. While the symptoms from withdrawal are almost never life-threatening, they can make a heroin addict want to end their life. Heroin addicts in withdrawal experience depression, chills, sweats, anxiety, insomnia, extreme nausea and sometimes even thoughts of suicide or hallucinations.

Often in heroin detox facilities, the detoxification process will be assisted by other medications like benzodiazepines such as Klonopin, Xanax, and Valium to take the edge off and help heroin addicts in withdrawal to lax and hopefully sleep.

The other method of detox that a user or his family may want to consider is medicinal. It uses a methadone treatment whereby methadone, a very powerful and long lasting synthetic opiate is administered in systematically reduced amounts until the user has overcome their physical addiction to heroin. The main reason former abusers choose this method is the reduced withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification process.  While arguable, the theory behind using methadone to detox from heroin addiction allows an addict to reduce his/her tolerance to opiates, thereby making the final opiate detoxification easier since the amount of opiates administered is technically lower.

For the addict who has realized what heroin addiction can do their lives and the lives of those who love them, there are a variety of treatment centers available to help in the difficult process ahead. Many addicts first need to get out of an abusive household environment to attack their addiction. For those individuals, a residential rehabilitation center may be the best answer. For others, who need the support of their family and friends to help conquer their heroin addiction, an outpatient program with less restrictions may be the better answer.

There are also specialty programs for beating heroin addiction that are growing in number and popularity around America. These include programs specially for teens, women, and even holistic detox facilities. Most programs, niche or traditional, last about 30-60 days. However, many times, this simply is not enough time for addictions to be properly addressed as most addicts have a history of relapse and may require a more long term approach to healing and adapting to the world’s problems without a drug to help dull stresses and pains. A 12-step after care program or follow up counseling is very important to the ultimate success of overcoming heroin addiction.

If you or someone you know is addicted to this dangerous drug, it’s imperative that heroin addiction treatment be sought immediately. Timely intervention to begin the detoxification process is critical to any heroin addict’s health. Please call us at 1-800-610-4673 to speak with a trained, caring professional who will find you the help you need.  We are here to help.