Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Bayside Marin is a premier rehabilitation center dedicated to the treatment of heroin addiction in California. Bayside Marin blends evidence-based treatments with alternative, holistic modalities to comprehensively treat all aspects of our client’s life.

Understanding Heroin

Learn about heroin and substance addiction

Heroin is a dangerous and addictive opioid drug that is derived from the opium poppy plant. It commonly appears as either a white or brown powder or as a sticky tar-like substance. The drug can be abused by being smoked, snorted, or injected. When it is ingested, heroin is converted by the body into morphine. In this converted form, the drug interacts with receptors in the brain that control the release of hormones associated with pleasure, excitement, blood pressure, and respiration.

As is the case with many opioids, heroin has strong addictive properties. Users can begin to develop both tolerance and dependence after using the drug only a few times. Once a person becomes dependent upon heroin, he or she will experience strong cravings and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the drug. Professional treatment for heroin abuse is strongly recommended.


Heroin addiction statistics

Experts estimate that about 4 million Americans have used heroin at least once their lives, about 350,000 have used heroin in the past year, and about 125,000 have used heroin in the past month. First-time use of heroin has increased dramatically in recent years. In the early years of the 21st century, about 90,000 Americans tried heroin for the first time each year. By 2013, annual first-time use had risen to more than 150,000.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that nearly 70,000 deaths can be attributed to opioid overdose every year. WHO statistics also indicate that heroin abuse is the leading cause of opioid dependence throughout the world.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction

No single cause has been identified as causing heroin addiction. As is the case with other forms of substance abuse and addiction, several factors may lead a person to abuse and become addicted to heroin. The following are among the causes and risk factors that may increase the likelihood that a person will become addicted to heroin:

Genetic: Genetics are believed to play a role in predisposing a person to drug addiction, with several studies suggesting that individuals whose parents developed a heroin addiction are at increased risk for the disease. One such study found that children of addicted parents are eight times as likely as children of non-addicted parents to develop an addiction to heroin or another drug.

Environmental: External or environmental influences can also increase a person’s likelihood for becoming addicted to drugs like heroin. Family history of addiction can be both a genetic and environmental cause, as individuals who are exposed to drug use at a young age are more likely to engage in this behavior themselves. Living in impoverished communities, experiencing high levels of stress and pressure, and experiencing abuse or other forms of trauma can also raise a person’s risk for developing a dependency on heroin or another drug

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of heroin abuse
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Abuse of other substances
  • Depression
  • Gender: Heroin addiction is more common among men than among women
  • Poor coping skills
  • Low self-esteem
  • Associating with peers who abuse drugs

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

Addiction can be a deceptive disease, and drug addicts can become highly adept at hiding the signs of their self-destructive behaviors. However, certain signs and symptoms are likely to eventually appear. The following are among the more common indicators that a person may be struggling with an addiction to heroin:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Wearing long sleeves even in hot weather (to hide evidence of injection drug abuse)
  • Wearing long pants even in hot weather (also to hide signs of intravenous drug abuse)
  • Acting secretive, unaccountable, or otherwise deceptive
  • Expressing out-of-character aggressiveness or irritability
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Struggling with unexplained financial problems
  • Possession of drug paraphernalia

Physical symptoms:

  • Persistent scabs and sores (from injection drug use)
  • Constricted pupils
  • Drowsiness to the point of unconsciousness
  • Bloodshot eyes and runny nose
  • Nausea and constipation
  • Drastic weight loss

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Unexplained euphoria (usually followed by periods of disorientation)
  • Difficulties with concentration and focus
  • Impaired ability to make good decisions
  • Hallucinations

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously very important
  • Drastic mood swings


Effects of heroin addiction

Heroin addiction can wreak havoc on virtually all areas of a person’s life, including his or her physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial wellbeing. The following are among the many common negative effects of heroin abuse and addiction:

  • Blood-borne illnesses such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS
  • Scars, scabs, abscesses, and other dermatological problems
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Breathing problems
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Extreme cramping
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Financial woes
  • Legal problems
  • Relationship issues
  • Onset of mental health condition symptoms

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

Addiction rarely occurs in a vacuum. The following are among the more common co-occurring disorders that may accompany heroin dependency:

  • Other substance use disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: Abrupt cessation of heroin can cause the onset of several withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Powerful drug cravings
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Excessive sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Depression
  • Delusions and hallucinations

Effects of heroin overdose: Individuals who abuse heroin can quickly develop tolerance to the drug, which means that they will need to take increasingly larger or more powerful doses in order to experience the same effect. One of the many negative side effects of developing tolerance is that it increases the likelihood that a person will suffer a heroin overdose. In addition to the risk of death, heroin overdose also exposes users to the following effects:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Decreased heartbeat and pulse
  • Severe disorientation, to the point of delirium
  • Uncontrollable muscle spasms
  • Coma

I was so lucky to have gone to this treatment center. Every single staff member, including the chefs, were incredibly helpful in my heroin addiction recovery.

– Anonymous Client
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