Signs a Loved One Is Addicted to Heroin

05 Mar Signs a Loved One Is Addicted to Heroin

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For the last decade, America’s battle with opiate addiction has evolved from a mounting crisis to a full-blown epidemic. This rampant scourge has laid waste to communities and families in every state, city, and town, claiming victims from all strata of society. None of the drugs within the opiate family have caused as much death and devastation as heroin, which, according to the CDC, accounted for more than 15,000 deaths in 2017 alone.

Because opiates can enslave anyone, it is crucial that you keep a vigilant eye out for the signs of addiction in your loved ones. While it is natural to assume the best in those close to you, it is wise to acknowledge that even the noblest of people can fall into addiction. To that end, we will discuss the signs that your loved one is using heroin as well as the steps you can take to help free them from the clutches of drug abuse.

Signs a Loved One is Addicted to Heroin

Naturally, the signs of heroin addiction will differ among users as a result of their genetics, frequency of use, regular dosage, and their level of heroin dependence. That said, below you will find the most common signs of heroin addiction.

Changes in Appearance

Long-term heroin abuse often manifests outwardly and is one of the most difficult drug additions to obscure. Physical changes caused by heroin abuse include:

  • A constant runny nose
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Bruises
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Flushed skin
  • Scabs from picking at their skin
  • Serious weight loss
  • Skin infections from pathogenic bacteria from unsterilized IVs
  • Vascular scarring AKA “track marks” on arms or legs from IVs

Physical Symptoms

Somewhat similar to appearance changes, there are physical symptoms that a heroin user will typically exhibit. Common physical symptoms are:

  • Extreme itching
  • General sluggishness
  • Hyperactivity followed by exhaustion
  • Moving slowly
  • Nausea
  • New-onset severe acute asthma
  • Regular respiratory infections
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting

Emotional Symptoms

Over time, opioid use can change a person’s personality and artificially alter one’s mood. In some cases, Heroin abuse can cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. The most common emotional symptoms of heroin abuse includes:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy or lack of motivation
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Euphoria
  • Hallucinations
  • Hostility toward others
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia

Signs of Heroin High

If your loved one is currently high, they can exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Diminished motor coordination ability
  • Disorientation
  • Erratic changes in behavior
  • Extreme euphoria, eyes rolling in the back of their head
  • Feelings of wellbeing and satisfaction
  • Inability to focus or have a conversation
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Nodding off
  • Pupil constriction
  • Sleepiness
  • Slow speech
  • Slurred speech

Signs and Symptoms of Withdrawal

Over time, heroin completely alters the body’s neurochemical makeup. A person begins to depend on the drug to feel normal. As a result, when the drug is no longer in its system, one’s brain and body will start to malfunction, thus manifesting as withdrawal symptoms. If your loved one is experiencing withdrawal, it will be challenging for him or her to hide the apparent discomfort being felt. Signs of heroin withdrawal include:

  • A tendency to lash out verbally
  • Complaints of feeling achy or in pain  
  • Emotional instability capped by an inability to control mood
  • Experiencing stomach cramps
  • Extreme shakiness and inability to control hands and arms
  • Fever denoted by a flushed face and excessive sweating
  • General restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea marked by frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Seizures

Personality Changes

Substance abuse problems can wreak havoc on a person’s daily life, causing one to make bad decision after bad decision in order to satisfy his or her cravings. Common behavioral indicators of heroin addiction include:

  • Failure to fulfill obligations – They are derelict in their duties when it comes to work, school, or home. This may result in failing classes, being fired from work, or having broken relationships.
  • Ignoring Physical and Mental Health Problems – Your loved one continues to use heroin despite the apparent adverse risk factors. Chronic heroin use can lead to:  
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Depression
  • Hep B and C
  • HIV/AIDs
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Lung problems
  • Memory loss
  • Social isolation – They begin spending most of their time by themselves, often as a result of guilt and a desire to keep their highly addictive habit a secret.  
  • Financial problems – Heroin addicts regularly need to borrow money to finance their habit. Often the loans will remain unpaid despite promises of recompense.  
  • A new friend group – Many heroin addicts will begin spending time with a new crowd who have similar interests, namely getting high.
  • Giving up their passions – It is common for heroin addicts to stop doing social activities or hobbies that they may have once cared about deeply. The things that once gave them joy and purpose become less important than their habit.
  • Neglect of hygiene – Typically, heroin users will stop caring about their personal appearance. They will avoid showering, exercising, eating healthy, and maintaining a healthy sleeping cycle.
  • Acting suspiciously – Heroin users regularly act erratically. If they live in your house, they will sneak in and out at odd hours, making random excuses about why they were out.  

Heroin Paraphernalia

In order to use heroin, your loved one may need devices or equipment to carry, store, or administer the substance. Although a heroin user will try and hide his or her drugs and paraphernalia, it may be difficult for him or her to successfully keep these things hidden, especially if the person is living in your home. Paraphernalia you should be on the lookout for include:

  • The drug itself – Heroin in its purest form is a fine white powder; however, it is often cut with additives or dilutants that turn it grey, brown or black.
  • Transport or storage Items – Balloons, small baggies, or tinfoil squares are regularly used to hold the powdery substance.
  • Injection Equipment – The most common way that heroin is administered is by injection. A user will need:
  • Rubber tubing or a belt – For tying off the arm to make their veins more visible and more accessible for injection
  • Syringes or needles – For shooting the heroin
  • Burnt spoon or cookers – For liquefying the heroin
  • Lighters
  • Cotton balls – To filter the heroin
  • Smoking Equipment – The secondary method for heroin administration is smoking. A user who smokes will have:
  • A pipe
  • Burnt aluminum foil with a black stain
  • Burnt soda can
  • A glass straw – For inhaling the heroin vapors
  • Snorting Equipment – Snorting heroin is dangerous but not regularly done. Items for snorting include:
  • Straws or rolled up dollar bills: to snort the powder
  • Razor blades: to cut the rock into powder
  • Credit cards or cards with residue: used to cut or create lines
  • Desks or plates with the powder residue on them


If you are worried that your loved one might have a substance abuse problem, one of the most significant hindrances you may face is that he or she is unlikely to be honest about the fact. The guilt he or she might feel is overwhelmed by the irresistible need to satisfy such cravings, so do not take it personally when you sense you are being lied to. It is a normal defense mechanism for someone addicted to heroin to deny or flat out lie about drug abuse. This happens because:

  • They want to avoid confrontation – Heroin addiction can regularly be used as a coping strategy for dealing with the stresses of life. Addicts often find it easier to avoid confronting their behavior instead of dealing with the inevitable emotional and physical struggles that they will face on the road towards sobriety.  
  • They are scared of how you will react – Most people dealing with heroin addiction know that what they are doing is dangerous and are well aware of the fact that you would not approve of their actions. As a result, they incorrectly believe that you will judge them or no longer love them because of the poor choices they made. So, they might lie in the mistaken belief that it is protecting you.
  • They are resistant to change – This is often true regardless of whether a person is addicted to heroin or some other substance. Addiction happens as a result of repeated drug use, wherein a person continues to regularly use until they reach a point that they are both physically and psychologically dependent upon the drug. Although addiction can occur at a much faster rate with heroin, there is still a pattern of behavior that forms and becomes difficult to break.  
  • They are scared of withdrawals – One of the most common reasons why a heroin user will lie about their habit is that they fear the inevitable discomfort of withdrawals from detox. Any addict who has taken the drug long enough to become dependent has dealt with the painful withdrawal symptoms in between doses. Many users fear the pain of detoxification so much that they will do or say anything to avoid undergoing any type of treatment program or behavioral therapy.  

Studies show that if you can create an open dialogue about your loved one’s drug addiction, it can have a positive effect on decreasing his or her heroin intake. Researchers found, “Among the 69 participants who completed the studies, self-reported heroin use decreased from an average of 6.8 (+/− 4.2) bags per day at baseline to 1.7 (+/− 2.0) bags per day at the one-month follow-up visit (z = −7.0; p < 0.001). At the one-month follow-up visit, 42% of the participants (n=29) reported having stopped using heroin.” By helping your loved one be honest about his or her drug use, you can help the person confront such related problems.

Getting Help

If you recognize any of the symptoms of heroin abuse discussed above, it is crucial that you act immediately. Getting help takes place in four vital stages:

  • The Intervention – An intervention is often required to help your loved realize the need to get clean from heroin. The purpose of this is not to judge or make the person feel badly, but to clearly exhibit the detrimental effects of substance use disorders. The road to recovery can only begin after the person has acknowledged his or her problem requires treatment.
  • Meeting a Specialist – The next step towards sobriety requires that you and your loved one meet with a specialist to chart the recovery course. The medical specialist will test the person’s physical and psychological health, assess various heroin addiction treatment options, and formulate the best plan to get clean.  
  • Detox and Rehab – To overcome heroin addiction, your loved one will need to wean off of his or her physical dependence to heroin. Since this can be a dangerous and uncomfortable process, the specialist will likely recommend that your loved one detoxes at an inpatient rehab center such as the Georgia Drug Detox facility. This allows your loved one to detox safely under the medical supervision of trained staff. Once free from physical dependence, your loved one will spend the remaining time in rehab learning healthy ways to combat addiction and cravings. This includes:
  • Attending one-on-one and group therapy sessions
  • Hobbies and activities
  • Healthy eating and exercise
  • Coping mechanism education
  • A drug and temptation-free environment
  • Aftercare – The true battle for sobriety begins after your loved one has left the safe harbor of the rehab center and returned to the real world. To remain vigilant in their fight against relapse, he or she will be strongly encouraged to attend regular AA or substance abuse meetings as well as one-on-one therapy sessions.

Don’t Wait

Being able to spot the signs of heroin addiction will not matter if you do not act on that revelation immediately. If you do see the signs, do not wait. Just remember, heroin addiction IS treatable. Stage an intervention, see a specialist, and get your loved one into rehab. Don’t try to detox from heroin at home. Just remember, heroin addiction is treatable with the right care and rehab program. Go to a professional rehab clinic that has experience with your type of addiction. The knowledgeable in-house experts at Georgia Drug Detox have helped countless heroin users find freedom from addiction, and they can help you too.


Houchins, Joe. “Symptoms and Signs of Drug Abuse.” 15 Mar. 2019.

Christiansen, Thomas. “How Do I Know If Someone Is On Heroin?” The Recovery Village. 7 Feb. 2019. 15 Mar. 2019.

“Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use.” Narconon. 15 Mar. 2019.

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