How to Tell if Your Child is Abusing Heroin

26 May How to Tell if Your Child is Abusing Heroin

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Among the many difficult situations, you may encounter with a child, drug use and addiction is one of the hardest to deal with. Often, you may not even know that your child is a user or addict. And among the many substances your child may use and become addicted to, heroin is one of the hardest to kick.

But if you do suspect that your child is using or has become addicted to heroin, there are many potential signs you can look for. These vary from physical to mental and emotional. We’ll work through each to give you a clear picture of the many symptoms of heroin use and the warning signs of heroin abuse, to hopefully help you intervene before things go to full-blown addiction.

The Many Warning Signs of Heroin Abuse

As we mentioned above, there are a great many possible signs that your child is using heroin. The following list will help paint a picture of what a heroin user or addict looks like, and assist you in figuring out if your child may be abusing the drug. If you do come to such a conclusion, we’ll also go over how to confront your child and get help later on.

signs of heroin abuse

Be on the Lookout for Drug Paraphernalia

There are many materials and pieces of equipment that are involved in the use of heroin. If your child uses the drug on a regular basis, they will probably have their own supplies. Since there are a couple ways to take the drug, including smoking, snorting and injecting, there are several items to look for.

The paraphernalia involved in heroin use include:

  • Syringes and needles. These are the tools that are used to inject heroin.
  • Burnt spoons and lighters. Before a user can inject heroin, the drug has to be “cooked.” Users most often cook the drug using a spoon, which will show wear over time, since they tend to use the same one over and over.
  • Pipes. A user can also inhale the drug directly when it is cooked through a pipe of any kind, even pens may be used as pipes.
  • Any kind of strap or string. Another piece of equipment used when injecting heroin, users will often tie something around their arms to make their veins stand out. This can be anything from a belt to a rubber tie or shoelace. Look for shoes with the strings missing as an indicator.
  • Coffee grinders. When heroin is snorted instead of injected, the user has to grind it into a powder before they can use the drug.
  • Small plastic bags. Tiny plastic bags are most often what heroin will come in. If you find some, look for a white residue.

When injecting, some users will also use cotton swabs to soak up the drug. Scales, foil and large amounts of money can also be signs of heroin use or even the sale of the drug. If you do happen to find any of these items in your child’s room, you may want to confront them about your suspicions. We’ll discuss how to approach this later.

Pay Attention to Physical Changes That May Be a Sign of Heroin Use

There are many physical signs and symptoms of heroin use to look out for, but be aware that they are not unique to heroin use and abuse. The paraphernalia used to prepare and take heroin are the best identifiers for someone who is using the drug. Also, heroin users may initially be able to conceal physical signs and symptoms of their use, especially if they have a prior history of drug abuse.

That being said, heroin users often undergo physical changes. Here are the physical signs and symptoms that you may recognize when your child uses heroin.

  • Shortness of breath or shallow, slow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Constricted or small pupils
  • General disorientation
  • Cycles of hyper alertness followed by suddenly nodding off or being extremely drowsy
  • A droopy appearance, as if their extremities are heavy
  • Flushed skin
  • Difficulty communicating or following a conversation
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Red or bloodshot eyes
  • Coughing
  • Changes in sleep patterns, including insomnia or excessive sleep
  • Loss of appetite

If your child uses heroin over a period of time, he or she will start to develop a tolerance to the drug. This will lead to an increase in the frequency and quantity of heroin a user needs to take to feel the same high. And as tolerance grows and addiction sets in, there will be more obvious physical symptoms of heroin abuse present.

These may include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • A constant runny nose that cannot be explained by another illness or medical condition
  • Visible needle “track marks” on your child’s arms, appearing as bumps and redness at the injection sites. These will most often be seen on the inside of the elbow, but will also be found at the wrist, on the back of the hand, behind the knees and even between their toes. The injection sites can also become infected or develop an abscess.
  • Women can experience a loss of their menstrual cycle (amenorrhea)
  • Cuts, bruises or scabs from picking at their skin

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You May Also Notice Behavioral/Emotional Changes in Your Child if They are Using Heroin

Heroin can cause significant changes in your child’s demeanor. In fact, sudden changes in behavior or disposition are among the most noticeable signs of heroin use. If your child is normally pleasant, they may seem to change their personality and become hostile or angry. They might start to have a nice circle of friends and discontinue their usual hobbies and replace them with new ones.

They may also want more privacy than usual. Behavioral changes can even include your child suddenly dropping in school performance and perhaps ceasing to attend at all. Worse yet, they may have a growing suspicious need for money and seem to have problems with school authorities or police.

Again, these behavioral changes are not unique to heroin use, and can be hard to decipher, especially if you have a teenager, whose behavior is already unpredictable. But if you already suspect heroin use for physical reasons, witnessing the following signs in your child may seal the deal.

The behavioral and emotional signs of heroin abuse and addiction include:

Growing Apathy

Heroin will make a once motivated and engaged child seem to not care about anything. They will be numb to any future goals they once had.

Changes in Personality

A normally sweet and calm child can turn hostile. Heroin can cause massive mood swings, and the most common targets for the aggression is friends and loved ones, who have to take the brunt of the misplaced blame. Your child may also start to lie often or exhibit deceptive behavior. The behavior changes can range from outward rage to severe withdrawn depression.

Becoming Socially Withdrawn

They will not engage in conversations as they normally would and will avoid eye contact. When they do speak, their voice may seem slurred and the conversation might overall be incoherent. They may no longer attend family events and quit their normally beloved sports, hobbies or school activities.

Changing Their Social Circle

Not only will they withdraw from you, they’ll also withdraw from the friends they’ve always known and hang out with new people you’ve never heard of. This is because heroin users typically hang around other heroin users. They may have lost their friends because they didn’t want to use with them or be around it, so they adopted new friends who did. Hanging out with other users makes them feel accepted, and they can isolate together rather than be completely alone. If there are people you don’t know coming into your home and quickly leaving, this could be a sign of heroin use, or even the sale of drugs.

Changes in School and Work Performance

Heroin can consume your child’s entire life. If they become addicted, they won’t want to do anything but use the drug. This will make even a very good student start skipping school and perhaps even drop out completely. Though once driven, they will now have a lack of interest in their academics and only focus on getting their next fix. The same goes for calling out of work.

A Decreased Attention to Hygiene and Physical Appearance

When a person uses heroin, their looks will deteriorate as their usage of the drug progresses. They will start to wither and seem to no longer care about their hygiene. They may also wear long pants and long sleeves even in summer in an effort to hide their needle marks. This will cause their self-esteem to plummet as well.

Encountering Financial Issues

While heroin is a relatively drug, it can quickly become expensive as a person uses it more and more. A child on heroin may start to borrow money or even steal from you. They may even begin to sell your family possessions and burn through their savings. Be on the lookout for missing jewelry, credit cards and missing checks as well.

Health Issues Related to Heroin Abuse

Chronic heroin use puts your child at risk for several medical conditions, especially if they are injecting the drug. These include HIV, Hepatitis C and blood infections. Prolonged users will also experience collapsed veins, which will make them start to inject the drug directly into their muscles. At that point, your child may be at risk for overdose. (To be clear, there is a danger of overdose at any time when using a drug like heroin, but this is particularly alarming behavior.)

What to Do if You Suspect Your Child is Using Heroin

No parent wants to believe their child is using heroin, but denial and disbelief only endangers your child further. Do not downplay the significance or ignore the signs — heroin can be life threatening. Just a few uses of the drug can turn into a full-blown addiction. If you suspect heroin use or abuse, your child will need treatment immediately.

If you’ve educated yourself on the signs of heroin use, and are confident your child is indeed using the drug, the next step is an intervention and treatment. This enhances your child’s chances for a successful recovery.

How to Confront Your Child About Their Heroin Use

It’s important to not attack your child for their use of heroin. This can increase the alienation and actually make the problem worse. Your best course of action is to stay calm and talk with your child about your concerns in a comfortable environment. You can involve other family members for a full intervention if you wish, and professional help is available to teach you how to stage a successful intervention.

While you need to be compassionate, you also have to be firm, as treatment is the only choice they have. Offer your love and support, but make sure they understand that they have no options — they have to get help to end their heroin use. And make sure you continue to show them love while they recover.

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Confronting your child about their heroin use will be extremely difficult, which is why seeking the help of a professional can be useful. This person is either an interventionist or counselor who will teach you everything from how to set up the room to how to talk to your child. It is often recommended that they be there during the actual intervention to help moderate the proceedings.

Your child may have adverse reactions to an intervention. Some will want help, but be afraid to admit they have a problem. Having a calm conversation will help them be at ease and realize they need treatment. Still, others will be more stubborn, but you still have to be firm about them seeking help. They may have no idea the negative impacts heroin use can have on your life as their parent.

There are many treatment centers available across the country to help your child recover from heroin use. Your child’s recovery program will depend on where they are in their usage. If they have only used a couple times, they may not require a full detox program but if they are addicted to heroin, they will need to go into a treatment facility to recover.


“Warning Signs Your Teen is Abusing Heroin.” Muir Wood Treatment Center. 11 Mar. 2019.

“15 Warning Signs That Your Kid May Be Using Drugs.” 11 Mar. 2019.

“Look for the Signs of Heroin Use.” Lets Face Heroin. 11 Mar. 2019.

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