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Heroin Addiction: Everything You Should Know About Signs of Heroin Use

Heroin addiction is a severe and deadly disease that takes lives every year. Drug abuse has been on the rise since Covid 19 and the stressors that come with living through a pandemic and now post pandemic. Many individuals who use heroin become addicted very quickly.

Signs and symptoms of heroin use can damage tissue in the brain as well as cause physical problems in the body. How can you tell if someone is using heroin? A distinct factor of heroin use is small pupils, and severe drowsiness. You can notice someone has withdrawn from their normal life and has become more secretive.

Although heroin can be lethal, treatment and recovery from heroin abuse is possible with dedication and patience. Having a strong support system is key for entering and staying in treatment.

What are the signs of Heroin Use?

Heroin addiction can take your life, and this affects not only the user, but the family of the user, their community, and society. How do you know if someone you know, or love is using heroin?

What are the signs of heroin use?

Signs of heroin use or abuse may look physical, may be psychological, or even behavioral and most of the time will have signs of all three.

Physical signs of heroin use are:

  • Track marks on the body from injection
  • Frequent sedation of the individual
  • Clouded thinking
  • Flu-like symptoms between uses

After using heroin for quite some time, addiction occurs. Signs of being high from heroin include small pupils and watery eyes so looking at their eyes will be an indicator to know if heroin use is occurring. Other signs include flushed skin, runny nose, itchy skin, and relaxation or drowsiness.

Behavioral signs of heroin abuse include:

  • Increased secretiveness
  • Life revolving around the drug
  • May be concerned about money
  • Skips out on work or family

A person who becomes dependent on heroin in 6 to 20 times more likely to die than the general population.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive and illegal drug with a very high addiction rate and potential. Heroin gets processed from morphine which is a naturally occurring substance that gets extracted from the seed pod of varying poppy plants.

Heroin is sold as a white or blown powder that is sometimes cut with sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Black tar heroin is a sticky black substance that is what’s injected by users.

How Heroin is Used

Highly pure heroin is generally sniffed or snorted and may be more appealing to new users rather than injecting into veins. Impure heroin like black tar heroin is dissolved, diluted, and injected into veins, muscles, or under the skin.

People oftentimes use heroin in combination with other drugs such as alcohol or cocaine which is called a “speedball”, and this raises the risk for overdose even higher.

Why are People Using Heroin?

Heroin is part of a class of drugs called opioids. Opioids are also pain relievers such as codeine or oxycodone. Many use heroin as an easier way to relive their pain. Heroin use and overdose deaths have increased in the last ten years.

Heroin addiction is less likely to be ascribed to recreational use like marijuana or ecstasy and more often the addiction stems from underlying health conditions or mental health problems. Individuals use heroin to self-medicate mental illness as well as to avoid pain, emotional discomfort, for its relaxing euphoric effects, and more.

What are the Effects of Heroin?

Heroin binds to specific neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of happiness. When heroin is taken, the drug causes changes in the center of the brain specifically the reward center, and dopamine become released creating a drug reinforcement behavior.

The consequences of heroin depend on how much is used, wherein the brain or body it binds, how quickly or strongly it binds, how long it binds, how quickly it gets to the body or brain, and what happens after the high.


When heroin reaches the brain, it attaches to opioid receptors in our brain. Regular or chronic heavy use changes the way our brain functions and can even lead to possible brain damage. Using heroin repeatedly causes:

  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  •  Addiction

Feelings of rush and clouded thinking are two of the most common things that happen when using heroin.


So, we understand the effects heroin has on our brain, but what about our body?

Opioid receptors are located in the brain, the brain stem, down the spinal cord, in our lungs, and intestines. This means using heroin can result in a wide variety of physical problems related to breathing or other basic life functions. Some of these can be very serious.

When heroin is mixed with alcohol, short term effects include:

  • Coma
  • Dangerously slowed breathing

Long Term effects look like this:

  • Sleep problems
  • Damage to nose tissue from snorting heroin
  • Heart infection
  • Constipation
  • Abscesses
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Sexual problems
  • Lung problems

If you use heroin chronically, you must be aware of the consequences to your brain and body which can make recovery more difficult but still possible.

Short Term Effects

Those who use heroin typically receive feelings of pleasure called a “rush” and the intensity of this rush is a factor of how much heroin is used, and how rapidly the drug enters the brain and binds to receptors.

Rush is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, a heavy feeling overall, then after these symptoms occur, there is drowsiness for several hours. During this time, your mental function is clouded, your heart function slows, breathing is also severely slowed which can be fatal and lead to coma or permanent brain damage.

Long Term Effects

Heroin creates changes in our brain creating long-term imbalances that may not be easily reversed. Studies have shown that some deterioration of our brains white matter when using heroin.iii The white matter in our brain may affect the way we make decisions, our ability to regulate behavior, and our responses to stressful situations.

Heroin causes profound instances of tolerance to the body and leads to physical dependence making it very deadly to users.

Other Potential Effects

Long term use of heroin creates withdrawal and this man occur hours ater after using heroin. Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps (typically when you stop using abruptly)
  • Leg movements

Severe withdrawal occurs about 24 to 48 hours after your last high and subsides about a week  later, although some symptoms can persist for months. Repeated use can lead to a heroin use disorder which is a chronic relapsing of heroin that causes uncontrollable drug seeking and this goes beyond dependence.

What is the Cause of Heroin Addiction?

Many individuals become addicted to heroin because it’s easy to obtain and its highly addictive. Use has grown with 18- to 25-year-olds. Another reason individuals may use heroin is for its euphoric effects. These causes may vary based on:

  • Mental health
  • Stability
  • Family with addiction disorders
  • Trauma
  • Financial or housing problems

Triggers are often a reason for relapse or continued use. Triggers refer to events or emotions associated with using. When an individual experiences a trigger it can lead to past memories or impulses that can lead to use.

What are some of the triggers that may lead to heroin use?

  1. Environmental triggers: your home or your neighborhood, public places or areas associated with buying drugs
  2.  Social triggers: loss of a relationships or job, or opportunity. Contact with an abusive person, or conflicts and arguments
  3. Emotional triggers: depression, loneliness, guilt, anxiety, or fear

Heroin replaces health coping mechanism and becomes an outlet for negative stress.

Who’s at Risk for a Heroin Addiction?

Is it possible that some people are at higher risk for addiction than others? The answer is yes, although its not something that should be assumed because anyone can develop a drug use disorder.

Individuals who have recently used heroin for the first time or in the past week are mor likely to develop an addiction. Individuals with emotional pain, psychological trauma, previous physical trauma, previous addiction, and mental health disorders are also more likely to develop addiction.

Another group of individuals at risk are those of whom are already on pain medications or opiates.

What are some other factors?

  • Peer pressure
  • High levels of stress
  • Family history with drugs

If you or someone you love is dealing with any of the above stressors, you should check in on them or enter therapy services. It’s important to have a strong support system when dealing with heavy drug addiction.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Addiction?

Have you noticed the signs of someone using heroin and want to help? Maybe you are a chronic user and want to understand what heroin does to the brain and body. If you are someone you

love is experiencing an addiction disorder from heroin its important to get them help and consider treatment.

What are the symptoms of heroin addiction?

A person who uses heroin will experience psychological, physical and behavioral symptoms. The following include:

  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Itching
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Irrationality
  • Social withdrawal
  • Stealing
  • Aggressiveness
  • Spending time with new people who also use heroin
  • Use of heroin slang terms

Signs of heroin use are easy to spot when you know the signs of abuse. Knowing these signs and symptoms can also potentially save a life from an overdose.

How is Heroin Addiction Diagnosed?

When heroin addiction occurs, how does it become diagnosed? You can take a five-minute self-assessment here Signs of Heroin Use, Abuse & Addiction (Physical & Behavioral) ( which asks a series of questions to determine if you or a loved one may have an addiction.

When diagnosing heroin addiction, a throughout evaluation and assessment will be done by either a psychologist, psychiatrist, or a licensed drug and alcohol counselor. Blood, urine, or other lab tests are also used to determine and assess treatment for recovery.

Most mental health professionals use a DSM-5 assessment also called Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

How is Heroin Addiction Treated?

After a through diagnosis by a professional, the next step is a treatment plan. There is no cure for heroin addiction, but you can stop using with help of various treatment and therapy programs.v

Your treatment plans depend on:

  • What drug of choice is used
  • How much has been consumed
  • Mental health
  • Co-occurring disorders
  • Dual diagnosis

Treatment options for heroin include Individual group therapy, family therapy, medical detox, and a focus on understanding addiction and how to cope without the use of drugs. Levels of care and settings depends on your needs and may be outpatient, residential, or inpatient programs.

Pharmacological Treatment

Pharmacological treatment involves the use of different drugs either to help with medical assisted detox withdrawal symptoms or to prevent an overdose. Medications like methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone can help by blocking euphoric effects of heroin and can reduce cravings. They also work to heal your brain and body and help them work without drugs.

Naloxone can be used to revive someone who is dying of a heroin overdose or other drug overdose. It’s used as a nasal spray or an injection.

Behavioral Treatment

Behavior therapy or psychotherapy can be an option when getting help for heroin addiction. These sessions are done by a psychologist or a drug and alcohol professional to help you heal your brain and the cognitive skills without drug use. This can be done in a one-on-one setting, group setting, and even family setting.

Behavioral treatment helps by allowing you to develop new ways to cope without drugs. In what other ways does behavioral treatment help or benefit the user?

  • Counselors will suggest strategies to avoid drugs.
  • Counselors offer help on how to deal with relapse if it occurs.
  • Counselors talk with you about your job situation, and legal situations you may be in, as well as ask about friends and family to get a better understanding of what you go through.
  • You learn skills on how to communicate better with people and family.
  • Mental health issues are addressed with a counselor.

It’s important to know that addiction is a disease in the brain, it causes chronic use of drugs because of the way it changes brain and body function. If you or someone you love is struggling with a heroin use disorder, investigate treatment options today.

How can Valley Detox Help you to Recover from Heroin Abuse?

Are you ready for treatment? Maybe you are on the fence about treatment and want to learn more. Acknowledging you have an addiction is truly the first step to getting help. The second step is entering medical detox for your addiction.

Medical detox rids your body of the harmful toxins that enter your system when you use drugs like heroin. You will go through withdrawal but will be assisted and medicated if necessary to ease your pain and discomfort and allow your transition to sobriety to be as easy as possible.

Valley Detox is your best choice for medically assisted detox for heroin use disorder. Valley detox provides safe and comfortable care and customized detox plans for your specific needs. Call Valley detox now at (844) 402- 3505 or visit their website here for more information Home – Valley Detox (


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iii What are the long-term effects of heroin use? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

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