Signs of Heroin Use

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Heroin is an illegal substance made from the sap of the opium poppy [1], and is extremely addictive. While this article will discuss numerous signs of heroin use, the most important information to note is that although initially the user experiences a feeling of well-being and relief from physical pain, they can then immediately become dependent and have cravings.

Usually sold in powdered form, heroin is typically white or brown in color. While it can be smoked or snorted, most users inject it into a vein. Heroin has a high risk of overdose. Longer-term use can cause serious health problems and lifestyle problems.

Heroin dealers often mix pure heroin with other substances such as sugar, caffeine, powdered milk, or paracetamol to increase profits. Using heroin with additives can lead to the clogging of blood vessels that lead to the liver, kidneys, lungs, or brain which can cause permanent damage. These are some of the symptoms of heroin on the body. Sharing needles, and impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis.


What are the Signs of Heroin Use on the Body?

What does heroin do to the body? Heroin slows down a person’s brain and heart function. It can also cause a person’s breathing to slow down or stop. The user’s blood pressure and body temperature can drop and their heartbeat becomes irregular. A person may become unconscious or lapse into a coma. If a person takes depressants such as alcohol, methadone, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers, this increases the risk of coma or death. Heroin effects on the body can be both short and long-term.



Short-Term Effects of Heroin

Typically, the two initial reasons why people are drawn to take heroin are because of the euphoria it induces and the analgesic effect it has. Heroin produces intense feelings of pleasure - often described as a “rush.” It also decreases pain sensitivity (I.e., provides pain relief). This is because opioids can block pain messages transmitted through the spinal cord from the body.

Additional, immediate effects of taking heroin include:

  • A rush of pleasurable feelings and relief from pain
  • Feeling ill or throwing up
  • Feeling drowsy
  • Shallow breathing
  • Loss of libido (sex drive)
  • Pupil constriction
  • Drop in body temperature


After the initial effects, being under the influence of heroin leads to drowsiness and sedation for several hours. Users experience difficulty concentrating with impaired memory and cognitive function. Heroin also causes reduced gastrointestinal activity resulting in nausea, vomiting, and constipation. In addition to this is respiratory depression - heroin decreases the frequency and depth of breathing, which can lead to potentially dangerous oxygen deprivation.



Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Some of the consequences of heroin addiction are as follows:

  1. Health complications: Chronic heroin use can lead to various health problems, including liver and kidney disease, cardiovascular issues, respiratory disorders, and increased vulnerability to infections.
  2. Vein damage and infections: Repeated injection of heroin can cause collapsed veins, infection at injection sites, and an increased risk of bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
  3. Mental health issues: Heroin addiction is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. The cycle of addiction can also exacerbate existing mental health conditions.
  4. Social and financial consequences: Heroin users become more withdrawn from their family and friends as their life becomes more and more centered around the drug. This can lead to strained relationships, the inability to hold down a job, financial difficulties due to the cost of financing their addiction, and a decline in overall quality of life.


Additional long-term effects of taking heroin include:

  • Changing the physical structure of the brain [2]
  • Creating long-term hormonal and neuronal imbalances in the body that are not easily reversed
  • Deteriorating white matter in the brain, impaired decision-making abilities
  • Increased tolerance to heroin

Heroin Effects on Appearance

What does heroin do to your body? Here are some common physical effects of heroin use:

  1. Dental problems: Damaged teeth are a common result of heroin use. This can cause teeth to be missing, cracked, damaged, corroded, crooked, etc. Additionally, gum bleeding and loss of enamel can happen as well. 
  2. Skin issues: Heroin use can cause itching and skin problems, including dryness, rashes, abscesses, and infections at injection sites. Users may develop track marks or scars from injecting the drug.
  3. Weight loss: This occurs due to the fact that opioids are an appetite suppressant. Users can also forget to eat or do not prioritize eating, which can lead to further nutritional deficiencies, contributing to a gaunt or emaciated appearance.
  4. Constricted pupils: One of the notable effects of heroin use is the constriction of the pupils (known as pinpoint pupils). Pupils become extremely small, even in low-light conditions. This effect is often observable during periods of drug intoxication.
  5. Bloodshot eyes: Pupillary constriction is accompanied by bloodshot eyes since heroin use can cause blood vessels in the eyes to dilate or rupture.

Psychological factors also play into the physical effects that heroin has on one’s appearance. Individuals struggling with addiction may neglect personal hygiene due to their focus on obtaining and using the drug. Such people may also live in precarious situations due to their addiction and thus not have easy access to showers and personal hygiene products. Lack of grooming, unwashed appearance, and disheveled clothing are common. Neglecting one’s self-care can also result in a prematurely aged appearance with premature wrinkling and dry and dull skin.


Signs of Heroin Addiction

Physical signs of heroin addiction include:

  • Abrupt weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Bruising or scabbing of the skin

Psychological symptoms of heroin addiction include:

  • Difficulty focusing
  • Poor judgment
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, and depression
  • Despair and hopelessness

Signs of Heroin Abuse

If you’re unsure if a loved one is abusing heroin, these are some of the signs you can look out for around your house:

  • Plastic bags with white powder
  • Needles or syringes
  • Burned silver spoons
  • Gum or foil wrappers with burn marks

Most addicts will hide any traces of the addiction, so if no physical objects are left around your house, then you can also look out for behavioral changes like:

  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Social isolation
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Lying about their whereabouts
  • Stealing or borrowing money from loved ones
  • Wearing long sleeves to hide needle marks

Signs of a Heroin Overdose

A poly-substance overdose occurs when heroin addicts take other central nervous system depressants, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, alongside the heroin. These drugs have a synergistic effect on one another and can cause a fatal reaction. As well as mixing heroin with other substances, enriching the heroin with even more potent opioids also increases the risk of a heroin overdose, as does using higher doses which can lead to a toxic quantity of morphine in the bloodstream.

Signs of a heroin overdose include:

  • Shallow breathing, gurgling
  • Gasping for breath
  • Pale skin
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Weak pulse and low blood pressure

What Are Some Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Heroin withdrawal can occur within a few hours of the last instance of the drug is taken.

Symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps (cold turkey)
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Leg movements

How to Manage Heroin Withdrawal Safely

Going to a well-established rehab center such as Avenues Recovery could help you wean yourself off of heroin in a safe and supervised way, whether it’s through detox, inpatient or outpatient care. Experienced professionals who have worked with many other addicts will help you to manage your addiction safely and with the best chance at staying clean.


What Are Some of the Benefits of Going to a Rehab Center?

Some of the benefits of going to a rehab center are:

  • Safe environment

Being in a rehab center during withdrawal makes the entire process less risky and more comfortable. If a patient starts to have intense cravings or suicidal ideation, a medical expert will be on call to keep them safe.

  • Availability of opioid replacement medications

In a rehab center, opioid replacement medications will be available to the patient to minimize withdrawal symptoms. The two most common medications used as opioid replacements are Buprenorphine and Buprenorphine/Naltrexone. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid that occupies the same neurons in the brain that heroin does without producing the same effects.

Buprenorphine/Naltrexone helps reduce cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and thoughts to want to use heroin. Using opioid replacements can allow an individual to be weaned off of heroin while also treating withdrawal symptoms. The physician will eventually try to wean the patient off of the opioid replacement medications. However, if the patient relapses, then opioid replacement medications can be given long-term to prevent future relapses.


How Can I Aid in My Recovery While I am in Rehab?

  • Healthy Eating

Regular drug consumption steals the body of essential nutrients. Studies have shown that those recovering from addictions do best on a low-glycemic, dopamine-boosting diet that includes a high amount of protein and foods rich in fiber and unsaturated fats.

  • Exercise

Exercises such as yoga, swimming, tennis, and aerobics are extremely beneficial for recovery. Exercise gives a person positive ways to occupy themselves and helps them to access states of calm and happiness without the need for drug consumption.

  • Support System

The support of being around other people who are recovering and creating positive changes for themselves can have a beneficial impact on your road to recovery. If you or a loved one is suffering from drug abuse, contact Avenues Recovery so we can help you begin your journey to sobriety.


How Can I Safeguard Myself Once I Have Completed Rehab?

  • Associate with sober people

We are all affected by the people we spend time with. If you find friends who live a life of sobriety, it will be easier for you to stay sober. There isn’t peer pressure to use and you will not come across potential triggers as often.

  • Meet with a therapist

A therapist can help you discover life-coping techniques that don’t include drugs so that you can learn to manage and face challenges head-on without turning away.

  • 12-Step Programs

Twelve-step programs have long been the standard for addiction treatment support. By joining a group, you will have an ongoing support group and a sponsor (mentor) you can turn to for support and accountability if you need it.



Eliminate Signs of Heroin Abuse

If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction, Avenues Recovery is here to support you in your journey toward sobriety. Our detox and treatment programs, situated around the USA are dedicated to your recovery. Contact us today for your first step toward recovery and freedom from addiction. Replace signs of heroin abuse with signs of a healthy life and a future you’re proud to be living!





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