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Recognizing possible heroin addiction symptoms, either in yourself or in a loved one, can be understandably frightening. Popular for its euphoric effects, heroin abuse stands at the forefront of the opioid crisis and remains one of the most addictive and damaging illicit drugs. It can be tempting to doubt, or even deny, the possibility that heroin is hurting you or a loved one, rather than cope with the reality of addiction. But if you have any reason to believe that heroin addiction is a possibility, it is important to know what signs to watch for, and what to do if your worries are confirmed.

Recognizing Heroin Addiction Symptoms

What do heroin addiction symptoms look like? How do you know if you or a loved one is addicted, or relapsing into an old addiction, and needs help? Consider whether you have observed any (or all) of the following:

  1. Heroin abuse. Heroin is highly addictive and the chances of developing a dependency on it grow greater with each use. If you or a loved one use heroin at all, there is a chance that an addiction has developed. 
  2. Significant changes in mood or behavior. Everyone has ups and downs, but if you or your loved one seem like a completely different person lately—someone irritable, irrational, even paranoid—this may be a result of chemical and psychological imbalances caused by addiction.
  3. Taking risks to procure more heroin. If you or your loved one are putting yourself or others at risk of harm—be it physical, psychological, or financial―in order to purchase or use heroin, this is a strong indication that addiction has begun to negatively impact judgment. This is especially true if the user is driven to lying and stealing in order to support their habit.
  4. Social withdrawal. Fear of judgment, being “found out,” or simply not being understood may all contribute to antisocial behaviors associated with addiction. Likewise, if you or your loved one is frequently too high or too ill (as a result of use or overdose) to spend time with friends or family, this too indicates that heroin addiction has begun to take hold.
  5. Using clothing to cover evidence of use. Wearing long sleeves or pants, regardless of the weather, is a common method by which those addicted to heroin attempt to hide needle marks from IV use.

Even if you believe you only use heroin moderately, or your loved one tells you that they “can quit anytime,” if any of the above symptoms of heroin addiction seem familiar to you, it may be time to seek help. Heroin use poses significant health risks, whether or not an individual is addicted, and often requires medical supervision to quit using safely.

The Health Risks of Heroin Abuse and Addiction

Heroin is not usually sold in its pure form but instead as a powder that has been cut (mixed) with other drugs or substances. Black tar heroin, another common variety, has only 30% purity but carries the same risks of overdose and the potential of being laced with undisclosed substances. These substances may be innocuous ingredients like starch or sugar, but far too often they may be toxic, even deadly—strychnine, among other poisons, is not uncommon.

Heroin affects the reward center of the brain, binding to opioid receptors and producing intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure, and providing temporary relief from stress, anxiety, and physical pain. The user may feel a sudden sense of apathy and have false feelings of warmth, safety, and relaxation.

Addiction occurs quickly when the brain links the release of these feel-good chemicals to the presence of the drug until the user cannot properly function without it. Along with the temporary euphoria, repeated heroin use can result in numerous damaging and potentially life-threatening health effects.

    Short-Term Effects:     Long-Term Effects:
  • Severe itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Dry mouth
  • A back-and-forth state of consciousness
  • Heavy feeling limbs
  • Clouded mental capacity



  • Abscesses
  • Constipation
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung complications
  • Mental disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction (men)
  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Heart valve infection
  • Increased risk of Hepatitis and HIV (for IV users)

If you or your loved one has begun to experience any of these effects, seeking professional addiction help sooner, rather than later, can minimize the damage done and prevent the situation from escalating beyond the point of no return.

Finding Your Path to Heroin Addiction Recovery

Heroin addiction takes hold quickly and releases its grip only with the greatest reluctance. The withdrawal period can be difficult, and potentially dangerous to cope with on your own. Initial withdrawal symptoms include flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating, lasting up to a week. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) may be an additional concern for those who have used heroin for a long time or at high levels. PAWS can last for as long as 18 to 24 months after the last use, and can negatively affect memory, mood, sleep, and cognitive functioning.

The key to coping with these withdrawal symptoms safely and effectively lies in seeking medically supervised assistance from a trusted addiction treatment provider. Specialized detox centers offer a nonjudgmental setting in which you or your loved one will receive the highest level of physical and psychological support during the withdrawal period and beyond. Withdrawal symptoms will be minimized, and comfort maximized, during this time to ensure a positive outcome.

It is important to follow detox up with an individualized treatment program crafted by experienced addiction specialists. A comprehensive treatment plan that combines traditional talk therapies with physical wellness and coping strategy development has been proven, time and again, to provide the strongest foundation for lasting recovery, while family therapy sessions and support groups can help you and your loved ones work together to heal from the damage heroin has wrought.

If you are addicted to heroin or have observed heroin addiction symptoms in a loved one, contact New Choices Treatment Centers or call us today at (726) 888-7003. Our San Antonio-based addiction treatment facility offers medically supervised detox as well as long-term treatment programming and discharge planning. The sooner you reach out for help, the sooner you or your loved one can begin the recovery process.



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