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Heroin Addiction

Heroin produces a “downer” effect that rapidly induces a state of relaxation and euphoria (related to chemical changes in the pleasure centers of the brain). Like other opiates, heroin use blocks the brain’s ability to perceive pain. Heroin abusers, particularly those with prior history of drug abuse, may initially be able to conceal signs and symptoms of their heroin use.

Loved ones or co-workers may notice a number of signs of heroin use, which are visible during and after heroin consumption:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Constricted (small) pupils
  • Sudden changes in behavior or actions
  • Disorientation
  • Cycles of hyper alertness followed by suddenly nodding off
  • Droopy appearance, as if extremities are heavy

The above signs are not unique to heroin abuse. More definitive warning signs of heroin abuse include possession of paraphernalia used to prepare, inject or consume heroin:

  • Needles or syringes not used for other medical purposes
  • Burned silver spoons
  • Aluminum foil or gum wrappers with burn marks
  • Missing shoelaces (used as a tie off for injection sites)
  • Straws with burn marks
  • Small plastic bags, with white powdery residue
  • Water pipes or other pipe

Behavioral signs of heroin abuse and addiction include:

  • Lying or other deceptive behavior
  • Avoiding eye contact, or distant field of vision
  • Substantial increases in time spent sleeping
  • Increase in slurred, garbled or incoherent speech
  • Sudden worsening of performance in school or work, including expulsion or loss of jobs
  • Decreasing attention to hygiene and physical appearance
  • Loss of motivation and apathy toward future goals
  • Withdrawal from friends and family, instead spending time with new friends with no natural tie
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and favorite activities
  • Repeatedly stealing or borrowing money from loved ones, or unexplained absence of valuables
  • Hostile behaviors toward loved ones, including blaming them for withdrawal or broken commitments
  • Regular comments indicating a decline in self esteem or worsening body image
  • Wearing long pants or long sleeves to hide needle marks, even in very warm weather

Users build tolerance to heroin, leading to increases in the frequency and quantity of heroin consumption. With growing tolerance, more definitive physical symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction emerge:

  • Weight loss
  • Runny nose (not explained by other illness or medical condition)
  • Needle track marks visible on arms
  • Infections or abscesses at injection site
  • For women, loss of menstrual cycle (Amenorrhoea)
  • Cuts, bruises or scabs from skin picking