Smack. Dope. Mud. Horse. Skag. Junk. Black tar. Heroin comes with many street names. It is a highly addictive drug. Over the past three years, heroin overdose deaths have been rising.
According to the Center for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), there has been a 39% increase of heroin related deaths in the past decade. There are various reasons for the increase, one of them is the failure to address telltale signs of heroin use.
Heroin drug addiction comes with a stigma and if a user doesn’t match it, they could go under the radar. Loved ones may not pay attention because the user didn’t fit the profile. Thanks to the opioid epidemic that has taken place in the US, the average Joe has turned to heroin on the streets to manage their opioid addiction.
There is no more important time to understand the telltale signs of heroin addiction. We are going to examine all the different ways you can tell if someone is using heroin and the signs of addiction. A heroin addict will do their best to hide it. Knowing these signs can help you identify if someone you love is addicted to heroin.
New Users of Heroin
Your new heroin abusers are likely already hooked on heroin. Heroin is an extremely addictive drug with just one hit to be enough to create dependence. The new heroin abuser will be able to avoid detection for some time because the body and mind don’t show recognizable signs right away.
Early Stages of Heroin Addiction
Many first time users are going to administer heroin in an undetectable way. It’s rare that a first time heroin user will stick a needle in their arm. Instead, they will sniff, snort or smoke it. Most people will look for track marks on a person’s body as an indication of heroin use.
Their skin and eyes have very little indication that health is being jeopardized. Here are some of the symptoms of the very early stages of heroin addiction.
1. An increasing need for more privacy
The new heroin user will start to exhibit changes in character. This usually includes secrecy or a need to be alone more often.
2. Drug paraphernalia in trash baskets
Best spoons, razor blades, tin foil, and pipes may be some of the items that end up in the garbage.
3. Rapidly running out of money
The new heroin user will quickly start spending a great deal of money. They will probably ask to borrow money from you or start selling their things.
4. High usage of deodorizers
One of the early signs of heroin abuse is the use of incense, room deodorizers or perfumes. This is in an effort to get rid of any incriminating odors related to heroin use.
Signs of Someone on Heroin
It is when someone is actually on heroin that they have a hard time concealing their reality. Heroin is an extremely powerful narcotic that hits the user’s brain instantaneously. This is what makes it so addictive and also gives loved ones sure signs of heroin use. It might also be helpful to look at a heroin quiz to get insights of symptoms. The most common signs include:
5. A sedated appearance
When heroin, also known as black tar, skunk and dragon enters the brain, it activates receptors that will then release the chemical dopamine. This is where the feelings of euphoria and pleasure come from. The rush sends numbness through the body as it flows through the blood. The central nervous system is depressed so someone on heroin won’t feel pain. The heart is depressed and breathing is shallow. All of this results in a sedated appearance that is hard to ignore.
6. Flushed Skin
Someone on a heroin high will have unhealthy looking skin. This is because heroin lowers your blood pressure and heart rate. Skin doesn’t receive the maximum amount of blood supply it should so instead of it looking radiant, it will appear yellow and aged.
7. Euphoria, Incoherence, and ill feelings
If the heroin addict in your life is smart enough, they will never let you see this side in them. If you do happen to notice a sequence of euphoria, followed by incoherence, this is an obvious sign of heroin use. Angry ill feelings may ensue also because they are agitated as soon as heroin leaves their system.
8. Vomiting and nausea
The body will become ill from the lack of heroin due to the high dependency that comes with using. If someone you love is often sickly, this is one of the telltale signs of heroin addiction. “Chasing the dragon” was a term coined for those hooked on heroin. They run from the symptoms to heroin, the dragon.
9. Slowed respiratory rate
Symptoms of heroin abuse include a lower respiratory rate. This is due to the central nervous system being depressed from the drug. This side effect of heroin abuse is often what causes a heroin overdose. The heart just stops beating as the user sleeps or passes out. Heroin addicts are at risk of dying in their sleep.
10. Severe drowsiness or constantly nodding off
Again, due to the central nervous system reacting to heroin’s effects, someone will have a hard time staying conscious while on heroin. The drug relaxes the body, causing drowsiness which can make someone nod off periodically throughout their high.
Physical Signs of Heroin Abuse
Once you’re able to see the physical signs of heroin abuse, the person has become well addicted. The skin has lost its luster due to lack of oxygen. Heroin addicts will often go through long periods of time not eating. They don’t eat nutrient rich foods when they do eat and that causes changes in the addict’s appearance. Heroin recovery will require treatment at this point because the dependency is too high to try to manage it alone. Here are some of the physical signs that are connected to heroin abuse and addiction:
11. Chronic lung issues
Heroin addiction takes a major toll on the lungs. It’s not uncommon for chronic users of heroin to end up with lung diseases. Pneumonia, tuberculosis, and lung abscesses are some of the risks that a heroin user faces.
Contaminants in heroin will go into the bloodstream and once they reach the lungs, they can clog the smaller blood vessels that would normally absorb oxygen from the lungs. The longer someone is using heroin, the more the lungs will deteriorate. Heroin addicts will exhibit this symptom which a persistent, hacking cough.
12. Rapid and sudden weight loss
Heroin can cause a dramatic decrease in appetite and weight. The change will be noticeably sudden. As the user’s appetite is suppressed, they simply won’t eat. They become so thin that it’s a health risk. Heroin addicts would rather spend all their money and time seeking out heroin. This is a true testament to how addictive the drug is. Part of the reason for weight loss is that they literally forget to eat.
13. Dry mouth
Someone chronically using heroin will lower their production of saliva. The condition is called hyposalivation where the body doesn’t produce as much saliva as it should. This gives the sensation of a dry mouth. It can be very damaging because saliva is what cleans bacteria from the mouth and teeth. When there’s a lack of saliva, teeth can rot and there will be sores in and around the mouth.
14. Visible Skin Problems
A telltale heroin addiction symptom is the unhealthy looking skin. This can include cuts, bruises and scabs. Heroin addicts pick at their skin and this is one of the exclusive traits of a heroin addict when compared to other drug addicts.
Heroin causes dermotillomania, a condition that causes an addict to repetitively do something to their body. It is often out of their control. It is usually prevalent in people with mood disorders like anxiety or depression.
It’s a psychological issue that can be found in many heroin users. Skin picking is something a heroin addict will do when they’re high or withdrawing. Heroin withdrawal causes anxiety and restlessness which can cause self-mutilation. They will often feel as though they are crawling out of their skin.
15. Snorting, Smoking, and Injecting Physical Symptoms
When an addict is snorting or smoking heroin, there are certain physical symptoms that will manifest. Someone who is smoking heroin will have sores on their nostrils or lips because they have burned and then irritated the skin in those areas. They will also have burn marks on their mouth or fingers. If a person has been snorting heroin, they will quite often get a lot of nosebleeds. For those who inject, they will have needle marks somewhere on their arms or legs which will be small bruises or little dots.
16. Extreme constipation
The article, ‘Therapeutic Advances in Chronic Disease’ illustrates just how prevalent constipation is in opiate drug abuse. Between 40 – 90 % of opiate users will experience constipation. Heroin addicts will experience the same clinical syndrome as those addicted to opioid. OIC is known as opioid-induced constipation. Those using heroin will experience the worst symptoms.
It will take a heroin addict extreme effort to pass a stool. This means that they may spend a great deal of time in the bathroom and exhibit frustration. They will likely complain of stomach pain and cramping regularly.
Behavioral or Personality Changes that are Typical in Heroin Addicts
The behavioral changes that a heroin addict displays are fairly obvious. Someone abusing heroin is going to lose a part of their integral character. They will likely change in drastic ways as though they’re going through a personality overhaul in the most negative way. Here are some of the behaviors that can indicate heroin addiction:
17. A lack of motivation and sense of responsibility
Someone who has become highly involved in heroin abuse is not going to be able to continue their normal routine. School or work performance will downward spiral. They will likely sleep a lot and not get out of bed for important engagements. They will have decreased motivation and absolutely no interest in doing anything, including activities they used to love to do.
18. Problems with Speech and Body Coordination
The brain will react to things quite slowly so their speech will become slurred. They won’t make any sense when they speak and will often mumble or garble their words. Their movement will be uncoordinated too as though they might fall over at any moment. They can become jittery in one minute and then nod off in total relaxation the next minute.
19. Erratic and scary mood swings
For the onlooker, a heroin addicts mood swings can be quite scary. They may become extremely angry and violent. In one minute, they’ll be totally apathetic and in another moment, they’ll be hostile. These moods will all come up when you pursue an intervention.
20. Deceptive actions
As mentioned, heroin addicts are some of the best liars when compared to how other substance abusers hide their problem. Heroin addicts are deceptive about hiding what they’re doing and they may also become thieves in order to get the money for their fix. They will lie to your face without a care and take valuable items. They will wear long sleeve shirts and long pants even in the middle of a heat wave to hide their needle marks.
21. Withdrawing from loved ones
A heroin addict is a shell of the person they once were. This is what the drug does to people. If you notice that a family member has completely withdrawn from you, it’s possible they are using heroin. Heroin is the only thing that an addict thinks or cares about. The person in your life that is a heroin addict won’t want to be near you and will avoid making eye contact. It will be hard to get through to them if you want to help them get addiction treatment.
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Not so Obvious Signs of Heroin Abuse
Here are some signs that might not be a direct indication of heroin addiction. If you have noticed that someone is exhibiting a lot of symptoms on this list, you may want to watch out for these symptoms also.
22. Extra mileage on the car
When a person is addicted to heroin, they will often have to drive around looking for drug dealers in various places.
23. Missing opioid prescriptions
Opiate drugs are interchangeable. Obviously a heroin addict would rather have heroin but prescription opioids are a good replacement for them too. They are able to manipulate these prescriptions by crushing them and snorting, smoking, or injecting them. If you notice prescription pills missing that are opiate based, this might be a sign of a problem within the household.
24. Tiny orange caps and other physical evidence
Syringes come with a tiny orange cap that often gets forgotten about in the midst of a heroin addict using. Syringes may hidden in drawers but those little caps are often overlooked as a sign for the heroin user. There might be a lot of straws being used for both snorting and smoking. Empty plastic pen cases can also be used for snorting or smoking. Other things that might be lying around include water pipes, small plastic bags, razors, bottled water, rolled up dollar bills and small cotton balls.
25. Street slang names for heroin
Heroin has a variety of street names depending on where users are located. Knowing the alternate names can help you identify heroin abuse through conversations you may overhear.
- Black tar
- Black pearl
- Brown sugar
- Witch hazel
- White stuff
- China white
- Mexican horse
- Number 2
- Birdie powder
Withdrawal Symptoms in Heroin Addicts
When a heroin addict goes through withdrawal, they will have strong symptoms. It is intense and painful for the addict so it’s fairly easy to detect that there is a big problem.
26. Severe stomach issues
When someone is doing heroin, they will have major constipation. When they withdraw, they experience diarrhea. Their limbs and stomach will cramp up also.
27. Severe pain
A heroin addict can’t hide the pain of withdrawal. They have aches and pains all throughout their body all the way down to the bones. This will often cause them to cry uncontrollably.
28. Flu like symptoms
Along with the body pain and diarrhea, they will sweat profusely and feel nauseous which leads to vomiting. They will have fever and cold sweats and it will be hard, if not impossible, for them to sleep.
Understanding Heroin Abuse
When you think of a heroin addict, you think of the likeness of a zombie. Incoherent, eyes rolling upwards, dark circles around the eyes, deathly looking skin and an overall gaunt appearance. This is the rock bottom heroin user that has already lost everything. They too were once able to hide the signs that they were abusing heroin.
Heroin hooks users in so quickly and because they desire it so strongly, they will do whatever they can to hide it. It’s been said that heroin addicts are the best liars and are the hardest to pinpoint as having a problem. They do everything they can to ensure that nothing comes in between them and their precious heroin. This is why recognizing the problem, staging an intervention, and getting the addict into treatment is so essential.