Heroin Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin addiction & abuse

Heroin is a tremendously addictive substance that has the overwhelming potential to damage virtually all areas of an individual’s life. Also known as smack, tar, or horse, heroin is a synthesized form of morphine, which is derived from the poppy plant. When an individual consumes heroin by smoking, injecting, or snorting it, his or her body transforms the heroin back into morphine. When this occurs, the drug triggers the receptors in the brain that are linked with pleasure and pain, as well as other processes such as breathing and heart rate.

The abuse of heroin leaves individuals vulnerable to immediate and long-term damage, including addiction and overdose. The continued abuse of heroin and the development of heroin use disorder can lead to serious damage to an individual’s psychological, physical, and social wellbeing.

It can be very hard for an individual to defeat heroin use disorder without the help of professionals. However, there are numerous therapy and medication management options that have been established to help individuals end their dependency on heroin and regain control of their lives without the distraction of heroin abuse.

Statistics

Statistics on heroin addiction & abuse

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) shows that heroin abuse has been increasing amongst adults within the United States, especially for those between the ages of 18 and 25. Roughly 2% of adults within the country have abused heroin at least one time in their lives, and approximately 150,000 people abuse this drug for the first time each year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the number of people within the country who meet criteria for a heroin use disorder diagnosis rose more than 100% within a recent 10-year period, going from 214,000 in 2002 to 467,000 in 2012. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that there was a 500% increase in heroin overdose deaths between 2001 and 2013.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction & abuse

Abusing a substance like heroin and developing heroin use disorder can be brought on by a number of causes and risk factors, including, but not limited to, the following:

Genetic: Numerous studies, including research that followed twins and adopted children, suggest that there is a genetic component to an individual’s vulnerability in developing heroin use disorder. Impulsivity, a heritable trait, is also known to serve as a genetic factor in this development of this disorder.

Environmental: The accessibility to heroin and/or socializing with those who abuse it are two common environmental factors for developing heroin use disorder. Other environmental factors can include low socioeconomic status and high stress levels.

Risk Factors:

  • Age (heroin abuse most commonly starts during late teens or early 20s)
  • Gender (men are more likely to abuse heroin than women)
  • Access to heroin
  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Impulsivity and novelty seeking
  • Family history of substance use disorder
  • Poor stress-management skills
  • Prior substance abuse

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction & abuse

Below are some of the many signs that an individual can exhibit if he or she is abusing heroin:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sensation of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Constricted pupils
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Itchiness
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Scabs, sores, and/or abscesses
  • Slowed breathing
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Problems focusing or thinking clearly
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion and disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Severe mood swings
  • Anxiety

Effects

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction & abuse

Below are some of the many signs that an individual can exhibit if he or she is abusing heroin:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Sensation of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Constricted pupils
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Itchiness
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Scabs, sores, and/or abscesses
  • Slowed breathing
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Problems focusing or thinking clearly
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion and disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Severe mood swings
  • Anxiety

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-occurring disorders

Those who have developed heroin use disorder are also at a heightened risk for experiencing the following disorders simultaneously:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: When an individual has grown dependent on heroin and attempts to stop or curb his or her use, withdrawal and its unpleasant symptoms can develop. These symptoms can make it challenging for individuals to overcome heroin use disorder without the help of professional support, and symptoms can kick in within a few short hours after one’s last use. Below are some of the most common symptoms of heroin withdrawal:

  • Anhedonia
  • Dysphoria
  • Strong cravings for heroin disrupted sleep patterns
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Other flu-like symptoms

Effects of heroin overdose: When an individual abuses heroin, he or she puts himself or herself at risk for overdosing, which can be fatal. An individual who displays the following symptoms after abusing heroin likely requires immediate medical attention:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Blue tinge around mouth or fingertips
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Irregular breathing
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Significant drop in blood pressure