Heroin addiction is a real-life nightmare for everyone involved, not just the person addicted to the drug. As a loved one of a heroin addict, you may spend every day hoping and praying that “today” isn’t the day you get the inevitable phone call informing you that your loved one was found dead from an overdose or one of the many other causes of death that are often associated with the lifestyle of a drug addict. It’s not easy watching someone you love spiral out of control.
If you feel hopeless, you are not alone. Heroin addiction is an epidemic that destroys people’s lives as well as those closest to them. Many people who have watched their loved ones fall victim to this addiction only wish that they could have recognized the signs of heroin use and addiction sooner so that they could have gotten their loved one into substance abuse treatment before it snowballed out of control.
Recognizing the Signs of Heroin Use & Addiction
Most of us would like to believe that we know our loved ones so well that we would recognize the signs of heroin abuse immediately, but this is not always the case. Not only are people abusing heroin often in denial about their problem, but also many will go to great lengths to try and hide it from those around them. Even so, it is possible to spot the signs and symptoms of heroin use early on if you know what to look for.
Some of the most common signs of heroin addiction include:
- Being high on heroin
- Presence of heroin paraphernalia
- Changes in behavior
- Financial problems
- Changes in physical appearance
- Signs of heroin withdrawal
- Trouble with the law
The second you start to recognize these common signs of heroin use in your loved one, get help immediately. At Clearbrook Treatment Centers, our heroin addiction treatment in Pennsylvania helps both those abusing the drug as well as their loved ones move past this dangerous addiction.
1.High on Heroin
The first sign that a heroin addiction is developing is that your loved one is getting high on heroin. If you can spot the signs of heroin use immediately, you could act fast and keep your loved one from spiraling out of control.
Dilated Pupils | While under the influence, a heroin user’s eyes will change. Their pupils will become pinpoint-sized, also known as ‘pinned’. They will often avoid eye contact while high as well since their ability to focus is altered and they’re aware that this can expose the fact that they are high.
Heavy Limbs | One of the biggest signs of heroin use is exhaustion. They will begin nodding off and seem noticeably lethargic, as if their arms and other extremities are too heavy to lift. They’ll say they’re coming down with something like a cold, and they’ll demand to be left alone so they can sleep it off.
Unconsciously Conscious | While witnessing someone during the deepest stage of his or her heroin high, their eyes will most likely remain tightly closed and they will seem almost unresponsive to your communication. Following this stage, it’s common they will become more responsive, however; their level of reasoning will most likely be jaded as they will become paranoid and appear nervous with the activity taking place around them.
If your loved one becomes unresponsive, struggles to breathe, and has a slow heart rate, it may be a sign of a heroin overdose. Call 911 immediately as their life is in danger.
2. Heroin Paraphernalia
One of the biggest signs of heroin abuse is the presence of drug paraphernalia used to take heroin. Heroin users can snort or smoke the drug, but injection is the most common route of administration. Because of these different methods, heroin paraphernalia can include an assortment of items.
Syringes |Because injection is the most common method of heroin abuse, syringes are one of the more common signs of heroin addiction. You may not always find needles since drug users tend to protect these “precious commodities,” but keep your eyes open for the orange lids that were originally packaged with the needles. Don’t be afraid to look in and around the trash bins of your home to see if these items were thrown out.
Bent Spoons | Where there are needles, there are probably spoons close by. Addicts who inject often use spoons to mix and ‘cook’ heroin to turn it into a liquid form. Water bottle lids can also be used for this same process. If you find water bottles that are still filled with water, but missing lids, this might be a warning sign of heroin addiction.
Small Baggies/Deflated Balloons | Little baggies or balloons with stamps or unique designs are commonly used to package heroin for distribution. The stamp or design will often define where the heroin came from or what kind of heroin it is. Unlike the small Ziplock-style baggies found with cannabis sales, heroin baggies will often feel slightly waxy and more durable.
Glass Bowl/Aluminum Foil/Rolled-Up Dollar Bill | Aside from injection, heroin can also be smoked and/or snorted. People smoking heroin often use small glass pipes known as bowls or a makeshift pipe rolled from aluminum foil. If someone is snorting heroin, you might find a rolled-up dollar bill or similar tube to create a funnel for the drugs to pass through upon inhalation as well as razor blades, a driver’s license, or credit cards to cut the heroin for easier snorting. Take a look in their wallets to see if there are signs of heroin residue on their cards. Look for razor blades that have been removed from their casings with residue as well.
3. Behavioral Signs of Heroin Abuse
Another one of the biggest signs of heroin addiction is drastic changes in your loved one’s behavior. Although addiction is a chemical dependence, it usually changes the user’s behavior as well. These changes become more dramatic as the addiction becomes more severe.
Mood Swings | One of the many signs and symptoms of heroin addiction is mood swings. Users often find themselves aggravated easily and will take it out on their loved ones with angry outbursts. This could be a sign of withdrawal and/or symptoms of heroin addiction. They may also experience feelings of depression or periods of excitability while high. It can be difficult to communicate with the addict because of these mood swings, so it may be best to ask for help.
Lack of Hygiene | It requires a conscious effort to manage your personal hygiene; unfortunately, many drug users will start to slack off when it comes to this as a result of their preoccupied or distracted state of mind. If your loved one was someone who routinely takes care of themselves, and all of a sudden you’re noticing a change in their priorities about their hygiene, it’s well worth looking into. If it’s not relative to drug addiction, it might be a sign of depression, which can, in fact, be a segue to drug use. Either way, ignoring this very noticeable change for the worse isn’t a good idea.
Insomnia | Another one of the many signs of heroin addiction is abnormal sleeping habits. Heroin addicts have often been compared to vampires in regard to their sleeping behaviors. Their addiction usually keeps them up until late into the night when it’s easier to slip through the shadows and score their next fix. It is also their ‘party time.’ After being up all night, they’ll need to figure out how they’re going to function during the day when their family and friends are awake, when their job requires them to be at work, or school requires them to be in class. They quickly realize that their solution is more drugs.
Lack of Motivation | A drug addict doesn’t have much on their mind other than the next time they’re going to get high, how they’re going to score their next fix, and where it’s going to come from. That said, if they’re not thinking about those things, they’re likely already high and don’t care about much else. Because of this mindset, you may notice a drastic decline in their ambition and lack of motivation for a better future.
Lying | Frequent lying is one of the many heroin drug addiction signs to look out for. While everyone fibs every once in a while, addicts and lying go hand in hand. Lying and being deceptive become necessary for the addict to cover their tracks and hide their problems from those around them. If you continue to catch your loved one in their lies, stop believing their excuses and get help.
Irresponsible | While under the constant influence of drugs, it is common for a heroin addict to lose track of time and neglect certain obligations. Picking up their sister’s kids from school was an obvious priority that quickly became irrelevant as soon as they became distracted with an opportunity to get high. As this sort of behavior becomes consistent, they begin to lose touch with what was once important to them. They are often late to events and will frequently start to forget appointments or important dates altogether.
Decline in Work | A drug user will stand out amongst the workforce; they’ll be the one that’s starting to slack off with their tasks. They may start to show up late or not go to work at all. If this is not nipped in the bud, they will likely be fired.
Social Withdrawal | You may notice the social butterfly has recently stopped coming to outings and events. Drug users can often begin feeling embarrassed by their addiction and keep themselves away from other loved ones. They may also be struggling with depression, a commonly occurring disorder with addiction.
They Just Don’t Seem Right | Understanding drug abuse can be difficult when you are not an addict yourself. You may begin to notice their stories don’t make sense, their memory seems more spotty than normal, or their ability to process thoughts becomes distracted by other thoughts. They may also become more secretive, hiding in the bathroom or out of sight for long periods of time. If your intuition is telling you that something is off, it probably is.
4. Financial Signs of Heroin Abuse
It is not uncommon for drug addicts to struggle with money problems; it can be a telltale sign of heroin addiction.
Always Out of Money | One giveaway sign of heroin addiction is their critical financial situation. A drug addict needs money to buy drugs. When it comes to choosing between paying their bills or getting high, more often than not, the drug user will make their heroin addiction their top priority.
Borrowing Money for A Good Reason| It’s not easy for a drug addict to ask for money without a reason since they often have a sense of paranoia about whether someone has caught on to their addiction. They need to be methodical about how they will ask. One of the manipulation tactics that some addicts will attempt is using the fact that they have fallen behind on their bills. Don’t fall for this, and do not give them cash. If you absolutely must, make your payment directly to the debtor. This way you can ensure you didn’t just hand them money to go purchase more drugs. If possible, keep a copy of the bill to ensure that he or she doesn’t take this to the next family member or friend with the same request.
Sudden Depletion of a Large Amount of Money | Similar to shopping at a wholesale grocery store, some drug dealers will offer their buyers a bulk discount. Although the per package pricing might actually be saving them money, they’ll need to buy a lot more upfront, which means they’ll be spending a lot more money out of pocket than they normally would with their dealer. Once the drug addict realizes the bulk savings, they’ll often feel compelled to continue to buy their drugs this way every time, thus the rapid loss of finances.
Missing Items| Once they’ve exhausted their savings, they’ll need to resort to something else they can turn into cash. This means jewelry, art, and other expensive items. Remember, they are not in their right mind and their priorities are out of sorts. It is not uncommon for a husband to take his wife’s engagement ring and sell it at a pawnshop just to score some quick cash.
Unexplained Expensive Items | Because one of the many heroin signs and symptoms of addiction is stealing, they may suddenly acquire some expensive items. Since it’s not likely they could afford this item on their own, it’s highly likely they stole it and are waiting for the opportunity to sell or pawn it for cash.
5. Physical Signs of Heroin Addiction and Long-Term Abuse
Over time, a heroin addiction will take its toll on the body. One of the biggest tells of a heroin problem includes the many physical signs of heroin addiction.
Needle Marks, Pockmarks, Scabs and Small Bruises | With repeated use, heroin injection leaves marks behind. Needle marks, also known as track marks, will usually be small red marks and could also be surrounded by bruises. Pockmarks are scars left after picking a scab similar to marks left from acne and pimples. When the same location is used multiple times for injection, you will start to notice scabbing. You may see heroin track marks on hands or feet, and pockmarks from drugs on the person’s face where they have been picking at scabs.
Weight Loss | Heroin track marks aren’t the only red flag to look for. After long periods of use, you will notice that the user will appear to have lost weight, but not in a healthy way. This is one of the biggest physical signs of heroin addiction. They’ll more than likely appear fatigued and suffering from malnutrition. This is usually caused by a lack of appetite and sleep.
Discoloration of the Skin | A user’s skin will appear pale. This is caused by a lack of hygiene and poor nutrition. Drugs can also lower your heart rate, which lowers the amount of blood flow through the body and can cause a change in the complexion of your skin tone.
Bags Under the Eyes | Another one of the physical signs of heroin addiction and abuse to look out for are baggy eyes. After long periods of use, a heroin addict’s eyes will begin to develop bags or dark circles under them from over-exhaustion as a result of little-to-no sleep.
Toes | The skin in between the toes is often used as an injection point for heroin, especially in the beginning stages of addiction, to hide track marks and scarring.
Wears socks/long sleeves in heat | Another one of the signs of heroin addiction is modest clothing choices. Heroin users with visible track marks will usually attempt to hide their marks by wearing apparel that covers them, and although most suitable for winter temperatures, they’ll often continue dressing in these clothes even during the summer months. This might be an immediate sign of heroin use and addiction if someone who used to be a summer apparel fanatic now seems to hide every square inch of their body.
6. Experiencing Heroin Withdrawal
Once the body becomes dependent on heroin, the user will start to experience heroin withdrawal symptoms after the body metabolizes the drug. While many will immediately seek more heroin to stop withdrawal symptoms, if this cannot be avoided, your loved one will begin to show signs of heroin withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal can be dangerous, so if your loved one is trying to quit on their own, it is best to get them into a medical drug detox center.
Excessive Itching | It is common for opiate users going through withdrawal to experience excessive itching all over the body. This is caused by a large amount of histamine, which inherently causes users to become very itchy as if they were having an allergic reaction of some sort.
Constant Chills | While withdrawing from heroin, people will often experience the nauseous sensation of chills running throughout the body as if they’re on the verge of getting sick with the flu or something similar. They may also sweat excessively.
Muscle Aches | Many people going through heroin withdrawal will complain of muscle aches and pain. This may be a sign of overexertion or more likely a heroin withdrawal.
Nausea & Vomiting | Nausea and stomach pain are common symptoms of heroin withdrawal that can escalate to vomiting. Your loved one may claim it is just a stomach bug, but it could be a sign of heroin addiction.
7. Breaking the Law
Addicts will often stop at nothing to continue to get their fix. What starts out as bending the rules and engaging in some questionable activities may snowball into breaking the law.
Stealing | A heroin addict may start by selling their own items, but if this continues, they may move on to other people’s homes, cars, and then eventually they may think it’s worth it to rob a convenience store at midnight. The reality is that they need their drugs and they’re willing to do anything to get them.
Suspicious Activity | Drug addicts have to buy their drugs from someone, and somewhere. That’s inevitable, and because it’s not legal, that someone and somewhere is probably a shady person in a bad place. The police spend a great deal of their time investigating suspected dealers and are always on the lookout for possible informants. Addicts are prime targets for the police since they’re usually more desperate and reckless than the dealers are. Addicts are likely to lead the police directly to a buyer and thus will often set up surveillance outside of a known addict’s house so they can monitor their every move with the hope that the addict will lead to a drug dealer. If you have suddenly noticed an increased police presence around your home, or there are suspicious people and/or vehicles on your street at all times of the day and night, it’s possible your loved one is under investigation.
Spending Time in Undesirable Areas or with Bad People | Keep an eye on where your loved one is spending their time. If there is an area that’s known for drug activity and they suddenly seem to have a handful of best friends that live there, then this is probably a sign that there’s a problem. Especially if they start hanging out with the wrong crowd, it is cause for concern.
Getting Caught | If your loved one has been arrested for possession of heroin or for driving while under the influence of heroin, it is time to open your eyes. This is one of the most obvious signs of heroin addiction. They were not holding those drugs for someone else and it was not a one-time mistake; they need help.
What to Do If Your Loved One Is Showing Signs of Heroin Addiction
If you noticed that your loved one is exhibiting many of these signs and symptoms of heroin addiction, get them help today. Our PA inpatient rehab center has over 40 years of experience in treating chemical dependency and alcoholism. Just a short car ride away from New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, Clearbrook Treatment Centers offer each patient the opportunity to recover in the serene mountains of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Here, your loved one will gain the knowledge and tools necessary to achieve lasting sobriety.