Heroin is a powerful opioid drug naturally-derived from the opioid poppy. Heroin takes two forms, either as a white or brown powder or as a black tar-like substance called black tar heroin.
When abused, heroin is injected, smoked, sniffed or snorted. Heroin is highly addictive, no matter what the form or how the drug is used.
If you’re fearful that your loved one has developed a heroin addiction, it can be useful to understand the signs of heroin abuse. The sooner a drug problem is identified, the faster a person can begin reclaiming their lives through a comprehensive inpatient treatment program.
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5 Signs Of Heroin Addiction
1. Going “On The Nod”
Heroin is a central nervous system depressant or “downer.” This means that it slows the body down, specifically the blood pressure, breathing, heart, respiratory and temperature rates. As these internal systems slow, certain signs of these changes will be visible.
After the initial rush, or high, of heroin, a drowsy state can set in for several hours. Many users move back and forth between consciousness and unconsciousness while on heroin, alternating from a wakeful to drowsy state. This is called going “on the nod.”
2. Ignoring Drug-Induced Physical And Mental Health Problems
One of the hallmark signs of addiction is when a person continues to compulsively use the drug despite negative consequences to their health. Heroin is so addictive that this shift can happen very fast.
Heroin is immensely toxic to the brain and body, especially at dosages which accompany addiction. Chronic heroin use can cause depression and antisocial personality disorder. Adverse physical health effects include insomnia, liver and kidney disease, lung problems and transmissible diseases like HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C.
When a person is addicted to heroin their mind is consumed by thoughts of finding and using the drug. Driven by these compulsive behaviors, drug use continues despite the knowledge of adverse health effects.
3. Signs Of Heroin Withdrawal
A major sign of heroin dependency and addiction is withdrawal. Should an addicted individual not be able to use heroin they will likely become very sick.
Heroin exerts a strong force over the body’s chemical makeup. Instead of relying on naturally-occurring chemicals within the body and brain, the body begins to count on the steady stream of heroin. Without it, the body begins to malfunction, causing:
- cold flashes
- intense cravings
- involuntary leg movements
- muscle and bone pain
- trouble sleeping
- vomiting and diarrhea
Withdrawal symptoms are at their most severe between one and two days after a person last uses heroin. Typically, symptoms fade after about one week.
Heroin withdrawal can become extreme. Symptoms are painful, uncomfortable and, in certain cases, dangerous. Choosing a medically-supervised detoxification program supports a person’s body as they cleanse and detox from heroin.
4. Signs Of IV Drug Use
The most common means of using heroin is by injection. This method is highly invasive and long-term abuse causes great damage to a person’s body.
Injection sites include the forearm, legs, hands and feet. If a person is an IV drug abuser they may have marks where they inject the drug, including:
- unhealed needle marks
Injecting heroin into the same vein repeatedly can cause vascular scarring. This is called a track mark.
Some individuals heat the needle before they inject the drug. This can leave a black, sooty material at the site of the injection termed a “sooting tattoo.” Chronic drug abusers may get tattoos on their arms or other locations to hide evidence of frequent drug abuse.
Repeated injections can be very dangerous, causing infection or inflammation. A person’s skin may appear red and swollen if they have cellulitis. Infection can become severe and cause necrotizing fasciitis, also called a “flesh-eating disease.” Signs of this condition include dark patches of skin.
5. Drug Paraphernalia
In order to use heroin an individual must have some sort of equipment. Items used to transport, store or administer heroin are termed paraphernalia. Being able to spot these items can help inform you that your loved one is using heroin.
Items used for transporting or storing the drug:
- small baggies
- foil squares
Items used for injecting the drug:
- a belt or rubber tubing (used for “tying off” a person’s arm so that the veins are easier to get to)
- burnt spoon or bottle cap (for liquefying the heroin)
- cotton balls (for filtering the drug)
- syringes or needles
Items used for smoking the drug:
- burnt aluminum foil (used for “chasing the dragon”)
- burnt pop can
- straw (for inhaling vapors from either of the above)
Items used for snorting the drug:
- cut off, hollowed-out pens
- rolled dollar bills
- razor blades
- hard surface with powdery residue on it
Though more rare, some individuals may dilute heroin and place it in a small spray bottle. This method, called “shabanging,” allows the drug to be sprayed into the nose.
Frequent abusers of heroin often keep these items in a small bag or case. This kit may be kept hidden in a vehicle, bedroom, bathroom or other personal space.
If you find any of these items, try not to touch them. In addition to bloodborne illness, heroin paraphernalia may contain traces of potent illicit drugs which were cut into the drug. Touching the strongest of these can cause instant overdose.
Find Help For A Heroin Addiction Today
Heroin addiction is one of the most extreme known to man. Despite this, it is possible to regain sobriety and a functioning, fulfilling life.
In many cases, heroin-addicted individuals require a medically-supervised detoxification. After this, it’s in a person’s best interest to progress to an inpatient drug rehabilitation program.
Here a person will learn personalized coping and relapse prevention skills so that they can build the strongest recovery possible.
Contact TreehouseRehab.org to learn more about heroin addiction and treatment options.