Heroin is a powerfully addictive depressant, causing an intense, rapid high in its users, but also exacting a terrible toll on their physical and mental well-being. Despite it being one of the deadliest drugs available, and despite the wealth of information provided by health care and law enforcement professionals, it still remains a tragically common and popular drug. Understanding how heroin works and identifying its patterns may save the life of someone who has fallen prey to it.
What Are the Signs of Heroin Abuse?
Like with any drug, there are a number of signs that suggest a person is using heroin. These could include changes in their mood and behavior or physical evidence that they are taking heroin. Recognizing signs of heroin abuse could help you know when to help that person seek treatment.
- Lethargy. Despite the initial high, heroin causes long periods of drowsiness in its users. Sudden drops in energy, or going to sleep frequently or at unusual times, could be signs that someone is on heroin. The lethargy also shows in slurred speech, a lack of muscular coordination, or an inability to think clearly.
- Needle marks. Look for puncture marks on the arms, as this is where most heroin users inject the drug into their bodies. Since this has become an obvious method of detection, some users resort to injecting themselves in areas of the body normally covered by clothing, such as the ankles, between the toes, the thighs, or the buttocks.
- Changes in behavior. Heroin is such a powerful a drug that it can completely change the way someone would normally act. They may distance themselves from friends, family and other social situations. Academic or professional performance may decline, or they may drop out of school or quit work entirely. When they are not high, users may exhibit withdrawal symptoms, such as erratic mood swings, depression or anxiety.
- Physical effects. Heroin can cause constriction in the pupils and difficulty breathing, as well as vomiting. Unexpected (and drastic) loss of weight can also be expected, as the need for food takes second place to the need to get high or the intense feelings of relaxation that result.
- Drug paraphernalia. Injecting heroin is the most common way of taking it, so someone who has syringes without a valid medical reason could potentially be suspected of using it to take heroin or other drugs. For powdered heroin to be made into a liquid form for injection, it has to be dissolved and diluted, and that requires other tools: a spoon, a filter (cotton balls are common), and a lighter or a candle to dissolve the heroin. Look for something like a belt or shoelaces that a user will tie around their arm to make their veins stand out more.
Other heroin paraphernalia can include glass pipes, aluminum foil, pieces of paper rolled into tubes (for snorting), and small plastic bags that can be used to store heroin.
- Behavioral changes to prolong heroin use. As an addict becomes increasingly desperate for their next hit, they may resort to stealing money to buy more heroin. Unexplained financial losses or strange spending patterns over a period of time might point to a user trying to fund their habit. Also, an addict may employ constant secrecy and deception to keep their habit going, lying about their comings and goings or the reasons behind their continuous fatigue and need for sleep.
Getting Treatment for Heroin Abuse
Heroin is a powerful, deadly drug, accounting for a number of deaths from conditions related to overdosing. In 2010, over 4,200 people died from using heroin, with over 80 percent of those fatalities coming from direct heroin use, or in combination with other drugs, like alcohol. The Wall Street Journal cites studies done by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in quoting figures of the existence of over 669,000 heroin users in the United States.
Despite its potency and addictiveness, heroin addiction treatment can help users overcome their physical and mental need for the drug and start new healthy lives. Please call us to get more information on recognizing the signs of heroin abuse and to learn how to get treatment started.
Further Reading About Recognizing the Signs of Heroin Abuse
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton