Heroin Abuse & Addiction Symptoms, Causes, Signs & Side Effects

Heroin is a highly potent, fast-acting opiate narcotic that is said to create a rush of pleasure and overall well-being. This drug is a derivative of morphine, which is a naturally-occurring opiate.

Understanding Heroin Abuse

Learn More About Heroin Addiction

After a few hours the high wears off leaving the user eager to obtain more of the substance in order to get those feelings back.

Heroin is especially dangerous as it is a street drug that is likely mixed, or “cut” with other substances. While sometimes the heroin is cut with substances such as cornstarch or baby powder, other times it is mixed with lethal substances such as arsenic or quinine. When bought on the streets there’s no way to know what the heroin is mixed with which can lead to overdose and death. Heroin is consumed in a number of different ways such as smoking, injecting, and snorting. All methods result in the substance reaching the brain and resulting in a blissful high.

After prolonged use, heroin addicts develop a tolerance to the drug which means that they require more and more in order to experience the desired high or rush. Eventually heroin addicts spend a majority of their time, energy, and money trying to get more heroin. The results of heroin abuse can be totally devastating, affecting all areas of an individual’s life. Negative consequences of heroin abuse can include financial problems, relationship difficulties, and a decline in work or school performance. Heroin addiction is a long-term disease that causes an individual to keep using despite all of the apparent negative effects.


Statistics of Heroin Addiction

It has been estimated that of 4.2 million people (1.6%) in the U.S. ages 12 and older have used heroin. It’s approximated that over 23% of those who try heroin become addicted to it. The lifetime prevalence rates have been estimated at 1.7% of those ages 18-25, and 1.8% or adults 26 or older.


Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse

Since the exact cause of heroin addiction is unknown it has been determined that it is a combination of many different factors. These factors may include:

Genetic: Drug abuse is known to run in families. Individuals who have family members struggling with addiction problems are more likely to develop addiction problems themselves.

Brain Chemistry: Addiction to heroin can cause changes in brain structures and alter brain chemicals which cause cravings for more heroin. When an individual takes a drug like heroin they experience feelings of overall well-being and leads them to want to continue to use.

Environmental: Those who abuse heroin have often been exposed to substance abuse at an early age which makes drug abuse seem acceptable. Individuals who are exposed to drug abuse at an early age have learned that drug use is an acceptable way to deal with life struggles and stresses.

Psychological: Many people who struggle with heroin addiction may also be suffering with untreated mental illnesses. The use of heroin may be an attempt at self-medication.


Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

Signs and symptoms of heroin use depends upon how long an individual has been using and the amount of heroin that is consumed. The most common symptoms of heroin abuse include:

Mood Symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Aggression
  • Violence
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Inability to interact normally with others
  • Loss of relationships
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Risky behaviors
  • Drug-seeking behaviors
  • Changes in normal behavior patterns
  • Failure to fulfill major life responsibilities
  • Falling asleep
  • Lying
  • Hiding the drug in various places

Physical symptoms:           

  • Cravings
  • Hyperactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling disoriented
  • Increased sleep
  • Constant runny nose
  • Scabs or bruises due to skin picking
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • Slurred speech
  • Track marks
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Loss of self-control
  • Inhibitory behavior

Psychological symptoms:

  • Emotional numbing
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Psychosis
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Disorganized thoughts
  • Changes in personality
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions


Effects of Heroin Abuse

The effects of heroin abuse and addiction can be cause devastating effect in all areas of an individual’s life. Some effects of heroin addiction include:

  • Runny nose
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Tachycardia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Circulatory problems
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Liver damage
  • Respiratory depression
  • Intense sweating
  • Sleep apnea
  • Joint pain
  • Chills
  • Body weakness
  • Unsteady gait
  • Trouble with the law
  • Incarceration
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Coma
  • Death due to overdose or suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Learn About Co-Occurring Disorders

There are a number of disorders that co-occur with addiction. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Effects of Withdrawal

Effects of Withdrawal for Heroin Abuse

Heroin withdrawal can result in symptoms that range in intensity depending upon how long the substance has been abused, how much heroin an individual has been using, and the individual characteristics of the addict. Due to the severe unpleasantness of withdrawal symptoms, heroin detox should be done in a medically supervised environment under the direct care of healthcare professionals.

Withdrawal symptoms of heroin may include:

  • Cravings
  • Negative mood
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Body pain
  • Body weakness
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme sweating
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Respiratory distress
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Death

My sons heroin addiction almost took him from me. Park Royal was able to help my son during his times of trouble and he is now back with his family. We love him so much and are so grateful we chose Park Royal as his rehab facility.

– Hannah H