Heroin is one of the most popular street drugs in the United States, used every day by thousands of Americans. Despite being illegal, more than 690,000 people use it every year, and the average rate of abuse is going up, with data showing increases of over 50% between 2002 and 2012. Unfortunately, heroin hurts users, damaging mental and emotional health, physical health, and putting them at risk of strong legal and financial repercussions. Whether the drug is injected through a needle or smoked, it increases the risk of infection, hepatitis C, and HIV transmission. Heroin also damages the body and the organs, resulting in health problems, thousands of hospital visits each year, and an average of 13,000 deaths per year. If you suspect that a friend or a loved one may be addicted to heroin, it is crucial that you attempt to get them help. Heroin is often deadly, and you could be saving their life.
Seven Symptoms of Heroin Use
While the signs and symptoms of heroin usage can vary a great deal, you can look for these 7 symptoms when determining what drug your friend or loved one is using.
1. Drug Paraphernalia
While many symptoms of heroin use apply to other types of substance abuse as well, drug paraphernalia is often a sure sign that someone is using heroin. Common paraphernalia include:
- Burnt spoons or bottle caps
- Dark sticky residue
- Cotton balls, especially stained
- Tan or white powder residue
- Small glass pipes (for smoking heroin)
- Burnt straws
- Syringes / Needles
- Rubber tubing
- Small bags with white residue
- Ties such as shoelaces, rubber hose, strings, etc.
Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected but smoking and injecting are the most common. With injecting, heroin is either melted in a spoon or bottle cap, drawn into a needle, and then injected into a vein. Smoking can be achieved with a glass pipe, a ball of aluminum foil and a straw, or several other methods. Unless the addict or user cleans up after themselves very well, you can likely find paraphernalia.
2. Behavioral Changes
Drug use of any kind changes behavior and you should be alert to it. Addicts often become withdrawn, caring less about friends, family, and even repercussions for wrongdoings. This is because heroin stimulates the reward center of the brain, creating a strong euphoric rush. Over time, the addict prioritizes this euphoric rush over everything else in their life, including loved ones. As a result, a formerly caring person may suddenly seem selfish and cold, a formerly honest person may lie constantly, and someone may otherwise change their behavior for the worse. If it seems like the person you knew is gone or vastly changed, drugs may lie behind the change.
3. Frequent Cold or Flu Symptoms
Heroin causes cold-like symptoms including smaller pupils, flushed skin, nausea and vomiting, itching, drowsiness, and slow thinking. If a person you suspect of drug use is frequently nauseas or complaining of feeling sick, the reason may be heroin use. However, this is not a symptom on its own, only in combination with other symptoms – simply because too many things can cause these types of medical reactions. If you suspect someone of frequent drug use, taking them to the doctor because they are always sick for a medical confirmation may be a good idea.
4. Lying and Manipulation
A heroin addict will typically prioritize their addiction over every other thing in their life, leading them to lie and manipulate to get their way. This type of behavior may be immediately obvious or it may take a while to become visible – but addicts often lie outright, use excuses to get money, lie about why they haven’t paid rent or purchased something, make excuses, and even pit family members and friends against each other to get away with something. Lying and manipulation is very common in most types of substance abuse.
5. Missing Money/Valuables
Heroin is a street drug and often expensive. Because many people who are addicted to heroin have difficulty holding jobs or fulfilling responsibilities, they often turn to theft to fund addictions. Missing money and valuables can be a sign that someone has taken them to fund their heroin habit. Like many other symptoms, this one can point to several different types of substance abuse, rather than just heroin.
6. Track Marks
Most addicts will go out of their way to hide track marks, which are bruising and sores where needles go into the skin. Most heroin users inject into the folds of arms or on the large veins of the legs – resulting in repeated sores on the injection site. If you see these, the user is most likely using or injection some type of drug. Because many go out of their way to hide track marks, you can often spot attempts to hide marks instead. For example, someone constantly wearing long sleeves and long pants, even when it is very warm is a good sign that they have something to hide. You can be subtle about trying to see if they are trying to hide something by inviting them swimming – or you can attempt to talk about it if you are already sure that the person is using.
7. Hostility or Aloofness from Friends and Family
Addicts often withdraw from friends and family through a combination of prioritizing drugs and because of a mix of guilt and shame. Most heroin users understand they have a problem, and do not want to admit it to others. This can lead to aggressive and hostile behavior when confronted, can lead to angry outbursts, depression, and aloofness. A dramatic change in behavior in a friend or family member is almost always a sign of something wrong, but is a very common symptom of substance abuse. While the symptoms of heroin use often match up with other types of drug use, identifying that someone is using any drug can put you on the right track. Someone who is abusing a drug, including heroin, is putting themselves, their future, and their health at risk. Because heroin is illegal, they also face the risk of jail time and court penalties if caught by the law. Taking the time to stage an intervention and get someone help and into rehab can not only help them to get better, it can save their life. A good rehabilitation center will provide full medically supported addiction detox to help your loved one withdraw safely, programs to build life skills and coping skills, and therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help them recognize the emotional and mental problems behind their addiction so that they can work past it. The Oceanfront Recovery Addiction Treatment Program can help you or your loved one through the difficult and dangerous process of withdrawal and subsequent recovery from addiction. Our clinicians focus on bringing the underlying causes of addiction to the surface with a modern and effective recovery program in a closed setting. Contact Oceanfront Recovery today for a confidential assessment, and begin the journey of recovery today.