Common Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Get in front of an heroin addiction by learning the signs and symptoms. Read what causes heroin addiction, what signs to look out for, and potential long-term effects. Understanding your symptoms is the first step to successful healing.

Understanding Heroin

Learn about heroin and substance abuse

Heroin is a powerful and extremely dangerous drug. It is a member of the opioid family, which means it is similar to substances such as opium, morphine, and fentanyl. 

Heroin interacts with areas of the central nervous system that control breathing, heart rate, and sensations of pain and pleasure. When you use heroin, you will experience a sense of euphoric relaxation. You may also fade in and out of consciousness, and have difficulty thinking clearly. 

The intensity of heroin’s effects can entice you to use the drug again and again. However, as an opioid, heroin is highly addictive. Thus, after using the drug only a few times, you may find it impossible to stop. And once you become addicted to heroin, trying to end your use will trigger several unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.  

Heroin addiction can be extremely difficult to overcome without professional assistance. However, heroin addiction is a treatable condition. When you get effective treatment, you can regain control of your behavior. With help, you can achieve long-term recovery from heroin addiction. 


Heroin addiction statistics 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported the following facts about heroin abuse and addiction in the United States: 

Causes & Risks

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction  

The likelihood that you will struggle with heroin addiction can be influenced by several factors, such as the following: 

  • Family history of addiction or mental illness 
  • Inheriting certain personality traits, including impulsivity or novelty-seeking 
  • Having a sibling or parent who struggled with opioid addiction 
  • Personal history of substance use or mental illness 
  • Being male (heroin abuse is more common among men than among women) 
  • Being a young adult (heroin abuse is most common within the 18-25 age group) 
  • Having an injury or medical condition that is treated with prescription opioids 


Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction 

Heroin addiction can cause a person to experience various symptoms, including the following: 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Trying to borrow or steal money 
  • Frequently missing work or school 
  • Failing to meet personal responsibilities 
  • Lying or otherwise being deceptive about whereabouts 
  • Withdrawing from family and friends 
  • Neglecting personal grooming and hygiene 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Constricted pupils  
  • Watery eyes and runny nose 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Itchiness 
  • Constipation 
  • Unintended weight loss 
  • Persistent fatigue 
  • Disrupted sleep patterns 
  • Scabs, sores, or abscesses on skin (can indicate injection drug use)   

Mental symptoms: 

  • Inability to concentrate or focus 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Poor judgment 
  • Anxiety 
  • Paranoia 
  • Mood swings  


Effects of heroin addiction and substance abuse

The following are among the many negative outcomes that can result from untreated heroin addiction: 

  • Exposure to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other blood-borne diseases 
  • Damage to liver and kidneys 
  • Heart problems 
  • Physical injury due to actions taken while under the influence of heroin 
  • Onset or worsening of mental illness 
  • Family discord 
  • Strained or lost friendships 
  • Job loss  
  • Chronic unemployment 
  • Financial difficulties 
  • Arrest, incarceration, and other legal problems 
  • Withdrawing or being ostracized from friends and family members 
  • Homelessness 
  • Pervasive sense of hopelessness 
  • Suicidal thoughts 

When you choose to enter treatment for heroin addiction, you can protect yourself from future harm and begin to heal from past damage. When you seek effective professional help, your life can get much better. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

People who struggle with heroin addiction may have an increased risk of also experiencing the following disorders: 

  • Antisocial personality disorder 
  • Depression 
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Other substance use disorders 

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

Effects of withdrawal: One of the reasons why heroin addiction can be so difficult to overcome is because withdrawal is such a distressing experience. The following are among the more typical heroin withdrawal symptoms: 

  • Intense cravings for heroin 
  • Abdominal cramping 
  • Muscle and bone pain 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 
  • Anxiety 
  • Agitation  
  • Depression 

Effects of overdose: Heroin overdose can be extremely dangerous, even fatal. Anyone who has the following symptoms after using heroin needs immediate medical attention: 

  • Extreme confusion or disorientation 
  • Slow, shallow, labored, or otherwise irregular breathing 
  • Slow or faint pulse 
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Inability to be awakened 
  • Bluish coloration near lips or fingertips 
  • Muscle spasms 
  • Seizure