Heroin Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Heroin is a  powerful drug that has the potential to wreak considerable devastation on virtually all aspects of an individual’s life, including his or her physical, psychological, and socioeconomic wellbeing.  Sometimes referred to by slang terms including smack, horse, and tar, heroin is an opioid that is synthesised from morphine, which is, in turn, a natural component of the opium poppy plant. Heroin is most commonly abused by being smoked, snorted, or injected. When a person ingests heroin, he or she experiences a euphoric rush as well as decreases in heart rate and respiration.

In addition to the risk of overdose death, heroin misuse can also lead to addiction, or heroin use disorder, as well as myriad physical problems and cognitive impairments. Also, the onset of painful withdrawal symptoms can make it extremely difficult for a person to overcome the compulsion to abuse heroin without effective professional help. However, with proper care, men and women can end their heroin dependence upon this devastating opioid and resume their pursuit of healthy drug-free futures.


According to the 2014/15 version of The Crime Survey for England and Wales, 0.1% of the population ages 16 to 59 have misused heroin in the past 12 months. A report from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring system notes that, although treatment facilities in the UK have experienced declines in the number of people who were seeking treatment for heroin abuse, more than 6 of 10 people who died while in treatment were individuals in their mid-40s who had been struggling with opioid abuse, most often long-term heroin abuse.

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse

Heroin misuse and addiction may be influenced by a several factors, including the following:

Genetic: Research involving twins and adopted children supports a genetic component to heroin use disorder or other opioid use disorders. A genetic predisposition to impulsivity and novelty-seeking can raise a person’s risk for developing a problem related to the abuse of heroin and other opioids.

Environmental: Access to heroin and associating with individuals who abuse heroin are among the prime environmental risk factors associated with heroin misuse and addiction. Additional environmental influences include poverty and stress.

Risk Factors:

  • Gender (men are more likely to abuse heroin than women are)
  • Age (most individuals who abuse heroin first do so during their late teens or early 20s)
  • Family or personal history of mental illness
  • Family or personal history of substance misuse
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Impulsivity
  • Novelty-seeking personality

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

The following are among the many indicators that a person may have been abusing heroin:

Behavioural symptoms:

  • Possession of syringes, needles, and other paraphernalia
  • Deceptiveness regarding whereabouts and/or activities
  • Decreased interest in significant activities
  • Using larger and larger quantities of heroin in order to achieve the desired effect
  • Using heroin when it is obviously dangerous to do so
  • Devoting considerable time to acquiring, using, and recovering from the abuse of heroin

Physical symptoms:

  • Pupillary constriction
  • Depressed respiration
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dry mouth
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Scabs, sores, other skin damage due to injection drug use
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Heaviness in arms and legs

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor judgment
  • Impaired ability to concentrate or focus
  • Diminished cognition
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Social withdrawal
Get confidential help now: 023 8046 4721 Email Us

Effects of Heroin Abuse

Without treatment, people who engage in the chronic misuse of heroin are at continued risk for a variety of negative effects and outcomes, including the following:

  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS
  • Family discord
  • Ruined interpersonal relationships
  • Substandard academic and/or occupational performance
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Legal jeopardy, including incarceration
  • Financial devastation
  • Homelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Hopelessness and pervasive despair
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

People who abuse or become addicted to heroin may also have an increased likelihood of developing the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Other substance use disorders

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal: Attempting to stop or significantly reduce one’s heroin use after having become dependent upon this powerful opiate can trigger many distressing withdrawal symptoms, including the following:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings for heroin
  • Insomnia sleep patterns
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Extreme flu-like symptoms

Effects of heroin overdose: Every time a person abuses heroin, he or she exposes himself or herself to the risk of overdose, which can be lethal. A person who exhibits the following symptoms after ingesting heroin may have overdosed and should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare provider:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Extremely shallow breathing
  • Precipitous drop in blood pressure
  • Diminished heart rate
  • Cramping
  • Bluish tint in areas near mouth and/or fingertips
  • Twitches, tremors, and spasms
  • Unconsciousness
Get confidential help now: 023 8046 4721 Email Us