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What are the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction?

Heroin is a powerful, dangerous and highly addictive drug. A member of the opiate family, heroin is known to cause intensely pleasurable effects, including an elimination of pain and a sense of relaxed euphoria. However, the way that heroin effects with the central nervous system means that individuals who use this drug put themselves at risk for significant immediate and long-term harm.

The following are among the most common psychological, physical, behavioural & social signs and symptoms that may indicate that a person has been abusing or has become dependent upon heroin:

Psychological symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Feelings of shame, guilt and depression
  • Hopelessness and despair
  • Impaired ability to concentrate or focus
  • Poor judgement
  • Confusion and disorientation

Physical symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Significant unintentional weight loss
  • Exhaustion and lethargy
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Constipation
  • Bruising or scabbing of the skin
  • Itchiness
  • Sleep problems
  • Damage to the kidneys and liver
  • Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS
  • Pneumonia and tuberculosis

Social symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Associating with a new peer group
  • Drastic mood swings and unprovoked outbursts of anger
  • Strained or ruined relationships
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Legal problems including arrest and imprisonment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Social isolation
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Behavioural symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Frequently being absent from work or college/university
  • Substandard performance at work or in college/university
  • Possessing syringes or other paraphernalia that may contribute to the misuse of heroin
  • Wearing long-sleeved shirts even in warm weather (which may be an attempt to hide marks from intravenous injections of heroin)
  • Lying, secrecy or otherwise acting deceptively regarding activities and whereabouts
  • Loss of interest in activities or events that were previously important

When you use heroin, you can quickly develop a tolerance, which means that you will need to take increasingly greater amounts of the drug in order to experience the desired effects. Continued misuse of the drug means that you are also likely to become addicted. This combination can have a profoundly negative impact on your physical and mental health.

As is also the case with other opiates, heroin addiction can be extremely difficult to overcome without effective professional help & support. Trying to stop taking heroin can quickly trigger several unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, painful cramping, psychological distress and extreme cravings for the drug. These symptoms can overwhelm even the strongest desire to stop and can push you back into the destructive downward spiral of continued heroin use.

Specialist heroin addiction treatment programmes at Priory will typically begin with a medically assisted withdrawal detoxification at one of our specialist heroin treatment hospitals, helping you to manage the symptoms and associated dangers involved with heroin withdrawal.

Once the drug has been removed from your system, you will commence with our comprehensive Addiction Treatment Programme involving group and individual counselling, helping you identify the underlying reasons and associated issues which formed your addiction.

With effective professional care, you can overcome your dependence and begin to lead a healthier and happier life.

This page was reviewed by Stephanie Chick (FDAP) in July 2020.

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal
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Symptoms of heroin overdose
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