Signs of heroin addiction

The symptoms of heroin addiction and some of the signs to look out for if you’re worried a loved one might be addicted.

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Page medically reviewed by Dr William Shanahan, Medical Director and Clinical Director of Addictions (BAO, BCh, DCH, D'OBS, FRCPsych, MB), Priory Hospital Roehampton, in November 2022.

Heroin use can have a devastating effect on the life of the user and their loved ones around them. It can be difficult to accept that your heroin use has spiralled into an addiction, and opening up to friends or family members about your difficulties can be equally tough.

Identifying the signs of heroin addiction is a vital step on the journey to recovery. If you're worried about a loved one, it’s important that you familiarise yourself with the typical physical, psychological and behavioural signs of heroin addiction. Once you understand the problem, you can offer the best possible support for your loved one’s recovery.

How addictive is heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive substance. After repeated use, your body can develop a dependence on the drug, leading to users needing to increase their use to get the same impact. Over time, the effects that heroin has on your mind and body can lead to serious damage to your health and lifestyle.

Heroin addiction symptoms

The symptoms of heroin addiction will vary depending on the person and how much they have used the drug. However, there are a range of common symptoms to look out for.

  • Feelings of shame, guilt and depression
  • Hopelessness and despair
  • Impaired ability to concentrate or focus
  • Poor judgement
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Significant unintentional weight loss
  • Exhaustion and lethargy
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Persistent flu-like symptoms
  • Bruising or scabbing of the skin

Signs of heroin addiction

If you’re concerned that a loved one may be suffering from addiction, there are signs you can look out for to help you recognise when someone is addicted to heroin.

The clearest sign of heroin addiction in someone you care about is evidence of paraphernalia that’s used to prepare, inject, snort or smoke heroin. This can include:

  • Needles or syringes when they have no other medical conditions
  • Burned silver spoons
  • Plastic bags containing traces of white powder
  • Foil or gum wrappers with burn marks

People with a heroin addiction may conceal their habit well and go to great lengths to ensure the people closest to them don’t find out the extent of their drug use. If there are no obvious remnants of paraphernalia, you can look for changes in behaviour that indicate heroin abuse and addiction. These can include:

  • Lying about their whereabouts or reasons for borrowing money
  • Appearing to sleep more than usual
  • Withdrawing from friends and family, or generally socially isolating themselves
  • Lack of interest in personal hygiene
  • Worsening performance at work or sudden job loss
  • Stealing or borrowing money from loved ones
  • Wearing clothing that hides needle marks or skin irritation caused from scratching

Signs of a heroin overdose

Heroin has such a profound impact on our bodies that it leaves us at risk of a serious reaction such as an overdose. Here are some signs that someone has experienced a heroin overdose:

  • Bluish lips and/or fingernails
  • Pale skin
  • Shallow breathing or gasping
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • A weak pulse and low blood pressure
  • Delirium

Spotlight on Priory Hospital Woodbourne in Birmingham

Located within a tranquil suburb of South West Birmingham, Priory Hospital Woodbourne is one of the UK’s leading addiction treatment and rehabilitation centres.

Watch this short video to find out more:

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Heroin withdrawal and treatment options

Heroin addiction severely limits the ability of the user to live their life, bringing great damage to their physical health, work and social life. Specialist treatment is available at Priory; we can provide evidence-based support to help people fight addiction.

Detox

Once a user has been without heroin for a period of time, serious withdrawal symptoms can set in. Going through withdrawal can be a painful and unpleasant experience, resulting in the addict using again as they seek to avoid the pain.

Withdrawal symptoms of heroin include insomnia, severe agitation and anxiety, muscle aches and gastrointestinal issues. If it’s not managed in a medical setting, withdrawal from heroin can cause serious harm to your health and in rare cases threaten your life. It means you should never attempt to detox from heroin without medical supervision.

A medical drug detox is a central initial part of treatment for heroin addiction. This detox period typically lasts for 10 to 14 days. Appropriate medication will be prescribed to help you with withdrawal symptoms. A detox removes your dependence on the drug, allowing you to focus fully on long-term recovery in rehab.

Drug rehab

The causes of addiction are complex, but in drug rehab, you’re in the best place to identify and overcome any underlying causes of your heroin use. Priory provides the best inpatient residential treatment to support people with an addiction to drugs like heroin.

Within our network of specialist treatment centres, you’ll benefit from a comprehensive treatment plan that includes a wide range of evidence-based interventions.

Central to any recovery from addiction is therapy. With specialist therapy teams at each site, therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) can address the source of your addiction and help you develop coping strategies for long-term recovery.

Typically lasting 28 days, inpatient rehab also includes wellbeing activities (such as yoga, meditation or exercise classes) and family support sessions.

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