Signs of Heroin Use: Behavioral and Physical Symptoms

signs of heroin use

If you suspect that someone you love is using heroin, you’re probably very worried. Heroin addiction can have life-altering effects on people, and it can be hard to convince someone to get help. Naturally, you want to confirm your fears before you say anything—and knowing the behavioral and physical signs of heroin use can make that much easier.

Addiction is a highly personal disease, but those who suffer from it often show similar signs or behaviors. So today, we’re going to share these signs of heroin addiction and give you some clear, actionable next steps to take to help your loved one stay safe and overcome addiction.

What Do I Need to Know About Heroin?

signs of heroin use

If a loved one is using heroin, knowing more about the drug and why people take it can help you better understand them and their situation. To start with the basics, heroin is a black market opioid that produces feelings of profound relaxation and euphoria. Thus, for some, they might use heroin or another opioid to self-medicate a mental health condition like anxiety or PTSD.

For others, their experiences with heroin might not start with an intent to do illegal drugs. When someone is prescribed an opioid, they can quickly develop physical dependence. Then, when they run out of the opioid or need a higher dose for pain relief, they may feel they have no choice but to turn to black market alternatives like heroin.


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For those trying to identify signs of heroin use, knowing this information can help you. For example, if you spot other signs of heroin addiction in someone who until recently took opioid medications, this could be another reason to suspect drug abuse. Or, if your loved one displays signs of use and has an untreated mental health issue, this may also indicate heroin use.

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Whatever the cause, the signs of heroin use generally fall into one of two categories: physical and behavioral. Let’s take a look at these two categories to get a better sense of how the dual nature of addiction can affect all facets of a person’s life.

Behavioral Signs of Heroin Use

Having an active addiction can bring about a lot of highs and lows in an individual. This is doubly true if they are using drugs or alcohol to treat the symptoms of their mental health issue. That’s why it’s unlikely that your loved one will display all the behavioral signs of heroin use at one time. Rather, they may go from one symptom to the next, depending on when they can and can’t get another dose.

With that in mind, common behavioral signs of heroin use include:

  • Lying about where they’ve been
  • No longer spending time with friends or family
  • Spending a lot of time with new friends that you don’t know
  • Increased hostility
  • Problems at work or at school
  • General apathy about the world around them
  • Mood swings from depression to euphoria

As you can see, there are a wide variety of heroin addiction symptoms. So don’t assume the worst if your loved one happens to display only one item on this list—instead, examine their patterns of behavior to see if you’re noticing similar trends to the ones described above. If you are, then that could be a sign of heroin use.

Of course, heroin is not the only possible explanation for these listed behaviors. That’s why it’s important to also consider the physical signs that someone is using heroin.

Physical Signs of Heroin Use

Physical Signs of Heroin Use

There are many ways that heroin can be taken, although the most common are snorting, smoking through a glass pipe, or injecting the drug. And these methods of taking heroin often leave physical signs. When trying to figure out if your loved one is displaying heroin addiction symptoms, this gives you a lot of potential clues to spot.

The biggest physical signs of heroin use are:

  • Possession of drug paraphernalia—in this case, that can look like glass pipes, needles, cotton, matches/lighters, a metal spoon, or a shoelace, towel, or other object used to make a tourniquet for injection.
  • Unexplained scars or bruises, particularly on the arms or legs
  • Small, constricted pupils
  • Bouts of intense itchiness and scratching
  • Scabs from picking at the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden lack of personal hygiene
  • Recurring respiratory infections

The physical signs of heroin use are much more cut and dry, so use them in conjunction with the behavioral aspects to help determine if your loved one is using. And if they are, before you talk to them, it’s important to have next steps ready.

What’s the Best Way to Overcome Heroin Addiction?

Recovery from opioid addiction starts with a medical drug detox program. Here, your loved one will be able to safely get heroin out of their system while medical professionals manage their withdrawal symptoms and keep them from relapsing. This will give your loved one the best possible shot at recovery by removing their physical addiction. Of course, they will still require support to learn to manage the mental aspects of addiction.

Oftentimes, heroin addiction starts due to an underlying mental health issue. For these complex cases, we recommend a dual diagnosis program, where a team of mental health and addiction experts can help your loved one develop the necessary coping strategies to achieve long-term recovery. Beating the mental and emotional aspect of heroin addiction is a lifelong process, but inpatient dual diagnosis care will give your loved one the tools they need to successfully recovery and avoid relapsing.

If you recognize the signs of heroin use in your loved one, then the best time to act is now. With fentanyl nearly everywhere in the Ohio illicit drug supply, the risk of accidental overdose is frightfully high. The sooner your loved one enters treatment, the safer they will be.

To that end, you can get answers to any of your questions by calling our admissions specialists at 937-483-4930, or you can ask all of your questions online. Spotting the signs of heroin use can be scary, but taking these next steps could very well help save your friend or family member’s life.

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