Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

The Beginning of Heroin Addiction

There are several distinct phases to heroin addiction. In the beginning, most people use heroin strictly to experience the rush and the high produced by using: The Honeymoon Phase. This often begins with someone snorting heroin. After tolerance has begun to develop and more of the drug is needed to produce the same effect, someone may decide that shooting up is the next step since they can get a stronger effect with less heroin.

This is a dangerous line to cross, as shooting up will introduce much more heroin into the brain at a time, which will subsequently cause the brain to adapt more so than if the same amount of heroin were snorted. This means that withdrawal will set in quicker and much stronger when someone shoot up heroin.

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Heroin use has now become a serious preoccupation and someone will typically make plans around using heroin. At this point, someone has developed a dependence on heroin and will begin to feel sick when they go too long without using it. If their friends or family hasn’t noticed a problem before now, it usually becomes obvious within a few weeks.

 Some behavioral symptoms of heroin addiction may include:

  • Isolation from Friends and Family (not answering phone calls/texts and avoiding gatherings)
  • Frequent Appeals to Borrow Money (usually for complex or outlandish reasons)
  • Frequent and Unexplained Absence from Work or Social Gatherings
  • Lack of Personal Hygiene (failing to shower, shave, or brush teeth)
  • Lack of Motivation in General

After some weeks of using heroin on a daily basis, the highs are less intense and the user will begin to feel as if they need heroin in order to feel normal. This is the beginning of full blown heroin addiction: The Maintenance Phase.

Signs of Heroin Use:

Someone who is regularly using heroin will have an extremely difficult time hiding this fact. There are some fairly obvious sign that someone is using heroin. Some of the noticeable signs of active heroin use may include:

  • Frequently Nodding Off (briefly falling asleep in public or at work)
  • Frequent Itching and Scratching
  • Frequent Vomiting (some people vomit often when using heroin, while others rarely vomit)
  • A Very Hoarse or Scratchy Voice
  • Very Small Pupils
  • Nosebleeds (from snorting)
  • Wearing Long Sleeves Regardless of the Weather (people who shoot up heroin do this to cover track marks)
  • Bite Marks on Belt (people who shoot up heroin often use their belt as a ligature)

In addition, without daily heroin use, the gastrointestinal tract will become more active. This can be extremely uncomfortable, or even painful. This is the early stage of heroin withdrawal and worsening addiction. Finally, after months of daily use, someone enters the final phase of heroin addiction: The Withdrawal Prevention Phase.

Worsening Heroin Addiction

Signs of Worsening Heroin Addiction

Once someone has been using heroin regularly for some months, the withdrawal symptoms will begin to emerge sooner and more intensely. This can lead someone to dread the thought of withdrawal, and go to any lengths to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Some of the signs exhibited by someone in this phase of heroin use may include:

  • Frequently Selling Their Own Valuables
  • Theft or Robbery of Valuables or Cash
  • Open Hostility Towards Friends or Family
  • Almost Total Absence from Work and Pre-Heroin Social Life
  • Wounds or Illnesses such as Abscess, Botulism, or Necrosis (due to shooting up heroin)

At this point, someone often finds that they need heroin to do anything. The thought of withdrawal can become anxiety-inducing and terrifying. Someone will often do anything they can to get more heroin to avoid withdrawal. Every time someone uses heroin again, the cycle of withdrawal will become more vicious. The symptoms of withdrawal will continue to escalate the longer and more that they use heroin. They may find themselves spending any and all money that they have to get more. After their available money is exhausted, they may find themselves borrowing money or selling whatever they can to get more money. Once they’ve sold and borrowed everything they can, theft or robbery may become an option.

Why Is Heroin So Addictive?

Heroin is extremely potent and causes some far-reaching and wide-ranging changes in the brain and body through chronic use. It produces an intense euphoria, relieves pain and discomfort, and produces a great sense of wellbeing that has been described as a “golden glow” by some. Also, many users report a feeling of warmth enveloping the body, typically spreading out from the spine and wrapping the user in a blanket of relaxed comfort. When snorted, the euphoria is produced within minutes and is mild to moderate, whereas when shooting up, the euphoria is almost instantaneous and very intense. Some people can become psychologically addicted the very first time they use heroin, with the discovery of a way to feel this good overriding all else in the pursuit of it.

After using heroin for long enough, someone will feel uncomfortable, anxious, depressed, and unfulfilled when they don't use heroin for too long. This often becomes the main reason someone will keep using heroin; avoiding the mental and physical pain and discomfort of withdrawal. The only way to feel normal again is to abstain from heroin use long enough for the brain to recover and repair itself from the changes caused by chronic heroin use.

The Progression of Heroin Addiction

Most, but not all, people use heroin for the first time by snorting it. The threat of needles and the lack of experience with hitting a vein keeps many people from shooting up for a while. Once someone develops a strong dependence, the scariness and threat of needles can easily be overcome with the knowledge that a person can get much more high from a smaller amount of heroin when they shoot up.

Once successfully performed, shooting up typically becomes the preferred route of heroin use, as the high is much more intense and rapid. Since more heroin makes it into the brain when someone shoots up, there will be a much more rapid tolerance built up, and subsequently, dependence will develop much more quickly.

I.V. drug use comes with its own set of risks, as people who use drugs in this manner will often resort to sharing needles without much concern for the health risks or long-term consequences. Additionally, the withdrawals from any drug used intravenously are much more severe than when someone snorts a drug, as much more of the drug makes it into the blood (and thus the brain) by injection. Finally, the risk of overdose is vastly increased for these same reasons, with a person able to inject a fatal dose in under a second.

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