Heroin is an increasingly popular drug that is highly addictive and extremely dangerous. In 2019, there were just over 14,000 heroin overdose deaths in the US. Knowing the signs that someone is using heroin is vital to preventing an overdose death among your loved ones and helping them find treatment. If you suspect that someone you love is addicted to heroin, it is critical that they get the help they need as soon as possible to prevent further abuse and possibly fatal consequences. Medical and psychiatric care is often necessary to ensure someone has the best possible chance of achieving long-term recovery, and The Summit Wellness Group uses a combination of therapies and techniques to help clients find recovery from heroin addiction.
How to Tell if Someone is Using Heroin
When you watch a TV show, it can be pretty easy to pinpoint the drug addict by the way that they are portrayed, but in the real world, things are not always so obvious. This is especially the case when it is a friend, family member, or loved one. It can be difficult to recognize and then admit to ourselves that the person we love has a heroin problem. We may even try to write off their new, concerning behaviors because we simply can’t wrap our heads around the fact that they may be addicted to something as serious and dangerous as heroin.
Knowing what to look for can enable you to talk to a loved one who may be struggling with heroin addiction and support them in getting the help they need. Being able to identify the signs and getting educated on what heroin addiction looks like could be the decisive factor that saves your loved one if and when they overdose.
Lifestyle Signs of Using Heroin
Work or School Issues: The person may seem relatively normal at the beginning of their drug use, however, as heroin use continues, finding and using the drug becomes the most important thing in their life. Normal responsibilities, such as school or work, become less important.
Declining Physical Appearance: Many people struggling with heroin addiction begin to neglect their physical appearance as the drug takes control over their lives. Many heroin users will have drastic weight loss, and their skin may have sores or infections due to injecting the drug or constant itching or picking.
Relationship Problems: When a person abuses heroin, they may isolate themselves from friends, family members, or significant others for a variety of reasons. They may feel shame or embarrassment about their addiction even though they can’t seem to stop. They may also feel like a loved one will be able to notice they are using drugs. Someone may also isolate themselves simply because the drug is the most important thing in their life and they will spend all their time trying to get high or avoid heroin withdrawal. Social interaction, especially to people who aren’t using heroin, may seem weird and uncomfortable to them.
Money Problems: Many people who use heroin will spend all of their money on the drug, and they may even try to borrow money or even steal money in order to buy more heroin. When the addiction takes control of their life, they may lose their job as they are unable to perform their job effectively while high or are unable to go to work due to heroin withdrawal.
Scars on Arms, Toes, Hands, or Legs: If someone chooses to inject the drug for a more intense and immediate high, they will have “track marks” at the site of injection. If unclean needles are used or shared between people, or someone uses the same injection site repeatedly, those injection sites may become infected. Heroin also causes itching which may lead to skin and hair picking, further contributing to infection of the area.
Constricted Pupils: Heroin causes the pupils to constrict significantly. The eyes also may appear bloodshot, and dark circles underneath may be present as well.
Nausea or Vomiting: Some people vomit regularly when using heroin. This usually occurs shortly after the drug was used and can lead to weight loss.
Mumbled Speech: Heroin affects the brain by slowing everything down which may cause the person to speak slowly and mumble their words, sometimes to the point of unintelligibility.
Mental / Emotional Changes
- Mood Swings: People who use heroin may feel happy or content when they use the drug, however as the euphoria fades and withdrawal symptoms set in, they may appear exhausted, irritable, overly emotional, or aggressive.
- Disrupted Sleep Patterns: Because heroin is a depressant, it can make users sleepy or in a state of semi-consciousness, sometimes referred to as “nodding off”. Continued use may cause insomnia as sleeping patterns are disrupted, and it can also reduce the quality of sleep the person has leading to more frequent, but less restful sleep.
- Attention or Memory Problems: Continued use of heroin can damage the hippocampus in the brain which controls memory and attention. Once the damage is done to this area of the brain, it may take years to recover if the damage is not permanent.
- Confusion: The “nodding off” that is common during heroin use can lead to confusion and disorientation. Someone may forget where they are, what they were doing, and what they were about to do.
If you believe that someone you know and love is using heroin, the signs of heroin addiction can be identified once you know what to look for. Being able to identify them could prevent an overdose from taking their life. Begin a conversation with your loved one about their change in behavior, their possible reliance on heroin, and what options they have available to them for treatment.
The Summit Wellness Group’s team includes doctors, psychiatrists, clinical therapists, counselors, and people in recovery from addiction themselves who make up a community support system that provides you and your loved one with the resources that make recovery possible. Not only do we provide individualized treatment plans meant to cater to each of our client’s needs, but we also offer family groups and services to ensure that you are included in your loved one’s recovery process. Your mental health needs are just as important, so if you feel that your loved one’s addiction is causing extreme stress or frustration, speaking to one of our counselors can help you find the help you and your loved one may need.