Visible Signs of Heroin Use

Heroin in the U.S.

Heroin is an opioid drug, putting it in the same class of drugs as prescription pain relievers. Heroin is derived from morphine, which is a naturally-growing plant that comes from opium poppy plants. Heroin is incredibly addictive, and it’s a primary drug that’s associated with the opioid epidemic in the U.S. Tens of thousands of overdose deaths annually result from the use of heroin and other opioids.

Visible Signs of Heroin Use

There are other consequences linked to the use of heroin and similar drugs as well that include crime, violence, family and societal problems, and costs associated with healthcare. Suspecting that a loved one could be using heroin is extremely scary because of the addictive and often deadly nature of the drug. Recognizing the signs of heroin abuse can be helpful as you try to guide that person toward receiving treatment.

The number of people using heroin has been steadily climbing in the past decade for a few different reasons. First, there is the relationship to prescription painkillers. For many years, prescription painkillers were widely prescribed, often when they weren’t even necessarily needed. There was little thought about the potential for addiction. This over-prescription became a risk factor for eventual heroin abuse for people who became addicted to those drugs. There has also been a trend toward smoking and snorting of heroin. In previous decades it was primarily injected, and the stigma that was associated with that method kept many people from trying it. Now more people are initially using heroin in other ways. More often than not, they ultimately move on to inject it to achieve a more powerful high.

Heroin is incredibly addictive and can alter reward pathways in the brain after using it only one time. Addiction to heroin is a chronic disease that is manageable but requires professional treatment. This is one of the reasons it can be useful to learn to recognize the visible signs of heroin use as well as the potential behavioral and lifestyle signs of use. If you can recognize red flags of heroin abuse, you may be more prepared to help a loved one.

When someone uses heroin, it impacts them in a specific way that is similar to other opioids including prescription narcotics.  Heroin binds to opioid receptors, and by doing so, it’s able to change how a person perceives pain, which is why opioids are useful in some medical situations. Heroin and other opioids then slow down the functions of the central nervous system. The central nervous system controls breathing. As a result, one of the biggest risks of using heroin is the slowing or stopping of breathing.

A person who uses heroin will first seem euphoric and high because of how the drug releases certain chemicals into the brain at very high levels. Then, that person will likely start to appear very sleepy and may nod off, particularly at strange times. They may have slow coordination or slurred speech, and they may feel like their extremities are heavy. Other visible signs of heroin use in the short-term can include confusion, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting and itchiness. If someone overdoses on heroin, visible signs can include slowed breathing as well as loss of consciousness, blue-tinted skin, pinpoint pupils, and a slow heart rate or clammy skin.

These visible signs of heroin use occur immediately following someone’s use of the drug. Even when the high wears off, there can be signs of use. One of the biggest giveaways for intravenous users are track marks. Track marks are little bruises or sores where someone injects heroin using a needle. Even if you can’t see track marks, heroin users will often cover their arms and legs regardless of the weather. There can also be visible signs of heroin use related to lifestyle. For example, a person may start to neglect hygiene and grooming. They may stop eating, or they might sleep at strange times.

Some symptoms of drug abuse aren’t specific to heroin but may occur with any drug addiction or substance use disorder. For example, people addicted to using drugs will often start lying to cover their drug use, or they may withdraw from friends, family and their responsibilities. There may be declines in performance at school or work, and periods of euphoria may be followed by extreme exhaustion or sleep.

Finally, in addition to visible signs of heroin use, if you suspect a loved one is using the drug you might also look for paraphernalia. One of the most common forms of heroin paraphernalia are needles, which are used to inject the drug. A spoon may also be present, which is the tool used to cook the heroin or turn it from a solid into a liquid that can be injected. Shoelaces are often used to tie-off extremities to make veins more apparent for injecting the drug, or if someone smokes heroin, there may be glass pipes found.

So what should you do if you notice visible signs of heroin use or changes in behavior that could indicate drug abuse? Contact The Recovery Village. We have a team of addiction specialists who can talk with you more about the signs you’ve spotted in a loved one and what your next steps can be.

Visible Signs of Heroin Use
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