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 derived from naturally-growing opium poppy plants. Heroin is incredibly addictive, making it one of the primary drugs associated with the opioid epidemic in the United States. Tens of thousands of overdose deaths occur every year as the result of the use of heroin and other opioids.

There are other consequences linked to the use of heroin and similar drugs, including 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. For many years, prescription painkillers were widely prescribed, often when they weren’t necessarily needed. There was little thought about the potential for addiction. This over-prescription became a risk factor for eventual heroin abuse.

Heroin is incredibly addictive and can alter reward pathways in the brain after using it only once. 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 how 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 struggling with heroin addiction.

Visible Signs of Heroin Use
When someone uses heroin, it impacts them in a way that is similar to other opioids, including prescription narcotics.  Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain and by doing so, changes how a person perceives pain. This is why opioids are useful in some medical situations. Heroin and other opioids then slow down the functions of the central nervous system, which controls vital functions like 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. Over time, 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, slowed heart rate and clammy skin.

These visible signs of heroin use occur immediately following someone using 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. Many people who use heroin will often cover their arms and legs regardless of the weather to hide these track marks.

There can also be visible signs of heroin use related to lifestyle. For example, a person who is addicted to heroin 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 drugs will often start lying to cover their drug use, or they may withdraw from friends, family and responsibilities. There may be declines in performance at school or work and periods of euphoria followed by extreme exhaustion.

Finally, in addition to visible signs of heroin use, if you suspect a loved one is using the drug, you might also want to 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, they may have glass pipes.

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 discuss your next steps can be.

How Would You Rate This Page?