Heroin Addiction Signs, Symptoms, & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of heroin addiction is a critical first step in getting help for yourself or a loved one. Bradford Recovery Center, located in Millerton, Pennsylvania, is Northern Pennsylvania’s leading addiction treatment center, providing personalized programming for adults age 18 and over who are struggling with a heroin addiction.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin addiction

Heroin is an illegal opioid derived from substances commonly found in nature. Heroin often comes in the form of a powder or tar. People use heroin by injecting, snorting, or smoking it, though injection is the most common method. By injecting heroin, the substance immediately hits the bloodstream and the user obtains an instant high.

Heroin affects the central nervous system. Like other opioids, heroin eases pain and brings feelings of relaxation. Individuals who use heroin often experience feelings of pleasure and euphoria, followed by an intense emotional crash.

Heroin is highly addictive and extremely dangerous. Because of its chemical properties, any time a person uses heroin they risk becoming addicted to the substance, even if they use it only a couple of times.

Heroin addiction can have devastating effects on your health and well-being. Individuals who use heroin have an increased risk for various physical health problems, cognitive damage, diminished job performance, relational strife, and the onset of various co-occurring mental health disorders. But with the right support and in the right environment, a person can learn how to control their addiction.

Signs & Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

Certain signs and symptoms are associated with heroin addiction. These signs and symptoms can range in severity based on the individual, but their onset can help you determine if you or a loved one may be addicted to the substance. The following are some of the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Using heroin to deal with stressful circumstances or painful emotions
  • Neglecting personal responsibilities
  • Losing interest in hobbies you once loved
  • Borrowing or stealing money to obtain heroin
  • Lying or being deceptive
  • Neglecting personal appearance and overall hygiene
  • Continually using the substance despite its harmful effects on yourself or those you love
  • Trying to stop using heroin but being unable to do so

Physical symptoms:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Twitches or tremors
  • Fatigue
  • Itchiness
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Weight loss
  • Scabs or scars due to injection
  • Sexual dysfunction

Mental symptoms:

  • Habitually thinking about the substance and/or using the substance
  • Going in and out of consciousness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Paranoia
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia

Short-Term Effects

Possible short-term effects of heroin addiction

Failure to address an addiction to heroin can lead to a variety of short- and long-term effects. If you notice any of the following short-term effects of heroin addiction in your life or a loved one’s, please seek professional care as soon as possible:

  • Delayed cognition
  • Stomach cramping
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Onset of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Poor job performance
  • Job loss
  • Strained relationships with friends, family members, coworkers, and/or romantic partners
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in hobbies
  • Insomnia

Please note that just because the above effects are considered “short-term” does not mean that they are temporary. The onset of any short-term effects of heroin addiction demonstrates the need to seek professional help.

Long-Term Effects

Potential long-term effects of heroin addiction

If a heroin addiction remains untreated, it can lead to more long-term effects. Long-term effects of heroin addiction are severe and can pose immediate, life-threatening risks. The following are some of the long-term effects of heroin addiction:

  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Heart infection
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney failure
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Lung problems
  • Collapsed veins
  • Damaged tissue
  • Abscesses
  • Worsening of symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, and other blood-borne diseases
  • Ruined relationships
  • Chronic unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Homelessness
  • Arrest or incarceration
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Overdose

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above long-term effects of heroin addiction, please seek professional care as soon as possible.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who have heroin addiction

A co-occurring disorder refers to symptoms of more than one disorder occurring at the same time. If you or a loved one struggles with an addiction to heroin, you may be at risk for developing a co-occurring mental health disorder. Sometimes a heroin addiction precedes symptoms of a mental illness. Other times, an addiction results from an attempt to cope with a mental health condition. Common co-occurring mental health disorders that impact those suffering from a heroin addiction include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

Effects of Withdrawal & Overdose

Withdrawing from heroin and the risk of overdose

Effects of withdrawal: If you or a loved one develops a heroin addiction and ceases use of the substance, your body may undergo a myriad of distressing symptoms, a process known as withdrawal. The following is a list of possible withdrawal symptoms:

  • Strong cravings for heroin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
  • Muscle and bone pain

Effects of overdose: Overdosing on heroin is extremely dangerous. The symptoms of overdose are harmful, and can even lead to death. Individuals who exhibit any of the following symptoms after using heroin may be experiencing an overdose:

  • Feelings of confusion and/or disorientation
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Faint pulse
  • Seizure
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Blush tint to lips and/or fingertips
  • Loss of consciousness

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms of heroin overdose, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room as quickly as possible.

Marks of Quality Care
  • Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF)
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval