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Heroin Addiction Signs & Symptoms

Posted in Heroin Addiction Treatment on November 1, 2016
Last modified on April 21st, 2019

Heroin is an addictive drug derived from the opium poppy. It can cause profound levels of drug tolerance and physical dependence. If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin drug abuse, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible to reduce the risk of long-term health problems.

What Is Heroin Addiction?

When heroin is used, it quickly enters your brain. Here, it binds to opioid receptors on brain cells, triggering the release of dopamine. This causes a rush of euphoria followed by feelings of calm detachment from pain and stress. With repeated use, the brain comes to rely on heroin’s dopamine-inducing effect. In the absence of heroin, you experience strong cravings for the drug.

Someone addicted to heroin keeps taking the drug even after negative consequences, and physical dependency on the drug leads to withdrawal symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

Signs of heroin use start to appear soon after you take a dose of heroin. After using it, you feel a rush of euphoria. After a while, this euphoria subsides and leads to drowsiness. You may spend several hours in a semi-conscious state until the drug wears off.

Someone who is using heroin is likely to display at least some of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Euphoria and/or elation
  • Confusion
  • Clouded thinking
  • Marked drowsiness and/or sedation
  • Intermittent nodding off or losing consciousness
  • Slowed heart rate and breathing
  • Heavy feeling in hands and feet
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Track marks (signs of intravenous use) on arms or elsewhere on the body

Behavioral Signs of Heroin Use

Heroin also causes changes to normal behavior. For instance, you might:

  • Display dramatic mood swings or shifts
  • Withdraw from family and friends
  • Have sudden and/or unexplained financial problems
  • Neglect work, school or home responsibilities

If you’re addicted to heroin, you might turn to anti-social or criminal behavior to afford the drug. For instance, you may steal money or possessions from friends or family members or commit a crime to fund your habit.

Long-Term Heroin Risks and Side Effects

The long-term effects of heroin abuse can be deadly. Heroin slows down breathing, preventing your body from getting enough oxygen. Over time, the lack of oxygen causes damage to your tissues and organs, which can lead to organ failure.

Other risks and side effects include:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of the valves or lining sac of the heart
  • Weakened immune system
  • Gastric problems ranging from severe constipation and abdominal cramps to perforation of the intestine or bowel
  • Pneumonia
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Significant respiratory problems
  • Medical issues due to IV administration, such as abscesses, systemic infection or embolism
  • Risk of contracting a blood-borne disease such as hepatitis or HIV because of needle-sharing
  • Organ damage caused by long-term oxygen deficiency

Signs of Heroin Overdose

Heroin overdose is a growing problem for several reasons. For one, it is more accessible than ever before. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 times more potent than heroin, is also readily available. Some heroin dealers add fentanyl to heroin to increase its potency. Unsuspecting buyers may not realize how potent the drug is and take a larger dose than they intended.

Whatever the reason, heroin overdoses are dangerous. Signs of heroin overdose include:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Pale skin
  • Blue lips and/or fingernails
  • Pinpoint and/or unresponsive pupils
  • Slow breathing or absence of breathing
  • Slow heart rate

An untreated heroin overdose can lead to coma and death.

Getting Treatment for Heroin Abuse and Addiction


Before starting treatment for heroin addiction, many addicts may need to undergo detox. Clients stop taking heroin and experience several days, or more, of withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from heroin can cause symptoms such as:

  • Depression
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

It’s important that you don’t detox alone. Some withdrawal symptoms can lead to severe dehydration if not treated. In the worst cases, dehydration may result in heart failure.


There are three drugs to help people quit heroin.

  • Methadone is an opioid agonist. It works by preventing the high that heroin causes and withdrawal symptoms at the same time.
  • Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It relieves drug cravings without making you feel high.
  • Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. It is non-addictive and blocks the action of opioids to avoid a high.

Inpatient and Outpatient Options

Not everyone needs the same level of care. The Right Step offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs to provide clients with more choices. These involve individual and group therapy and medication, if necessary.

Inpatient programs serve clients who need round-the-clock support. These programs are often suitable for those who need a high level of structure and support to stay sober.

Outpatient programs are for people who need less support, ideal for those who can continue work or college while in recovery. Inpatient clients can transition to this program as they progress.

You Can Quit Heroin. Start Your Journey Today.

The effects of heroin, combined with its addictive nature, mean it’s a tough drug to quit. It also means heroin abuse and addiction is dangerous. There are huge benefits to quitting, from improvements in physical and mental health to freedom from addiction.

Quitting heroin is hard, but it is possible to reach this goal with some help. The Right Step may be able to provide the help you need. Call today at 844-877-1781 to find out more.

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

The Right Step