Despite being very dangerous and deadly, heroin use is increasing.

Heroin is an opioid that’s synthesized from morphine and often cut with other substances that can be toxic or highly dangerous. The primary source of morphine is the opium poppy.

When someone uses heroin, it creates a euphoric high and makes them very tired. Heroin can be used in different ways including smoking, snorting and injecting. There have been links between heroin and prescription drugs. People who have abused opioid painkillers are three times more likely to use heroin than the rest of the population, and almost half of all heroin users said they previously abused opioid painkillers. Heroin is relatively cheap and easy to come by, which is why people who abuse opioid painkillers often start using it.

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Below are some of the signs and symptoms that indicate an individual has been abusing heroin:

Behavioral symptoms:

The first 2 are typical of any addiction

  • Lying or acting deceptively regarding whereabouts and/or activities
  • Stopping or decreased participation in activities they used to enjoy
  • Possessing of syringes, needles, or other drug paraphernalia

Physical Symptoms and signs can include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Needle marks (track marks). These are most often in the arm, but users will inject between the toes and behind the knees, so they won’t be seen.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Scabs, sores, and/or abscesses
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Slowed breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Itchiness
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Sensation of heaviness in arms and legs
  • Constricted pupils

Other Symptoms:

  • Trouble focusing or thinking clearly
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Severe mood swings

Medical Complications as the Result of Heroin Use

Regular use causes the body to build a tolerance to it. That doesn’t mean it won’t harm you. It is actually the opposite. It means you need to take more and more to get the same high, and your body starts depending on it.

No matter how they use the drug, chronic heroin users experience a variety of medical complications, including insomnia and constipation. Lung complications (including some types of pneumonia and tuberculosis) may result from the overall poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s effect of depressing respiratory function. Mental disorders, such as depression and antisocial personality disorder are frequent. Men often experience sexual dysfunction and women’s menstrual cycles often become irregular. There are also specific consequences associated with different types of use. For example, people who repeatedly snort heroin can damage the mucosal tissues in their noses as well as perforate the nasal septum (the tissue that separates the nasal passages). This can require corrective surgery.

Medical consequences of injection use include scarred and/or collapsed veins, bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves, abscesses and other soft-tissue infections. Street heroin can have additives which may include substances that do not readily dissolve and result in clogging the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. This can cause infection or even death of patches of cells in vital organs. Immune reactions to these or other contaminants can cause arthritis or other rheumatologic problems.

Sharing of injection equipment or fluids can lead to some of the most severe consequences of heroin use—infections such as hepatitis B and C, HIV, and a host of other blood-borne viruses, which drug users can then pass on to their sexual partners and children.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be very difficult and painful. Physical symptoms usually commence 6 to 24 hours after last use, peak in severity in days two to four and then start to subside but can continue through day seven. Psychological symptoms can continue for weeks or months and include dysphoria (unease, dissatisfaction distress), sleep disturbances, cravings and anxiety.
Physical symptoms are often described as severe flu like, including muscle and bone aching, chills, and sweats. They can also include excessive crying, urinary frequency, diarrhea, muscle spasms leading to headaches and back aches, twitching, cramps, runny nose, vomiting and high blood pressure.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Help for heroin addiction can take the form of Residential Treatment Facilities, Intensive Outpatient Treatment, Recovery Coaching, One on One Counselling with a qualified counsellor or our online Substance Abuse Program.