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Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

Compared with other opiates and opioids, heroin’s addictive properties make this illicit drug one of the MOST ADDICTIVE available. Here, we review the clinical signs and symptoms of heroin addiction, as well as the most common signs of withdrawal and options for heroin addiction treatment. Your questions about heroin addiction or helping addiction to heroin are invited at the end.

Heroin addiction signs

Heroin is highly addictive drug, among one of the most rapidly acting opiates. Produced from morphine, and seldom found on the streets pure, heroin is often “cut” with other drugs endangering the life of the user. So how big are the chances that someone you care for may be a heroin addict?

The first sign of addiction is habitual use. Routes of administration for heroin include injecting, snorting or smoking. Each mode of administration is associated with a specific risk factor and causes severe side effects. Most addicts, who have asked for help on their own had been injecting heroin, while the research has also discovered a pattern of use, from injection to sniffing and smoking. For example, injecting heroin typically occurs up to 4 times a day. However, all three forms of administration are addictive, no matter the differences between their peak action levels.

Symptoms of heroin addiction

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and compulsive behavior. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) clinical criteria for heroin addiction states the framework under which health care providers diagnose addiction to heroin. These include four main characteristics of addiction, including:

  1. Compulsion to use (a thought process which compels use)
  2. Craving (an intense desire to use heroin)
  3. Loss of control of amount or frequency of use
  4. Use despite consequences

Furthermore, addiction to heroin understands changes in the brain on molecular level, as heroin interacts with transmitters associated with pain, pleasure and motor activity. Tolerance to heroin can be present during cases of addiction, which often acts as an additional stimulant to use higher doses of heroin.

During addiction there is also a degree of physical dependence to heroin, evidenced by the existence of withdrawal symptoms when doses are cut off or lowered. Withdrawal symptoms may occur with few hours after the last dose of heroin taken. Here are the most common signs of heroin dependence, which occur during withdrawal:

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  • cold flashes
  • diarrhea
  • goose bumps
  • insomnia
  • leg twitches
  • muscle and bone pain
  • restlessness
  • vomiting

Heroin addiction symptoms: Can they be treated?

Can you treat heroin addiction? Yes, heroin addiction symptoms can be treated. In fact, there exists a variety of options for heroin addiction treatment. As with any other drug, the effects of treatment are most successful when heroin addiction is spotted and treated on time. However, there is no perfect treatment technique that can be applied for all addicts. Each patient is treated as an individual case. Still, heroin addiction is most commonly treated with a combination of pharmacological and psychological interventions.

Medications for heroin addiction include methadone, LAAM, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. The effect of methadone is that it blocks the effects of heroin and minimizes or stops withdrawal symptoms. Methadone maintenance programs have a history of over 30 years in heroin addiction treatment. This kind of opiate substitution therapy is effective when properly prescribed and administered; methadone is not intoxication nor sedating, and has no influence on every-day activities such as driving a car. Other possible pharmacological approaches include is LAAM (levo-alpha-acetyl-methadol), naltrexone and buprenorphine for targeting cravings or blocking euphoric effect of heroin.

Behavioral and psychotherapies include both inpatient and outpatient programs which individually match the specific needs of each person. One of these therapies is contingency management, following the “voucher” system. On the other hand, cognitive behavioral therapies address the thinking, expectations and behaviors, in order to ruin the destructive ones. Finally counseling (individual, group, or family) can help a heroin addict resolve issues which compel use of heroin.

Signs of heroin addiction questions

We hope to have covered some of the basic symptoms of heroin addiction here. However, if there is something that you would like to ask us, please feel free to post your question in the comment section, and we will provide you with a personal and prompt answer.

Reference Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse: Heroin
National Drug Intelligence Center: Heroin Fast Facts
National Library of Medicine: Heroin overdose
National institute on Drug Abuse: What are the Long-term effects of heroin use

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13 Responses to “Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction
Dr. ajaiwant
6:34 am July 13th, 2015

Hi ! Nice Blog
Nice work Done i also want to share some more info: Heroin addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that is characterized by changes in the brain and uncontrollable drug-seeking behaviors despite the negative consequences. Heroin is a synthesized opioid analgesic that comes from the Asian opium poppy plant. When used, heroin converts to morphine in the body. This substance is used on the streets as a recreational drug, also commonly called black tar, smack, brown, or tar. Upon initial use, people who use this drug feel a rush of pleasure, a sense of wellbeing, and joy. These strong feelings associated with the drug leave a user wanting more, which quickly leads to tolerance and addiction.

5:38 pm July 14th, 2015

Hi Doctor Ajaiwant. Why are you sharing a word-for-word copied text excerpt from another site’s article?

4:27 am September 22nd, 2015

I found a Baggie of what looks to be heroin in the toilet today. My significant other just “promised” me it’s not theirs. I know that it’s a blatant lie. I’m also fairly certain they are going through withdrawals-not sure if they are trying to detox themselves? Shivers, sweating, inability to sleep or sleeping an entire day away, anxiety, trouble breathing, leg restlessness/twitching – it seems pretty clear to me. How do I get them to admit this so I can help them through it and how do I get over the anger of being lied to so that I can be helpful instead of hinder a potential detox attempt even if they won’t admit it directly? Is there anything I can do in the meantime to ensure their safety through the process?

5:56 pm October 13th, 2015

I sectioned my son 21 days free from herion, he overdosed that night. Does this mean he will go through more withdrawals again?

5:01 pm November 4th, 2015

Hi Sue. How is he doing? Heroin overdoses are common after someone relapses several days into detox, since their tolerance to the drug is reduced. Relapses can lead to intensified cravings and withdrawals, thus making it much more difficult to quit again. I suggest you seek professional medical and addiction help to help him deal with his addiction. He needs to learn behavioral and cognitive changes, and develop coping mechanisms to prevent future relapses.

5:36 pm December 26th, 2015

i think my husband is useing he is smoking it i beleive he is mean and very unkind early in the day then later hes nice and messing with his nose and nodding how can i be shurer

5:46 am January 18th, 2016

Desperate to help someone with this addition! Its ruining many of our lives! How can you help someone who doesn’t want it?

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
8:18 pm January 23rd, 2016

Hi, Kary. I suggest that you look into the CRAFT model for families and interventions. One NGO called Allies in Recovery has some online reading that can help:

8:29 pm March 13th, 2016

Hi my boyfriend is in a detox for herion and wants me to like forget what went on and not saying I did anything but it’s hard to just forget because I’m not the addict I don’t get high he was the one sneaking and acting like he wasn’t. I’m grieving for my dad he just pasted away and he was my rock and I love my boyfriend I just don’t know how to be. I cry and getting depressed because he wants me to support him and I got no support I’m by myself. Help what am I doing wrong. I just wanna want my life happy again. My head feels like I’m the addict.

7:03 pm July 17th, 2016

Someone I know is on heroin. The person claims to be off of it. My question is this. The person does not have red blood shot eyes when they are with me. Once this person leaves for a few hours and comes back the eyes are extremely red blood shoot. Is this a true sign that they are using again

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
3:29 pm July 20th, 2016

Hi Bridget. Red eyes are one of the symptoms of heroin addiction. You may look more physical signs of heroin addiction such as decreased performance qualities, problems with time management, pupils size is often shifting, going from very small to wide opened, etc. Here’s suggested reading:

4:24 pm November 17th, 2016

I have been abusing heroin and cocaine. Ive been using 7 bags daily of heroin and 4 dime bags of cocaine daily. I have a question; how many days would i stay in detox. I’ve never been in detox.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
12:12 pm November 21st, 2016

Hi Joann. If you have questions about addiction treatment and your options, call our free hotline to speak with a trusted treatment consultant.

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