Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

Signs of heroin addiction include drug seeking and compulsive behavior. Howe else can you identify a possible heroin addict? We review here.

minute read
Reviewed by: Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D.

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:

  • 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
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
Medical Reviewers
Dr. Dili Gonzalez, M.D. is a general surgeon practicing women's focused medici...

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a licensed medical professional.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I have read and agree to the conditions outlined in the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

  1. My son is a heroin addict. Now we pay for him to go to rehab as well as him taking methadone. If methadone stops the cravings of heroin why do people ever get back on heroin. I go with my son and see him take the methadone yet I keep finding little pipes made out of foil with something odorless smoked in them. Shouldn’t the methadone be stopping that need to want to use again?

  2. I was cleaning my 15 y/o son’s room and found little baggies and small white rock on his floor. I was a recovering addict for over 20 years. I have reached a breaking point with my son and started smoking crack again. As an addict, we tend to go back to what is familiar, and I must admit: I don’t want to deal with this. All my other children are adults, and I had this last one at age 41. I am exhausted!! My husband does not seem to be concern, he has such a soft heart (especially with this one). My son suspects that I am using and I suggested that we both go into rehab. I do not lie to him about life matters, good or bad. My son was an honor student, but since we moved from California to Iowa, his grades have dropped and that is if he even goes to school. He complains of nausea and has vomited as well. I know I sound like a hypocrite, but I really want him to see how his defiant behavior is affecting me and all of us. However, I know the only thing on his mind is the next fix. I am going to call patient’s services today and see what our insurance will cover for the both of us as inpatient. It really helps for me to see in writing what I am dealing with, with myself and my son. I hope I am not confusing you. It would be helpful to see your response to my letter. Thank you and God bless.

    1. Hi Carol. You may call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the best rehab program for you and your son.

  3. I have been on oxycoccett for approximately 5 yr’s 5/325 mg 12 a day and would like to go off of them, what kind of withdrawls and how long will the withdrawls last?

  4. Hi, I am not sure what to look for but I Belive one of my loved ones is using herion. I have never known anyone that has used the drug to know what signs To look for, the only information I have herd was it had a very distinctive smell what does that smell smell like, does it smell like anything else that I can compare it to I’m not sure if they’re using in my home I don’t believe it’s injected I do believe it’s probably being smoked I have young children in my home and I’m very afraid please somebody give me some insight thank you

    1. Hi Jennifer. You may take a surface home drug testing kit. I did a research and found this useful information:

      Also, download our free e-book ‘The Definitive Guide To Drug Testing’ to learn more:

  5. 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.

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

  6. 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

  7. 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.

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

  9. 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

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

    1. 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.

  11. 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?

  12. 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.

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

I am ready to call
i Who Answers?