What do heroin addicts act like?

A review of some of the more common behaviors of heroin addicts, and how you can intervene to help save a life.

minute read
By Kristie Lynn

Heroin addicts can experience a shift in personality, behavior, and physical health in times of active addiction. What signs can you look out for? And what can you do to help?

We review here. Then, we invite you to ask your personal questions or share your experiences in the comments section at the end. Know that we try to respond to all comments personally and promptly…and that if you have a real need, we can connect you with an organization that can help.

How do addicts use heroin?

Before we explore some of the behaviors of heroin addicts, it will help to have some context about heroin and its use and distribution.

Heroin comes from many places: China, Mexico, the mountains around the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as such areas are poppy rich. Opium poppies (a flower) grow best in dry, warm climates. They are often grown in these areas by farmers with small plots of land.

The sap is collected by the farmer, then it’s bought by a merchant or broker who takes the opium to a morphine refinery. The opium is refined into morphine base and then reacted with acetic anhydride, a chemical also used in the production of aspirin. Most black market heroin is highly impure due to contaminants left after refinement of opium into morphine, which then remain in the final product.

Characteristics of heroin use and addiction

1. Drowsiness: Heroin use is characterized by a rush of euphoria that lasts for a few minutes, followed by an hours-long state of drowsiness. Of course, this alone isn’t a sign of heroin use, but sudden drops in energy levels and an increase in frequency and duration of drowsiness or sleeping at unusual times can be an indicator.

This is accompanied by mental sluggishness that can manifest as slow or slurred speech and seeming dazed and confused. This apparent drift into and out of consciousness, sometimes accompanied by excessive yawning, is most evident shortly after usage, and is also referred to as “”nodding off”.”

2. Anti-social behavior: Addicts will use all available resources to get a fix. Heroin addicts have been known to turn to drug dealing, prostitution, or theft to fund a habit. Keep an eye out for valuable items disappearing. Similarly, since they may be having financial troubles after depleting their own funds, users end up borrowing money from those close to them in order to score or pay off debts.

3. Personality changes: In addition to increased criminal behavior, you can expect addicts to exhibit shifts in personality. Heroin addicts tend to isolate. They can appear aggressive at times or experience high levels of panic and anxiety. Heroin addicts also tend to seek the company of other addicts, and a change in friends or acquaintances, social activities, and interests is also common.

4. Genetic predisposition: Some people can use heroin just once and never become addicted to the substance. Other people find the drug incredibly intoxicating and overwhelmingly alluring, and they become quickly hooked on heroin. Scientists have long wondered what separates these two groups of people. Now, scientists are running studies to determine if a penchant for heroin addiction runs in one’s genes. Perhaps, the theory goes, children are at risk of inheriting heroin addiction from their parents if they carry a specific sequence of genes.

One study seems to bear this out. This study, published in the Journal Molecular Psychiatry, found that people who were addicted to heroin tended to have the same sorts of gene patterns and the same sorts of changes in the same places. More studies are needed to make this link definitive, but for now, it might be safe to say that addiction does have some sort of inherited component.

How to deal with heroin addicts

The best thing for a heroin addict is to get help, stop using, and stay off heroin for good. But, where do you get started?

Most experts recommend a face-to-face meeting called an “intervention”. Interventions have a number of benefits, both for the family and friends of addicts, and for addicts themselves. The purpose of an intervention is to bring up the issues, both physical and emotional, that heroin addiction causes, and make your loved one understand that their habits are destructive to themselves and to you.

Interventions are open and honest chances to communicate with someone you may be unable to talk to otherwise. An intervention also allows you to give your loved one the chance to take responsibility for their actions, both in the past and in the future. You can tell them how you’d like them to proceed from there, and ask them if they can accept help. With the help of a mediator, this process can be completed without judgment, and hopefully without anger as well.

Positive outcomes have been studied, especially in families who use the CRAFT invervention model over time.  The idea is to not just get someone into treatment, but to learn how to cope with the negative behaviors in a positive way.

Starting the intervention process

The first step in staging a heroin addiction intervention is to get in contact with a counselor who will act as the mediator for the intervention. They will provide you with the DO’s and DON’Ts of the intervention, and offer support for you during what’s obviously a difficult time. The intervention counselor will also help you locate a treatment program to refer your loved one to at the end of the process.

When it becomes time to hold the actual intervention, it can be difficult to confront your loved one. Since heroin is not only a physical addiction, but a mental one as well, it’s important to remember that they could be angry or feel betrayed by the intervention. It’s also possible that ultimately they’re scared to seek heroin rehab treatment. If the intervention is successful, however, it will result in them agreeing to get help.

Other things to consider

One of the most important parts of interventions is telling your loved one how you feel about their habits. It’s important not to alienate them, but to get your point across. Often your intervention counselor will provide you with topics to discuss, but you can always make up your own. Possible topics can include how you feel about:

  • the breakdown of relationship(s)
  • the financial burdens of heroin addiction
  • your concerns for your loved one’s health

It may even be beneficial to explain to them that continued heroin use can put them in danger of contracting HIV, AIDS or hepatitis, as well as harm their heart, kidneys and other systems in the body. It may also be beneficial to stress the possibility of death from overdose as well.

Ultimately, interventions can be very successful when approached in a calm and respectful manner. Your loved one may eventually thank you for giving them another chance.

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.
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