12 Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

March 24, 2022 - Substance Abuse

Medically Reviewed by Brooke McKenzie

12 Clear Signs of Heroin Use
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Heroin use can be a devastating and life-threatening habit. If you’ve recently noticed a friend or loved one shooting, smoking, or snorting heroin, you are probably concerned about their level of addiction to the drug. If so, it’s important to educate yourself on the signs of heroin use and addiction.

Too often, people assume their friends or loved ones are only casually using heroin, but aren’t addicted to it. But the reality is there are ways to disguise addiction symptoms, making them less obvious to those around the user. But if you are aware of the many signs of addiction, you’ll more quickly be able to identify them when you see them.

And then hopefully you’ll be able to convince your friend or loved one to seek help for addiction recovery. And that could potentially save their life.

1. Privacy and Money Issues

The beginning of heroin addiction often brings symptoms that are behavioral. One of the first signs is that a person will suddenly seek more privacy than before. The need for alone time can be an indicator that they are looking to hide drug use.

They also may be suddenly be running short on money. If they are spending their money on heroin, that can quickly add up. You might notice they are asking to borrow money a lot. Or perhaps they start selling off their personal possessions.

2. Drug Paraphernalia and Deodorizers

Other early signs are the use of deodorizers in their personal space, as well as drug paraphernalia in the trash.

The paraphernalia evidence might seem obvious, but depending on their use habits, it might not be readily apparent. But if spoons, tin foil, and razor blades start appearing in their trash, that’s a good sign of heroin use.

And obviously, the use of deodorizers isn’t bad. But a sudden jump in the amount used usually means they are trying to cover up any odors that might be indicators of heroin use.

3. Sudden Weight Loss

Heroin affects the user’s appetite, acting as a suppressant. But as opposed to normal dieting, a heroin addict’s appetite will disappear so suddenly that they will simply stop eating.

So they will often drop in weight drastically and suddenly. This is a very unhealthy byproduct of heroin abuse and can be incredibly dangerous to their heart and overall health. 

4. Physical Symptoms of Intake

Depending on how the user ingests heroin, there will often be physical symptoms of it. 

If they smoke it, they’ll often exhibit sores on their lips and nostril areas. This is because the heat from the heroin smoke will irritate those areas. They might also have burn marks on their fingers and even their mouth area. Among the common effects of snorting heroin is a noticeable increase in nosebleeds. And if they inject it, expect the classic symptoms of needle marks at the site of injection. This is usually in their arms and legs and looks like small bruises or dots. 

These are some of the immediate physical symptoms that they’ll have assistance with then they enter a rehab program.

5. Constipation and Cramping

A commonly known side effect of opiate abuse is constipation. The same is true for heroin abuse. Opioid-induced constipation, or OIC, is very common in heroin addicts.

Look for any consistent and long trips to the bathroom. They will likely be trying to pass stool but are having trouble. As a result of constipation, they’ll also likely complain of cramping and pain in their stomach.

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6. Issues with Speech 

Heroin addiction can cause brain activity and reaction time to slow down. Sometimes this will mean they sound mumbled. Other times it can get bad enough to the point where you can’t understand them when they talk.

7. Issues with Coordination

Heroin use can also cause people to lose some of their fine motor skills. Sometimes this takes the form of becoming so uncoordinated it seems like they could tip over at any moment.

Other times it will take the form of extreme jitters, followed by total relaxation, and then back and forth between these two. 

8. Deceptive Activity

We mentioned that an early sign of heroin use is to constantly seek privacy and to cover up use with things like deodorizers. 

As addiction gets worse, this type of behavior only increases. The cravings and needs for the drug become so intense that many addicts will do whatever it takes to get more of the drug.  This could mean lying directly to you, stealing from you, and wearing clothing that specifically hides their needle marks and bruising.

9. Lung Problems

Smoking heroin is putting a lot of undue strain onto their lungs. As such, they often wind up with moderate to severe lung disease. If your friend or loved one suddenly develops tuberculosis, pneumonia, or even lung abscesses, it might be a sign of heroin use. At the very least, they exhibit a hacking cough that won’t seem to go away.

10. Mood Swings

Heroin creates havoc in the brain and its emotional centers. So, people with active heroin addiction can experience sudden shifts causing often extreme mood swings. It can go all the way from total apathy to full blown anger. They might become violent.

These can be some of the most readily apparent symptoms that lead people to suggest the addict look into a detox and recovery program.

11. Withdrawal

It’s not surprising that when you combine things like deceptive behavior with mood swings, the heroin addict often ends up just withdrawing from loved ones. 

They are so focused on getting and using heroin, they lose a desire to be around people who care about them. They’ll sometimes even have trouble making eye contact.

12. Flu Symptoms

If they are going through a period of withdrawal, a heroin addict will experience severe physical ailments. Often these will come in the form of symptoms of the flu.

They will have intense aches and pains, as well as diarrhea and cramping. They’ll also sweat a lot, and have fevers and cold sweats. 

12 Signs to Tell if Someone is Using Heroin

These 12 signs are very common in anyone who has become addicted and is regularly shooting, smoking, or snorting heroin.

It’s crucial that if you observe a loved one showing addiction signs, you take action to get them help. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of deaths as a result of heroin abuse in the United States is roughly seven times higher than the rate in the late 1990s. 

If you have any questions about heroin abuse, the effects of heroin use, and other drug addiction recovery information, contact the DreamLife Recovery clinical team in western Pennsylvania today.

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  1. Shen Y, Cao X, Shan C, Dai W, Yuan TF. Heroin Addiction Impairs Human Cortical Plasticity. Biol Psychiatry. 2017 Apr 1;81(7):e49-e50. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2016.06.013. Epub 2016 Jun 18. PMID: 27567311
  2. “What is Heroin?” – Alcohol and Drug Foundation; 14 December, 2020
  3. “What is Opioid-Induced Constipation?” – Brazier, Yvette; Rev. by Carter, Alan, Pharm.D.; Medical News Today, 26 October, 2018
  4. NIDA. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 May. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use Accessed 22 Mar. 2021
  5. NIDA. “What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 May. 2020, https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-medical-complications-chronic-heroin-use Accessed 22 Mar. 2021

Medical Reviewer:

Brooke McKenzie: Brooke McKenzie earned a bachelor’s degree and a Masters’s in Social Work, followed by earning her LCSW in 2009. She has worked in progressively more responsible positions in substance abuse since 2004, filling various roles from clinician to clinical director. Brooke spent the last 10 years as the Executive Director of a drug and alcohol facility, overseeing all levels of care including detox, residential, PHP, IOP and outpatient programming. Brooke’s determination for continuous growth and to combine her clinical experience with project management skills, led her to her most recent accomplishment of earning her MBA in Project Management from Seton Hill University. She places great emphasis on creating an atmosphere of professionalism and communication, whether that is with her colleagues, her patient’s families, outside organizations, or most significant – her patients. These assets continue to lead her success and growth in the field of behavioral health.