Opiate Addiction: Heroin Abuse Systems and Signs of Abuse

The use of heroin has been romanticized in song and film and visually through ‘heroin chic’ fashion for decades. Unfortunately, that aspect makes it especially more attractive to younger people. They see some of their musical and artistic idols doing the drug, and despite losing some of the most talented people in the world to heroin overdoses, are still drawn in. Whatever the original reason for their heroin use, it can quickly balloon into addiction. Watching for signs of heroin abuse can open a door to a compassionate discussion about their drug use.

If someone you know is suffering from a heroin addiction, please contact us today to get more information.

Systems of Heroin Abuse and Their Signs

Heroin can be abused in various ways. While they share many common symptoms, each system of abuse has several unique differentiating signs. If you’re worried a loved one is using, it is important to know what signs to look for among different systems of heroin abuse, so you can recognize the hallmarks of addiction and begin the conversation.

Injecting Heroin

The most serious form of heroin abuse involves either subcutaneous injection or intravenous injection using a syringe and needle. Addicts first liquefy the drug using a flame and a spoon or foil. They use cotton balls to strain this liquid before filling the syringe. This is the paraphernalia you must look out for, which could be hidden anywhere. If you do find needles or syringes, use care when confiscating these items as they may carry serious diseases such as HIV or Hepatitis. Addicts who use needles will have needle marks, but they may not always be visible or on the arms. They could have collapsed veins or abscesses at the injection site. Some chronic users inject between the toes and other places to avoid detection.

Smoking Heroin

Addicts who smoke heroin are just as addicted and exhibit the same withdrawal symptoms as those who inject it, although they avoid the risk of contracting diseases from dirty needles. Usually, an addict uses a piece of foil and a straw. They light the heroin with a flame under the foil and as the smoke rises, they ‘chase’ the liquefied heroin as it turns to smoke, inhaling it with a straw. Instead of a straw, they may use a ballpoint pen shell or another tube such as a glass rod or pipe. Finding burnt foil or inhaling devices is a strong indication of drug use. Some users roll heroin with tobacco into a cigarette and smoke it that way. Heroin smokers may have a raspy voice, a persistent cough, and chronic breathing problems.

Snorting Heroin

Addicts who sniff or snort heroin usually use a rolled up dollar bill or some other rolled up paper or straw to sniff the powder off a flat surface or their hand. They can also snort liquefied heroin, but that isn’t as common a method. Look for those rolled up papers or powder-covered surfaces. People who snort heroin can have a runny nose or nosebleeds, breathing or sinus problems, and cartilage or septum problems.

Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Regardless of how it’s used, heroin changes a person’s behavior, and the symptoms of heroin addiction may be quite noticeable. The person you used to know is different. They may lie. Money or items may go missing. They may become more withdrawn and secretive. There may be mood swings with anxiety, paranoia and depression, or euphoria and drowsiness. They may become disoriented or even be delusional. The formerly non-violent may act out.

Physically, the addict may have weight loss. They may attempt to cover up scabs, puncture wounds, or infections with clothing or makeup. They might neglect personal hygiene and no longer care about their appearance. Addicts can fall asleep while they are talking to you, or be hyper. They can exhibit apathy, and school or work responsibilities may fall by the wayside. They may also have slurred speech, constricted pupils, flushed skin, and dry mouth.

Addicts going through withdrawal may become even more agitated and suffer diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and overall body pain. They may have goose bumps, which is the hallmark of attempting to quit cold turkey.

Helping Your Loved One Into Treatment

Keep the lines of communication open when you suspect a loved one is abusing heroin. Watch for the signs and symptoms mentioned above. Don’t be discouraged if he or she refuses to talk about or admit their addiction. If your loved one won’t enter treatment on their own, an intervention can be moderated by a certified interventionist. These professionals have longstanding relationships with some of the leading residential drug treatment centers across the country, and can arrange for their stay. A comprehensive treatment program often starts with medically supervised detoxification and a 30- or even 90-day stay in a residential treatment center. Addiction specialists will help your loved one on their path toward recovery, and replace the tools used to abuse heroin with the tools for living sober.

We invite you to contact us at any time to learn more about heroin or other opiate addictions and treatment options. We are always available to provide guidance and connect you with the resources necessary to establish long-term wellness.