Signs, Effects & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

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Cross Creek Hospital helps children, adolescents, and adults who are struggling with heroin addiction through an unmatched quality of care and support. Located in Austin, TX, Cross Creek is the leading provider of heroin addiction treatment.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin and substance abuse

Heroin, an illegal opiate drug, is one of the most addictive substances on the market today. This is most likely due the fact that it acts quickly, in some cases allowing an individual to feel its effects in as little as eight seconds. Heroin is processed from naturally occurring morphine, yet it is considered to be even more dangerous because it is often mixed with other substances. This means that individuals who use heroin never really know what other substances they are putting in their bodies.

Regular heroin abuse can easily lead to tolerance, which means that an individual will need to take more and more of this drug in order to achieve the desired effects, putting them at an increased risk for overdose and death. However, while heroin is an extremely powerful substance, there is treatment available to help an individual break the vicious cycle of addiction.


Heroin addiction statistics

In the United States, it has been estimated that 3.8 million people have tried heroin at least once in their lifetime. Additionally, heroin addicts and abusers represent about 13.6% of admissions to treatment facilities, and heroin overdoses account for about 164,000 emergency room visits a year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for heroin addiction

When trying to understand how an individual comes to abuse heroin and consequently becomes addicted, it is important to recognize that there are a number of factors that can influence its emergence. Some of the variables that put an individual at an increased risk for heroin abuse and addiction include genetics and certain environmental factors. Consider the following explanations:

Genetic: Multiple years of research have concluded that it is highly possible for an individual to have a genetic predisposition to the development of an addiction. Anyone who has a family history of substance abuse and/or addiction is at an increased risk for the use and/or abuse of substances such as heroin. Researchers believe that this fact has indicated the presence of a specific gene that, when passed down, makes an individual more vulnerable to abusing substances.

Environmental: There are many environmental influences that can potentially trigger the onset of a heroin abuse problem. Some of these influences can include things such as chronic stress, exposure to substance abuse at a young age, and having peers who abuse substances like heroin. Additionally, those who have been subjected to violence or are the victims of abuse are more likely to turn to drug use, which can quickly lead to addiction.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of chemical dependency or mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Struggling academically
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Lack of caregiver involvement
  • Poor parenting during formative years
  • Lack of effective, appropriate coping skills
  • Low self-esteem / low self-worth
  • Exposure to chaos
  • Easy access to substances
  • Lack of employment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction

Individuals who abuse heroin will present with a number of signs and symptoms, however, not everyone will react to the drug in the exact same way. Yet, while the signs and symptoms of heroin abuse will vary from person to person, there are some common ones that are indicative of a heroin abuse problem. Some of these signs and symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Missing school or work
  • Not fulfilling daily responsibilities
  • Hyperactivity followed by fatigue
  • Behavioral changes
  • No longer participating in things that were once enjoyed
  • Engagement in risky behaviors
  • Poor coordination
  • Increased conflict with others
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Change in peer group
  • Lying
  • Wearing long sleeves or pants, even during hot weather
  • Increased amount of time spent sleeping

Physical symptoms:

  • Presence of track marks on one’s legs and/or arms
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Scabbing or bruising due to chronic skin picking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Headaches
  • Constant runny nose
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Inability to reason
  • Delayed thinking
  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Detachment from reality
  • Impaired decision-making

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Depressed mood
  • Increased anxiety
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Changes in temperament
  • Drastic mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Irritability


Effects of heroin addiction

Over time, the impact of heroin abuse can have devastating ramifications for the user’s body and on his or her overall quality of life. These negative consequences can become even more prominent should an individual not receive help for his or her addiction. Some of the negative effects that can occur if a person fails to receive care for a heroin abuse problem may include:

  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Elevated risk for certain cancers
  • Infections of the heart or heart valve
  • Conflict with friends and loved ones
  • Academic failure
  • Onset of another mental health condition
  • Compromised immune system
  • Possibility of exposure to viruses, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Collapsed or scarred veins
  • Kidney disease
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Inability to acquire or maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Homelessness
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the central nervous system
  • Suicide
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders

The abuse of substances, like heroin, can cause the onset of symptoms synonymous with other mental health conditions. Furthermore, should an individual already be struggling with a mental illness, heroin abuse can greatly exacerbate symptoms. The following mental health disorders are known to occur alongside a heroin abuse problem:

  • Personality disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of heroin withdrawal and overdose

Should an individual who habitually uses heroin abruptly stop using the drug, withdrawal symptoms will manifest. In many instances, heroin withdrawal can be extremely severe, which is why it is recommended that withdrawal be done under the direct supervision of a medical professional. Potential effects that can occur when a person is going through withdrawal from heroin may include:

  • Elevated levels of anxiety
  • Panic
  • Paranoia
  • Muscle pain
  • Bone pain
  • Depressed mood
  • Profuse sweating
  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intense cravings to use heroin
  • Chills
  • Tremors
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal ideation

When an individual abuses heroin, there is always a high risk for overdose. Should an individual display any of the following symptoms, it is crucial that medical attention is sought right away in order to prevent a fatal outcome:

  • Labored / slow breathing
  • Confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blacking out
  • Dizziness
  • Disorientation
  • Stroke
  • Presence of psychotic symptoms
  • Coma
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack

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Past Clients Say

I am so grateful to have gone and recovered from my heroin addiction at Cross Creek. I would not be where I am now without the incredibly supportive staff.

– Former Patient