Is My Loved One Addicted to Heroin?
Having concerns about whether a loved one has a substance abuse problem or is suffering from drug addiction can be very difficult and stressful. Being unsure may tempt you to take a step back, but asking the question may mean that you have picked up on your loved one’s unusual behavior or appearance and want to act.
Understanding what heroin is and what its effects look like may provide you with some insight as to whether your loved one is addicted to heroin.
What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can look like a white or brown powder, or in some cases sticky black tar. It usually comes in powdered form and is many times mixed with other drugs, or cut with other substances like powdered milk or sugar. It is a semisynthetic, illegal opioid drug that is produced in clandestine laboratories, by the acetylation of a natural substance – called morphine – obtained from poppy plant seed pods.
Due to its damaging nature, the fact that it has no medical use, and its highly addictive qualities, heroin is a tightly controlled drug and is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. It is often snorted, smoked, or injected into a person’s veins, and produces a rush of euphoria and a drowsy, sleepy or relaxed state after.
The Effects of Substance Abuse
Similar to drug and alcohol abuse, heroin abuse can cause severe damage to the physical and mental health of a person.
After a euphoric rush, heroin abuse may cause a person to experience nausea and a dry mouth. They may fade in and out of consciousness, have an intense itching of the skin, or have difficulty focusing, thinking, or remembering things. The drug can cause shallow breathing, in some cases severe enough to result in permanent brain damage or coma. Heroin abuse can very easily lead to heroin addiction, like in the case of 691,000 people in the US in 2020, which comes with a range of additional effects.
Because this drug’s purity widely varies, heroin has a very high potential for accidental overdose. Other drugs like ketamine, cocaine, or ecstasy interact with heroin while in a person’s body, increasing the chance of an overdose, which is a medical emergency. Signs that a loved one has overdosed on heroin include abnormally small, pinpoint pupils, shallow breathing, muscle cramping, unconsciousness, and a dropped heart rate. They may have a blue color on their fingertips or mouth and suffer a significant drop in blood pressure.
More than 13,000 people in the United States died from a drug overdose involving heroin in 2020. It is best to get training in using naloxone – a drug that can reverse an opioid overdose – and call for emergency help if you suspect a loved one is at risk of a heroin overdose.
Signs That a Loved One Suffers from Heroin Addiction
A person struggling with Heroin addiction may be very good at hiding it, but some signs unavoidably will show if your loved one is addicted.
It is better to pay extra attention to a loved one who suffers from a life event like losing a friend or family member, or a job, or if your loved one is socializing with people you suspect abuse drugs or prescription opioids, which are often a gateway drug to heroin.
Suspicions of possible heroin addiction can be aroused in various ways, and the sooner your loved one gets treatment help, the better.
Changes in Physical Appearance
As a friend or family member, noticing a disinterest or a change in physical appearance is the first possible sign. A loved one may suddenly be disdainful of grooming and personal hygiene, or display drastic outfit changes.
Family members commonly pick up rapid weight loss in their loved ones. This unintended weight loss and long-term malnutrition can occur because of the lack of appetite heroin causes, as well as frequent nausea and vomiting.
They may regularly have watery eyes, their pupils may constantly look dilated, and they may appear ill or have a runny nose very often.
Other signs that show in physical appearance are track marks. Track marks, or hidden entry points, are most likely to appear in the arms of a loved one addicted to heroin, as the drug is often injected intravenously with a syringe. It is common for users to hide track marks from loved ones and coworkers, which is why someone who suffers from heroin addiction may cover their arms year-round, despite weather changes. In addition to track marks, they may bruise easily, and uncontrollable itching may leave them with scabs or sores from scratching pick at their own skin.
Physical Health Problems
If a loved one suffers from heroin addiction, they may experience a range of physical health problems. One common physical is hyper-alertness followed by exhaustion, whereby a person may be extremely focused or jittery, and the next moment nods off.
Another physical sign is regular chest infections and respiratory problems. A loved one may also experience:
- Disturbed sleep
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Loss of menstrual cycle in women
- Disturbed sleep
- Infection of the heart valve and lining
- Blood clots
By unsafely injecting and sharing needles, those who use heroin are at risk for blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis C or HIV. A person is also at higher risk for liver and kidney disease.
Displaying Withdrawal Symptoms
A person using heroin can build up a tolerance, which is when the body adjusts to the presence of the drug and needs more and more of the drug for someone to feel the same effect. Heroin addiction is marked by an overwhelming craving for the drug, and withdrawal symptoms when a person does not have access to it, as the body rebels.
These symptoms vary according to the frequency and amount of drug abuse, as well as whether it was combined with other substances. Acute heroin withdrawal can appear like having bad flu about six to twelve hours after the last dose and can last up to one week.
Signs a loved one is experiencing withdrawal include cold sweats, body aches, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, tremors, fatigue, and agitation. They will also have intense drug cravings.
Psychological Changes and Mental Health
Heroin addiction severely affects a person’s mental health and some signs show in the psychology of a person who is addicted. They may be unable to stop thinking about when, how, or where they can obtain their next dose of heroin. Impaired concentration or focus, confusion, and disorientation are common signs.
Part of a loved one’s heroin addiction is mood changes. They may experience anxiety and depression, hopelessness and despair, while also feeling ashamed and guilty. You may feel that a loved one has undergone a personality change, as angry outbursts or mood swings come about. Extremely low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common with heroin use.
Heroin use can interfere with a person’s ability to do normal activities, such as work or school. It may be very difficult to focus or show up at work or school at all. Heroin-dependent adults may not prioritize their professional performance, may frequently be absent from work, and may suffer job losses.
Work and school issues are not the only activities put on hold for some suffering from heroin addiction. Life goals, hobbies, or recreational activities once enjoyed may be abandoned as a person may lose interest in these. Instead, time is spent on obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of heroin.
It is also common to become withdrawn from activities and interactions with family and friends. A person may only associate with other drug users or withdraw from socializing completely. Heroin users could feel embarrassed about their addiction although they can not stop, or be fearful that friends or family members will notice they are using drugs. They also isolate themselves because drug use takes over their life, and becomes the most important thing.
Another behavior sign is shown through paraphernalia. While some leave it in plain sight, assuming that no one around knows about their addiction or what to look for, a person who suffers from heroin addiction may also go to extreme lengths to hide paraphernalia used for taking the drug. Hidden paraphernalia that indicates drug use can include discarded gum wrappers with burn marks, needles, syringes, aluminum foil with burn marks, burnt or bent silver spoons, glass balloons, metal pipes, or plastic bags with heroin or traces of it.
Risky activities are common among those who abuse heroin. A person in active addiction may do anything to sustain their harmful habit, including risky behaviors like using sex to obtain drugs, driving under the influence of heroin, engaging in criminal activity, or stealing.
Risky behavior may cause legal and money problems. A loved one’s heroin addiction may show when they frequently ask you for loans, borrow money from family, or even steal from family members. Heroin users may begin lying or hiding things from their friends and family, including their whereabouts or the use of their money.
These destructive behaviors as well as social isolation may place strain on relationships that were once important to the person struggling. They may begin to have interpersonal relationship problems or losses.
A person that suffers from heroin addiction will continue heroin use despite all the negative consequences for themselves and their loved ones.
What Can I Do About a Loved One’s Heroin Addiction?
The best thing to do about your loved one’s heroin addiction is to lead them to seek support and heroin addiction treatment programs. Whether it starts with support groups, outpatient treatment, or residential rehab, heroin addiction requires treatment for a person to stop.
As a friend or family member of someone who suffers from heroin addiction, equipping yourself with the knowledge to act and intervene can be helpful. Understanding the signs of heroin use and addiction, as well as treatment options can be enough to save your loved one’s life. Having resources such as various treatment options ready can make talking to your loved one about their addiction a pivotal point.
Setting strict boundaries can help you do less damage to your loved one’s addiction. Sticking to boundaries helps to avoid enabling. By not enabling a loved one, they may become uncomfortable enough to seek treatment or want to become substance free.
As any addiction affects the people around the one suffering from the substance abuse problem too, mental health support for yourself is vital. A loved one’s heroin addiction can be difficult and devastating to witness. Therapy or support groups may be crucial in providing ways of coping with extreme stress, frustration, and all the other emotions involved.
Where Can I Find a Treatment Center?
If you or a loved one is seeking help for heroin addiction, look no further than Ebb Tide.
We know that heroin can take over a person’s life, and requires a lot of individual attention. That is why our compassionate, caring, and committed treatment team takes the time to fully evaluate every person’s mental, physical, and emotional needs before designing an individual treatment plan.
By using a variety of evidence-based treatments, including medical detox, medication-assisted treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy, and group, and family therapy, Ebb Tide empowers you with the tools and skills to sustain your recovery from addiction, and begin a substance-free life.