Heroin Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and possible effects of heroin addiction can be an important first step on the path toward successful long-term recovery. Sierra by the Sea in Newport Beach, California, is proud to be a source of accurate and relevant information about the impact of heroin addiction.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Learn about heroin addiction

Heroin is an illegal opioid that often comes in the form of a powder or tar. Some of the most common drugs in the opiate class are heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl. Many opiates are used as prescription pain medications due to their ability to relieve pain by dulling sensations and creating a numbing effect.

Heroin affects the central nervous system. People who use heroin often experience feelings of pleasure and euphoria followed by a severe and intense emotional crash.

Because of the chemical properties that give heroin its highly addictive nature, any time a person uses heroin they are at risk of becoming addicted. Regular use can lead to cravings, a strong urge to obtain and consume the substance, and the hunt and desire for heroin often impairs an individual’s ability to function on a daily basis.

Heroin addiction can have serious effects on your health and well-being. Those who use heroin have a greater risk of various physical health problems, relationship strife, cognitive impairment, diminished job performance or job loss, financial strain, and various co-occurring mental health disorders.

But with the right type and level of care, it’s possible to control a heroin addiction. At Sierra by the Sea, we provide comprehensive, individualized care in a calm, comforting environment that’s ideally suited to promoting lasting recovery.


Statistics about heroin use and addiction

Heroin addiction (along with other opiate addictions) is a growing crisis in the United States. The following statistics come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

  • Heroin addiction is three times more common in males than females.
  • In 2016, there were 948,000 adults who reported using heroin within the past year – a number that’s been on the rise since 2007.
  • First-time heroin users reached 170,000 in 2016, which is a sharp increase from 90,000 first-time users in 2006.

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Addiction

Potential causes of heroin addiction

As with most addictions, heroin addiction can develop from a combination of genetic and environmental causes. Individuals are at an increased risk for developing heroin addiction if they exhibit or have a history of the following:

  • Impulsive or risk-taking personalities
  • Being exposed to social environments where heroin is being used
  • Family or personal history of addiction
  • Having a medical or mental health condition that causes chronic and persistent pain
  • Using prescribed opiate pain medications such as morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone
  • Having a childhood history of conduct disorder

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Symptoms of heroin addiction

Heroin addiction is a devastating condition that has the ability to impact an individual’s body, behaviors, mental processes, and emotions. Signs and symptoms of heroin addiction include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Difficulty or inability to care for children or other family members
  • Impaired ability to participate in existing relationships or form new relationships
  • Violence or aggression
  • Lying or being deceptive
  • Poor attendance or performance at work
  • Neglecting personal appearance or overall hygiene
  • Borrowing or stealing money

Physical symptoms:

  • Skin changes, such as open sores and wound infections
  • Heart problems
  • Dental problems, including dry mouth
  • Twitches or tremors
  • Itchiness
  • Weight loss
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting

Mental symptoms:

  • Lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Memory loss and confusion
  • Major mood changes
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Mood swings

Effects of Heroin Addiction

The negative impact of heroin addiction

Heroin has the ability to negatively impact many aspects of your life. Heroin addiction also has the potential to cause many severe medical conditions, some of which can be fatal. If an addiction is not effectively managed, there is a risk of many negative outcomes that can cause significant long-term damage. Common effects of untreated heroin addiction are:

  • The worsening of existing medical conditions such as heart conditions, liver disease, kidney disease, and irregular blood pressure
  • Impaired ability to maintain current social and family relationships
  • Risk of eviction and/or homelessness
  • Development of medical conditions resulting from injecting heroin, including bacterial and viral infections such as Hepatitis C, endocarditis, and HIV along with tuberculosis, abscesses, and cellulitis
  • Development of medical conditions resulting from snorting heroin, including erectile dysfunction, irregular menstruation, infertility, and a perforated nasal septum
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation
  • Difficulty verbally communicating
  • Legal charges or incarceration
  • Poor attendance or performance at work or in school
  • Inability to fulfill financial, domestic, or community responsibilities
  • Demotion, disciplinary actions, or termination at work

These outcomes are not guaranteed for every person who becomes addicted to heroin, but they are common effects. Individuals who receive care through residential programs for addiction have a greater chance of overcoming the urge to use heroin and living a fulfilling life.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorder among people who are addicted to heroin

There are several mental health conditions that are commonly present in individuals with a heroin addiction. Additionally, individuals with heroin addictions are at an increased risk for developing severe medical conditions as a result of injecting heroin.

  • Other addiction(s)
  • Depressive disorders
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Conduct disorder

Effects of Heroin Withdrawal and Overdose

Withdrawing from heroin and the risk of overdose

Effects of withdrawal: An individual who is experiencing withdrawal from heroin may have some of the following physical and mental symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling sensations that are not real
  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors to hand or other body parts
  • Inability to sleep
  • Sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea, stomach pain

Effects of overdose: An individual who has consumed an excess of heroin is at risk for an overdose. A heroin overdose is very dangerous, as someone can fall into a coma or die as a result. An individual experiencing a heroin overdose requires emergency medical care. Common symptoms of an overdose include:

  • Slowed breathing, which may cause someone to stop breathing
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Very low levels of oxygen in the blood
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Drop in blood pressure

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous