Substance Use

Heroin: Early Signs and Symptoms

man holding bag of heroin close up

Table of Contents

Get Help Now

check insurance
Check your insurance by using our Online Form
call us
Talk to someone now.
Call (855) 430-9439

Heroin, derived from morphine and known for its potent euphoric effects, ranks among the most addictive substances available. Its highly addictive nature can be attributed to how it interacts with the brain’s reward system. Upon administration, heroin rapidly enters the brain and converts back into morphine, binding to opioid receptors responsible for feelings of pain relief and well-being. 

This process triggers a surge of dopamine—a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward—creating an intensely pleasurable “high” that users seek to replicate. (1)

Spotting the early signs of heroin use and a use disorder isn’t always easy, and sometimes people don’t want to admit what’s really going on. Early warning signs like losing weight quickly, finding marks on the body where needles have been used, or seeing someone sleep too much or too little might not seem related at first.

These changes happen slowly but surely and show that a person is getting hooked on heroin.

Realizing these signs early can help get the right kind of help for you or a loved one, and support in place. This is especially important because understanding how addiction and substance abuse works can be tricky.

Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us

How Addictive is Heroin?

The addiction potential lies not only in the immediate euphoria but also in the subsequent adaptations within the brain. Regular use alters natural dopamine production levels; over time, this leads individuals to depend on heroin just to feel normal or avoid withdrawal symptoms rather than seeking pleasure alone. (2)

These withdrawal symptoms can be severe and include both physical discomfort and psychological effects.

  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

These mental illnesses further compel continued usage, creating a vicious cycle of dependency that is hard to break without professional help, treatment centers, and a support structure.

Early Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is part of the opiate class of drugs and an illicit street drug. Derived from the opium poppy, this class of drugs includes morphine and prescription opioid derivatives such as fentanyl and oxycodone. (3)

A significant majority of people addicted to heroin started as a last resort to feed their prescription opiate habit. Over 170,000 people between the ages of 18 and 25 began using heroin for the first time in 2016. (4)

Some of the early signs of heroin addiction include:

  • Constantly scratches the skin.
  • Needle marks on the skin if the person is injecting.
  • Pupils in the eyes get very small.
  • The person often seems sleepy or, paradoxically, “wired” and energetic.
  • The drug abuser is always short of money and will beg, borrow, or steal to sustain their habit.
  • Damaged work or family relationships and decreased mental health.

Early Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Recognizing the early symptoms of heroin addiction is critical for addressing and managing this serious issue before it deepens into a more severe problem. Heroin, a highly addictive opioid, can quickly take hold of an individual’s life, leading to devastating consequences. (5)

Below, are the effects of heroin abuse:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • The person may nod off, appear confused, or be drowsy
  • Trouble remembering things
  • Difficulty following conversations or participating in conversations
  • Tiny, pinprick pupils

Heroin users will often engage in risky behavior to feed their drug habit. They may experience financial difficulties and legal problems.

Also, their school or work performance will suffer, and they may find themselves job-hopping or failing classes. Relationships will become strained, and users may become isolated from friends and family. (6)

Long-term signs of heroin addiction may include digestive problems. If the person injects the drug, they can experience:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Boils
  • Infections at the injection site
  • Track marks
  • Scabs

Heroin can be ingested, snorted, smoked, or injected with a syringe. Unlike other drugs such as crack cocaine and marijuana, It does not give off much of an odor when smoked.

Heroin and opioid derivatives are incredibly addictive and create a massive, euphoric high and feelings of well-being, not to mention these types of drugs are very effective at treating physical pain of all kinds.

But the high from heroin doesn’t last long, and users quickly find themselves taking more and more of the drug at frequent intervals to feel a sense of normalcy, even if their tolerance has become so high that they no longer experience much of that initial euphoric rush. (7)

Heroin binds to specific receptors in the brain that essentially rewire it to seek out more of the drug. Once a person recovers from heroin, they may experience chronic depression and anxiety, since their dopamine receptors were rewired from drug use.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline

The timeline for heroin withdrawal depends on how the person has used the drug. Most will experience withdrawal for about a week, but longer-term users may experience the effects for up to a month after cessation. (7)

Heroin withdrawal symptoms will start within 24 hours of last use and will peak within three days. This is when the user is at the highest risk of relapse since the withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and painful.

It’s incredibly important that recovering users have adequate support and medical attention during this critical phase.

Withdrawal symptoms can include the following risk factors: (8)

  • Headaches
  • Nausea, stomach pains, and cramping
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Behavioral health issues like agitation, anxiety, mood swings, and panic attacks
  • Intense cravings for the drug
  • Watery, tearful eyes
  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Weight loss
  • Shivers
  • Fatigue and drowsiness
  • Issues with decision-making

What Are the Dangers of Overdosing on Heroin?

According to the CDC, heroin overdose deaths rose 26% from 2013 to 2014. Overdosing on heroin can cause a dangerous fall in the user’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Users can experience seizures, choke on their vomit, and die.

Symptoms of a heroin overdose include: (9

  • Shallow breathing
  • Coma
  • Blue or pale skin
  • Weak pulse
  • Discolored tongue
  • Spasms and seizures
  • Physical dependence

After 10 minutes of injecting heroin, signs of an overdose can occur. Users who have quit the drug but are undergoing a relapse are at an incredibly high risk of overdosing and facing life-threatening consequences. If an overdose is suspected, immediately call 911 and get healthcare assistance.

How Are Infectious Diseases Spread Among Heroin Users?

Heroin is often injected via a syringe or hypodermic needle. Users are obsessed with getting their next fix, which inevitably leads to them not practicing safety precautions.

They often share needles, and dirty needles can carry dangerous blood-borne illnesses and co-occurring disorders like hepatitis C and HIV/aids. (10)

In addition, heroin gives users a feeling of euphoria and increased well-being, and they will not practice safe sex. Heroin addicts are, therefore, at an increased risk of contracting and spreading STIs and STDs. (11)

Heroin use among young adults is rising, and the effects on the individual, their families, and society at large are devastating. Recovered addicts may experience long-term, adverse health consequences related to their drug use. The sooner they can seek heroin treatment options and heal, the less likely they are to experience any lifelong, damaging effects of heroin use.

Complications and Side Effects of Heroin Addiction

Heroin abuse, or drug abuse, is inherently dangerous since it’s an illegal drug, an abuser often doesn’t know the dose or source, or even if it’s heroin they are smoking, snorting, or injecting.

Since heroin goes straight to the receptors in the human brain that influence comfort and reward, people who have been using this illegal opioid find it exceedingly hard to quit. Withdrawal from heroin use can be extremely difficult—insomnia, profuse sweating, pain, intense anxiety, and drug craving are common. The use of heroin affects not only the individuals but also the family members involved, which is why getting professional help is important.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction Symptoms Today

With a medical detox facility, addicts can safely withdraw from the drug. The medical staff is on-call 24/7 to help them with painful and distressing symptoms. Addicts can be prescribed legal drugs to lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms, and this will, in turn, lower their risk of relapse.

After safely detoxing, people in recovery can receive supportive treatment from trained therapists in an inpatient or outpatient facility. With time, support, and determination, people can go on to make a lifelong recovery from heroin addiction.

Heroin use has recently exploded within our country. The people who find themselves dependent on this drug never thought it could happen to them, or they believed they could handle the drug’s addictive effects. A heroin addiction treatment program at Zinnia Health can help you or someone you care about get off heroin for good.

Thankfully, Zinnia Health’s clinically supervised heroin detox center and drug rehab can give you exactly the help you’re looking for. Don’t hesitate to call us today and we can fully explain to you all the advantages of our program compared to the mostly generic, “cookie-cutter” heroin rehabs you’ll find. Call today (855) 430-9439.


Call us
Ready to get help?
(855) 430-9439
Why call us? Why call us