How to Spot A Heroin Addiction in Your Loved One

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Seeing a loved one struggle with heroin use is one of the most painful experiences you can go through in life. It’s easy to feel confused, frustrated, helpless and sad.

If you’re worried that your loved one is struggling to refrain from using heroin and has begun to develop a dependency, now is the time to intervene. You can help the recovery process by understanding symptoms of heroin addiction and recommending treatment. 

There are concrete and effective steps you can take to show support for your loved one. Here’s where to start.

Signs of heroin use

While your loved one may hide heroin use, there are physical and behavioral signs that are impossible to cover. Here’s what you can look for to know whether your loved one has been using heroin according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • A pleasurable sensation (euphoria)
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Dry mouth
  • A heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired decision-making
  • Slowed breathing and heart rate
  • Mood changes
  • Decreased pain

You may not ever see your loved one under the effects of a heroin high, but these pleasurable feelings that accompany heroin reinforce the addictiveness of the drug. While your loved one may seem fine while under the influence of heroin, if it’s a stark change from their regular emotional state your loved one is prone to developing an addiction— and quickly.

Signs of heroin addiction

Heroin, like other opioids, binds to opioid receptors in the brain, meaning that your body will crave the substance again even after only one use. The drug tricks your mind into ignoring the negative consequences like slowed breathing and nausea, and focuses on obtaining the same level of pleasure again.

When your loved one first uses heroin, he or she may only need a small amount. In order to achieve the same sensations again, more of the drug is necessary as your body builds up a tolerance. Here are signs that your loved one’s tolerance has increased, and a full-fledged addiction is just around the corner.

  • Requiring more and more heroin to feel the same effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal when unable to use the drug
  • Increasingly secretive behavior
  • Financial issues
  • Stealing money
  • Increasingly risky behaviors (such as using sex to obtain drugs or driving under the influence)
  • Being unable to manage thoughts about obtaining and using heroin
  • Missing family or work commitments to use
  • Having track marks from injection sites
  • Deceased attention to personal hygiene
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Changes in personality
  • Frequently being sedated
  • Anxiety
  • Disorientation
  • Irritability
  • A weak pulse
  • Flu-like symptoms between heroin uses

Finding drug paraphernalia is another sign that your loved one has succumbed to an addiction. Look for paraphernalia such as: 

  • Needles
  • Bent spoons
  • Syringes
  • Tin foil
  • Glass
  • Balloons
  • Metal pipes
  • Bags of heroin 

These and similar items indicate drug use and addiction. If you notice these or other suspicious signs in your friend or family member, it’s important to say something and encourage professional help.

It’s not uncommon for heroin addiction to lead to overdose. A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that heroin overdose deaths increased from 1,960 in 1999 to over 15,000 in 2016. If you suspect a loved one is at risk of overdose, call for emergency help and get training in using naloxone, which can reverse an opioid overdose.

Treatment for heroin addiction

While you can have a massive impact on your loved one’s life by calling out an addiction (possibly even saving a life), you can’t do it all. The fact is, you shouldn’t try to do it all, either. Only professional help can offer the healing your friend needs.

Treatment for heroin addiction is similar to treatment for other opioids. It’s likely to include medically managed detox, therapy or counseling, medication and lifestyle changes. Depending on the severity of an addiction, treatment may last weeks, months or continue via outpatient care for years.

You can make a difference

As a friend or family member of someone struggling with heroin use, the best thing you can do is to equip yourself with the knowledge to intervene. Understanding the symptoms of heroin addiction can be enough to save a life.

Telling your friend that you’ve noticed substance use can be a pivotal point in someone’s life, and it’s important to have resources ready when your friend is open to treatment. High Focus Centers can help.

High Focus Centers is an outpatient treatment program that treats substance use disorders and mental health conditions at the same time. Compassionate staff and evidenced-based treatment help to heal the whole person, so your loved one can live a free and full life again. Call today.