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Symptoms of Heroin Addiction, Overdose, and Withdrawal

Symptoms of heroin addiction

April 27, 2021

Although all types of drugs cause addiction and have a devastating impact on a person’s overall psychological and physical health, heroin addiction is one of the most catastrophic of these.

It is important to be able to identify it to facilitate early and effective treatment. This article will discuss heroin symptoms of abuse, overdose, and withdrawal.

What is heroin and heroin addiction?

Heroin is an illegal psychoactive drug, which causes addiction within a very short period of consumption, sometimes after just a few doses. It is obtained from morphine – a substance that is taken from different types of the opium poppy plant. 

Heroin can exist in multiple forms. It can be found as a white or brown powder, but can also be found in the form of a black, sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

Use of this drug tends to occur as a transition from other psychoactive substances. This is why many who abuse heroin actually use more than one drug.

An infographic showing the likelihood of progressing to heroin abuse depending on the current drug the individual is addicted to.

In most cases, heroin is abused intravenously by injecting it. However, it is also used by snorting and smoking. The reason why drug addicts usually decide to inject heroin into a vein by using syringes is that its effect is instantaneous. It will instantly cause a feeling of bliss, cheerfulness, and euphoria which are the desired effects of the drug.

What distinguishes this type of drug from other psychoactive substances is that heroin addiction develops very quickly. This fact is supported by the alarming evidence that using for as little as three days is enough for a person to develop an addiction to an opioid like heroin. The more period they abuse the drug for, the higher the risk of chronic abuse.

What are the symptoms of heroin addiction?

The symptoms of heroin addiction vary, depending on the amount of heroin abused and the time it was used. These symptoms of heroin use can be classified into physical, psychological, and social symptoms.

Physical symptoms of heroin addiction

These can be divided into the short-term and long-term symptoms of heroin addiction. 

The short-term heroin use symptoms are those that arise within minutes or hours of using the drug. These include:

  • Heavy sensation in the limbs
  • Constricted pupils
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Slower breathing
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Skin redness
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation

The long-term physical symptoms of heroin addiction are those which appear after months or days of abuse. These heroin abuse symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Chronic constipation
  • Chronic cough
  • Infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis, from sharing of needles
  • Infection and collapse of blood vessels
  • Infected heart valves and lining (endocarditis)
  • Blood clots (thrombosis)
  • Lung diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Dental diseases like gingivitis and rotten teeth
  • Skin damage from intravenous use, such as abscesses, sores, and scars

Get a free online consultation with a medical expert to learn how to manage these symptoms for you or your loved one >>>

Psychological symptoms of heroin addiction

The psychological symptoms of heroin addiction can similarly be divided into two segments. The short-term and long-term symptoms.

The following are the short-term psychological symptoms of heroin addiction. They occur within minutes to hours of using heroin:

  • Drowsiness
  • Inattention
  • Confusion
  • Poor judgment
  • Impaired concentration
  • Short-term memory impairment
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in sleep patterns: increased need for sleep or inability to fall asleep
A heroin addict lies awake in bed after battling with insomnia through the night.

These are some of the long-term symptoms of heroin abuse:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Chronic depression
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent and sudden mood swings
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Aggression

Behavioral and social symptoms of heroin addiction

The social and behavioral heroin addiction symptoms can not be divided into short-term and long-term. They tend to be seen more commonly at the start of the addiction as the addict attempts to balance their regular life with the addiction. However, many of them can be seen at any point in the addiction. They include the following:

  1. Spending a lot of time with new groups of people.
  2. Neglecting previous relationships with friends and family.
  3. Isolating from family members and friends.
  4. Poor performance at work or school; may lead to expulsion or unemployment.
  5. Frequently asking for or stealing money or valuables belonging to them or other people; financial distress.
  6. Changes in dressing, particularly wearing more long-sleeved clothes to hide track marks and skin conditions.
  7. There is a significant decline in their hygiene.
  8. They lie about what they spend their time doing and where they are.
  9. Loss of interest in pastimes they used to spend a lot of time with.
  10. Frequent legal problems or arrests.

What are the symptoms of a heroin overdose?

Due to the development of tolerance, an addict may find themselves using increasing doses of heroin to achieve the effect they desire. Using a large amount of heroin or mixing it with other drugs can result in an overdose. However, overdose may occur even after a small dose in those who are just starting to abuse. This is an extremely dangerous condition that can be fatal and it requires emergency medical care. 

The symptoms of heroin overdose include the following:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Dangerously slow breathing
  • Seizures
  • Significant drowsiness
  • Hypotension
  • Slow heart rate
  • Bluish tinge in the fingers, due to the reduction in blood flow
  • Delirium
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Permanent brain damage

What are the symptoms of heroin withdrawal?

When an addict fails to satisfy their dependence with consumption of the drug, they experience discomforting withdrawal symptoms. This may be because they can’t find an opportunity to use the drug, they do not have the money for it, or they are attempting to quit. It is important to note that withdrawal symptoms of heroin can be very severe. Quitting should only be done in a professional center where you  will be helped to overcome through abstinence syndrome without pain and harm.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Shivering
  • Muscle pain and aching
  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased production of tears, saliva, sweat
  • Increased body temperature
  • Muscle spasms and tremors

How to cure heroin addiction?

No matter how deep the addiction seems, there is a way out. Quitting heroin, or recovery, is certainly possible, especially if the addiction is adequately treated at an early stage.

An addict stands on a walkway, contemplating making the first step of the journey to recovery.

An addict attempting to treat heroin addiction on their own tends to be extremely unsuccessful. There is one method of treating addiction that works for a large number of people. That is detoxification and rehabilitation.

Treatment of heroin addiction is adapted and tailored to each patient individually. The treatment takes time and patience, but thanks to professional medical personnel, the most modern equipment, and the twenty-four-hour patient care in this hospital, you will get out of the hardest period of your life as a winner. 

The earlier an addict enrolls into treatment, the better. It is important to prevent life-threatening long-term side effects. We are here to help you get your life back on track and continue where you stopped.

Learn how to get started with your detoxification from heroin today >>>

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the street names for heroin?

Addicts will likely not refer to the drug by the name ‘heroin’. It is important to listen for the street names if you suspect a loved one may have an addiction. It is also known as white, dope, smack, hammer, H, horse, black tar, dragon, and more.

How many days does it take for the body to clear heroin?

This depends on how intensely an addict has been abusing the drug. Common tests will fail to detect heroin after about 2 days. However, the detox treatment period tends to last 7 or 14 days depending on the patient’s severity.

What happens if a pregnant woman abuses heroin?

It is extremely dangerous for a pregnant person to abuse heroin. Due to the fact that heroin passes through the placenta, the fetus will receive it and may have dependence. Once the child is born, they can develop withdrawal symptoms. 


Published on April 27, 2021
Dr Vorobjev Clinic team

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