Heroin Addiction Symptoms: What To Look For + Getting Help

Written by Theresa Valenzky

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

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Last Updated - 9/15/2023

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Updated 09/15/2023

One of the most prominent drugs in the opioid epidemic affecting people nationwide is heroin. However, it can be difficult for those who have not struggled with heroin addiction to comprehend its intensity fully.

Many people falsely believe that heroin addiction or addiction to other substances can be overcome simply by having a strong will, which is far from the case. Addiction to heroin or any other substance is a disease that needs treatment.

How can you tell if someone you love is using heroin? Here we will explore the side effects, symptoms and signs of heroin addiction and abuse.

Heroin Addiction Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of heroin use can be important if you suspect someone you love may be using heroin. 

Physical Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

When someone develops a heroin addiction, they often display physical symptoms. Friends or loved ones may notice these changes, which are often the first clue that the person may need help.

Changes in Appearance

A person’s physical appearance can dramatically change when they become addicted to heroin. They may look older and tired due to poor sleep and health issues from heroin use. Appetite loss and nutritional problems linked to addiction can cause weight loss and a gaunt appearance.

Track Marks

When a person injects heroin, track marks are a physical sign you can often observe. Although generally on the arms, track marks can be anywhere on the body. Sometimes track marks can become infected, leading to abscesses and pustules on the skin.

Health Issues

Multiple health issues are linked to heroin addiction. These can include:

  • Dental problems like poor teeth and gum inflammation
  • Constipation
  • Weak immune system
  • Breathing problems
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hormone problems
  • Reduced sexual function
  • Memory problems
  • Weight loss

Emotional Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

When a person becomes addicted to heroin, their emotions can majorly change. Friends and family may observe different emotional symptoms, including:

Emotional Withdrawal

The person may start to withdraw emotionally from friends, family and other loved ones. They may become more secretive, and emotionally connecting with them may be harder.

Depression and Anxiety

Mental health problems like depression and anxiety are closely linked to addiction. When a person develops a heroin addiction, their preexisting mental health problems may worsen. Even if they have not had noticeable mental health issues in the past, such problems can start with addiction.

Mood Swings

A person struggling with heroin addiction can have mood swings. As the euphoria from a heroin high wears off and the person seeks their next fix, their mood may change rapidly. These mood swings can also worsen by the presence of existing mental health problems like depression and anxiety, which can cause mood swings on their own.

Lies and Deceit

Addiction brings a lot of shame. A person struggling with heroin may lie to those around them to try to hide their addiction or obtain money to fund their drug use. The fallout from lies can lead to emotional ties with friends and family being severed, further isolating the person as they fall deeper into the cycle of addiction.

We offer physician-led treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in Ohio. Call us today to speak with a Recovery Advocate for free about your treatment options.

Behavioral Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

A person’s behaviors often change as they become addicted to heroin. Their life suddenly revolves around the drug, often to the exclusion of everything else.

Isolation From Friends and Family

Social isolation from friends, family and loved ones is common in heroin addiction. Often, the person may start to surround themselves with others addicted to heroin or involved with other drugs. 

Loss of Interest in Hobbies

People often lose interest in hobbies and activities that once brought them pleasure. Instead, they begin to focus on heroin: not only getting high but obtaining, using and recovering from the drug whenever possible.

Financial Trouble

Heroin is expensive, and the job loss and legal problems that often go hand-in-hand with addiction can lead to financial problems for the person struggling with the drug. They may begin to borrow, beg or even steal from those around them in an attempt to continue to fund their drug use for as long as they can.

Poor Personal Hygiene

When a person is focused on drug use, hygiene often suffers. This can include a generally disheveled appearance and health-related hygiene issues: one example is bad breath from dental problems directly linked to heroin use.

What Heroin Does to the Body

When a person uses heroin, their body converts it to morphine, which binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. This creates a sense of euphoria or a high. 

Short-Term Side Effects of Heroin

Short-term side effects accompanying this drug include slowed breathing and heart rate, skin flushing, dry mouth and clouded mental function. Other side effects of using heroin include nausea, vomiting, itchiness and a feeling of heaviness in the legs and arms.

All opioids generally work similarly, slowing brain and central nervous system activity, blocking pain and flooding the brain with feel-good chemicals.

Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin

Long-term users of heroin have developed a tolerance. This means the drug may not even get them high anymore, but they continue to use it because they have become psychologically and physically addicted. The person may begin to take increased doses of the drug because they feel they can no longer function without it.

A person addicted to heroin will not typically be able to maintain a job, healthy relationships, family duties or school work. They may also turn to risky or criminal behaviors to support their habit.

Some other long-term side effects of heroin use can include

  • Collapsed veins
  • Abscesses 
  • Infections
  • Constipation 
  • Stomach cramps
  • Liver
  • Kidney disease

Seeking Help for Heroin Addiction

When you or a loved one starts to struggle with heroin addiction, it can be hard to know what to do. Heroin addiction can seem overwhelming, but many resources are available to help you or your loved one lead a heroin-free life.

The Recovery Village Columbus offers a full spectrum of heroin-recovery resources, including medical detox to help you quit heroin and rehab to help you learn the skills to stay off the drug long-term. Further, aftercare opportunities after completing rehab can help you remain heroin-free for life. Don’t wait: contact us today to see how we can help.

View Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin DrugFacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 2022. Accessed July 29, 2023.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Commonly Used Drugs Charts.” August 20, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2023.

Healthwise Staff. “Heroin.” University of Michigan Health System, November 8, 2021. Accessed July 29, 2023.

Foundation for a Drug-Free World. “The Truth About Heroin.” Accessed July 29, 2023.


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