Heroin Addiction: Symptoms, Signs and Side Effects

Heroin is a highly addictive and illegal opioid substance that is derived from morphine. The drug is often taken intravenously to create intense feelings of euphoria, but it can also be snorted or smoked. Heroin has many additional side effects, and people who use the drug run the risk of developing an addiction or overdosing.

Identifying heroin abuse symptoms and heroin addiction symptoms are ways to discover if someone is using the drug. In addition, there are several signs to look out for if you believe yourself or a loved one is suffering from heroin addiction or an overdose.

Symptoms of Heroin Abuse

A person using heroin is likely to have certain physical and behavioral symptoms, due to the way heroin affects their bodies. Heroin addiction symptoms and signs of heroin use can include the following:

  • Slow movement and thinking
  • Small pupils
  • Sleepiness
  • Extreme comfort or happiness
  • Changes in personality or appetite
  • Drug paraphernalia, such as syringes, pipes, belts or rubber tubes, dirty spoons and white or tarry substances

Additionally, some people may wear long-sleeved shirts during warmer months to hide the needle marks on their arms. Changes in hygiene may indicate heroin abuse because people may choose to spend their free time pursuing heroin, rather than taking care of themselves.

When a person’s body becomes used to the presence of heroin, it may react negatively when the substance is absent for too long. This negative reaction is known as a withdrawal and it can be a reason why people continue heroin use, even when they know it’s bad for them. When a person experiences heroin withdrawal, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Insomnia
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness and depression
  • Muscle, bone and abdominal pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Sweating
  • Muscle spasms

Because heroin withdrawal is challenging, professional detox centers are people’s best option for securing a safe and successful heroin detox. Attempting to detox from heroin at home can be dangerous and potentially deadly.

Side Effects of Heroin

As an opioid, heroin attaches to opioid receptors in the brain and creates a pleasurable sensation. However, some negative effects can occur as well. After being taken, some of the immediate, negative side effects of heroin use include:

  • Flushed skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy feeling in limbs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Drowsiness
  • Mental cloudiness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed breathing

When it comes to long-term physical side effects of heroin users, the brain is affected the most. If someone uses heroin continually, their brain’s structure changes and creates hormone and neuron imbalances. In addition, heroin use can affect a person’s decision-making abilities, behavior and response to stress.

Repeated use of heroin can lead to heroin use disorder, which is characterized by an uncontrollable urge to continue using more. Someone with heroin use disorder may devote everything to finding and using the drug, regardless of the consequences. This behavior can lead to a heroin overdose.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

A heroin overdose occurs when too much of the drug has been taken. An overdose can be fatal if not quickly addressed, so knowing the signs could save someone’s life. The signs of heroin overdose typically include:

  • Pale or clammy skin
  • Limpness in the body
  • Blue/purple fingernails or lips
  • Vomiting or gurgling sounds
  • Inability to be awakened or speak
  • Slowed or stopped breathing or heartbeat

If you suspect someone is having an overdose, the first step is to contact emergency medical services. If breathing has stopped or is weak, you can also begin CPR after calling 911.

If you or a loved one live with an addiction, professional addiction treatment can help. Call The Recovery Village Ridgefield today to speak with a representative about how personalized treatment plans can help you address addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders. Begin your healthier future today.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Signs of Heroin Use.” Accessed May 13, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?” June 2018. Accessed May 13, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the long-term effects of heroin use?” June 2018. Accessed May 13, 2019.

SAMHSA. “Opioid Overdose.” May 7, 2019. Accessed May 13, 2019.