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A heroin addiction can be difficult to talk about, even with a loved one. People who experience addiction aren’t always honest about their substance abuse. In fact, they may not even be aware themselves of how far out of control things have gotten. Though it may be difficult, having a conversation about heroin addiction can potentially be lifesaving.

If you suspect that someone you care about is addicted to heroin, pay attention to their home, physical characteristics, and lifestyle habits. This may help you discover the truth and learn the depth of the problem. Identifying the signs of heroin addiction is an important first step toward supporting your loved one’s recovery.

Learning to recognize the devices used with heroin and what the drug actually looks like may help you identify heroin use in someone you care about.

In most cases, a heroin user needs certain paraphernalia to get high. Heroin can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Needles, pipes, and spoons with lighters are often used. In some cases, people who are addicted to heroin use rubber tubing or elastic bands as tourniquets to make their veins larger. This helps them inject heroin into veins that have been damaged by regular heroin use.

Heroin itself is a powdery, crumbly substance. It’s often off-white, but its color can range from white to dark brown or black. Black tar heroin gets its name from the way it looks. This type of heroin is a black, sticky substance.

The physical symptoms of heroin use occur rapidly. After injecting it, someone will experience drug-induced euphoria quickly, often within seconds. Other means of using heroin don’t produce a reaction as quickly, but users show signs of being high when the drug reaches their brain.

Physical symptoms of heroin use include:

  • dry mouth
  • flushed skin
  • constricted pupils
  • falling asleep suddenly
  • slow breathing
  • loss of self-control
  • itching
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation

Other symptoms of heroin use include:

  • feelings of heaviness
  • confused thinking or disorientation
  • difficulty making decisions
  • memory loss

People who use heroin regularly often need laxatives or stool softeners because the drug can cause constipation.

A heroin addiction may be hard to identify at first. Over time, addiction can become more noticeable as it takes over the user’s life. For example, it may seem like someone who’s addicted to heroin worries more about getting their next dose than anything else.

Other behavior and lifestyle changes can accompany heroin use. Heroin injections leave needle marks, so many addicts wear long-sleeve clothing to hide their scars, even in warm weather. If they’re worried their addiction will be discovered, they may withdraw from friends and family members. Their work and personal relationships may suffer. Social and personal isolation is common among people with addiction.

People who are addicted to heroin may also have trouble maintaining their health and personal hygiene.

If you or someone you care about is addicted to heroin, it’s important to get help. Heroin is a powerful opioid that can cause dangerous complications. Sometimes, these complications are life-threatening. For example, heroin use can cause miscarriages. Some people contract infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis, from sharing needles. A fatal drug overdose is also possible.

Long-term heroin use damages many organs. People with a history of heroin addiction may develop kidney, liver, or heart disease because of their drug use. Heroin also damages their immune system. They may experience frequent infections because their immune system is unable to fight off bacteria.

Additives in heroin can also coagulate and clog blood vessels, such as arteries and veins. This can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and permanent organ damage. Some additives are deadly and can kill a person within minutes. It’s nearly impossible to tell what’s been added to heroin without conducting tests. Heroin and other illegal drugs may be laced with dangerous substances that are only identified after a tragic event occurs.

Babies born to people who use heroin are often underweight. If a mother uses heroin while she’s pregnant, the baby may be born physically addicted to heroin too. If this happens, the baby may experience neonatal abstinence syndrome. They will need to detox and go through withdrawal after birth.

If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin, reach out to your family doctor or someone else you trust. They may be able to help you find treatment facilities, addiction experts, and other sources of support and information. They may also provide strategies to help you get clean.

The first step to getting better is admitting you have a problem. Kicking the habit may not happen all at once. Some people require multiple attempts before they give up heroin for good. However, determination and dedication go a long way toward aiding recovery. Recognizing that you or someone you care about has a substance abuse problem is the first step in that process.