About 948,000 people used heroin in the United States in 2016. Heroin is a drug that’s relatively cheap and easy to get all over the country, but it’s also extremely addictive. Learning to recognize the signs of addiction can help you or a loved one get the help they need as soon as possible.
Substance use disorders can be treated, even if you’ve tried and relapsed in the past. However, treating a substance use issue early can help you avoid some of the serious consequences that come with long-term use.
Learn more about the behavioral signs of heroin use and addiction.
Most people think terms like drug abuse, dependence, and addiction are all synonymous, but they actually refer to different levels of substance use disorder. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), substance use disorders are officially diagnosed in three separate categories: mild, moderate, and severe.
Each one of these levels may have some unique behavioral signs to look out for. Heroin addiction would fit into the severe category. Addiction is defined as a complex disease that affects the reward center of the brain, and it’s characterized by compulsive drug use despite the harmful consequences. At this point, addiction is difficult to overcome, especially on your own.
Dependence is a condition that changes the chemical balance in your brain. It usually takes repeated heroin use to become chemically dependent, but it can lead to addiction quickly. Drug abuse is any nonmedical use of a psychoactive substance that is illegal or isn’t properly moderated. In the United States, heroin is a Schedule I drug, which means it is not currently approved for any medical use. People who abuse drugs may not progress to dependence or addiction, but some people are more susceptible than others.
Each of these three encounters with heroin may produce unique behavioral responses. However, real like substance problems can advance without clear boundaries, so it can be difficult to tell if a loved one is abusing drugs with no dependence or has a full addiction.
Still, substance use problems often spread to multiple aspects of a person’s life, and it eventually becomes evident to the people around them.
Heroin abuse is the first step in developing a substance use disorder. At this point, people may be able to hide their drug use from loved ones, but there are a few signs that you might be able to notice. Of course, the most easily recognizable signs will be the effects of acute intoxication, (when the person is high). Heroin users can be nauseous, itchy, disoriented, and they may have constricted pupils.
Drug abuse can lead to dependence and addiction quickly. If a substance use disorder advances, they may continue to display these signs as some get worse and new symptoms develop.
Heroin dependence happens as a result of a chemical shift in your neurochemistry. It typically takes multiple uses to reach the point of chemical dependence, but it can happen quickly if you take high doses. After repeated use, your brain will start to get used to the drug in your system and build up a tolerance.
At this point, you may feel like you need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. If you continue to use as your tolerance grows, your brain might start to rely on heroin to balance brain chemistry. It will stop producing its own inhibitory effects and may even produce exciting chemicals to counteract the heroin.
If you stop using or cut back, you will start to feel the effects of a chemical imbalance in your body because heroin is an opioid that affects receptors all over the body. Heroin withdrawal symptoms often involve the whole body and mimic the flu. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, and fever. When a person develops a chemical dependence, the reason they continue to take heroin may be less about recreation and more about trying to feel normal.
Chemical dependence is a physical problem in the brain that can be treated with detoxification. It’s possible to become dependent before developing a severe substance use disorder. But heroin is notoriously addictive, and dependence can very quickly lead to a severe opioid use disorder.
Someone who is addicted to heroin may display some of the most noticeable behavioral signs. Addiction may be kept secret for a while, but as it starts to take over different parts of your life, it’s difficult to hide.
Managing and feeding an addiction requires most of your time so that the majority of your day is filled with being high or planning your next high. Illicit drugs like heroin are even more difficult to plan your life around than something like alcohol that you can find in every corner store. Still, heroin is among the most easily attainable illicit drugs in the United States after marijuana.
One of the biggest telltale signs of addiction is the continued use of heroin after serious consequences come as a result of using.
For instance, if someone takes heroin and it leads to an overdose, and they continue to use after, it may be a compulsion that’s difficult to control.
However, continuing after less life-threatening consequences can also point to addiction. Getting pulled over for intoxicated driving, a strained relationship, and losing a job should cause someone without an addiction to cut back or stop using a substance.
If they continue, it may be because heroin has altered their reward center.
Heroin use in addiction is compulsive. Stress and high-risk situations can trigger a person to use with powerful cravings. Addiction treatment is the most effective way to combat addiction and achieve sobriety.
If you believe that you might be dealing with some level of substance use disorder, or if you’ve noticed some behavioral signs in someone else, there is help available. Learn more about addiction treatment and how it might be able to lead you into lasting recovery.
Speak to an addiction treatment specialist at Serenity at Summit to hear about the therapy options that might be available to you. Addiction may be a complicated disease that’s difficult to overcome, but you may be able to achieve long-lasting sobriety with the right help. Call at any time.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
DEA. (n.d.). Drug Scheduling. Retrieved from https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007, January). 8: Definition of dependence. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/neurobiology-drug-addiction/section-iii-action-heroin-morphine/8-definition-dependence
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June). What is the scope of heroin use in the United States? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states