Your family is going through a rough time, and it’s hard to explain the issues away as simply life stress. It’s terrifying to think that your loved one might be abusing heroin, but if you do believe that is the case, you don’t have time to waste.
If you think your loved one may be addicted, keep reading for the nine common signs of heroin use.
1. Behavioral Changes
One of the first signs of heroin addiction to watch out for is behavioral changes.
Among the most obvious is a sudden, inexplicable need for secrecy. This may be accompanied by increased aggression. You may notice this the most when asking your loved one about something that seems inconsequential to you, only to be met with an unexpected outburst.
These signs aren’t unique to heroin use.
What is somewhat unique to heroin use is mood swings, an apparent lack of emotional regulation, and depression. Heroin highs cause feelings of euphoria, which is part of why the drug is so addictive.
What makes it worse is that a heroin addict’s brain starts to rely on heroin to experience any feelings of joy or happiness. While off the drug, this can result in depression or sudden mood swings, especially if the individual is using drugs to self-medicate for an underlying mental illness.
Often, these highs and lows are taken out on the people around them, especially loved ones trying to express concern.
If your loved one is lashing out at you, try to keep your anger or frustration in check and look for patterns in their behavioral shifts.
2. Physical Changes
More obvious than the behavioral changes are the physical changes your loved one will exhibit after prolonged heroin abuse.
Heroin is taken by injection, which creates track marks, or puncture wounds resulting from injecting drugs and bruises that appear around the injection site. Many heroin users inject on their arms for ease of access and prominent veins.
On one hand, this is a good thing, because if track marks are in obvious places, they’re easy to spot. Because of this, chronic users will wear long sleeves or long pants to hide the marks.
You’ll likely also notice a decline in personal hygiene, especially if your loved one has been abusing for some time. Disorientation and drowsiness from heroin abuse may often lead your loved one to lose interest in (or forget to) take care of themselves.
Other physical symptoms immediately following heroin consumption include:
- Constricted (small) pupils
- Droopy appearance, as though it takes too much effort to support their limbs
- Dry mouth
- Shortness of breath
Another clear sign is suddenly losing a significant amount of weight. One of the side effects of heroin is a decreased appetite, which means that if your loved one is consistently high, they won’t have any desire to eat.
In women, this may also result in a sudden loss of her period as her body struggles to conserve resources.
3. Personality Changes
On the more frightening end of the spectrum are the personality changes resulting from heroin abuse.
When someone has a heroin problem, it becomes the focus of their life. It’s their reason for getting up in the morning and the sole motivator behind their actions. Anyone else’s needs become irrelevant, especially if they conflict with the person’s ability to get high.
If you notice that your once kind, generous loved one has become closed off, uncaring, and even selfish to the point of cruelty, this is a major red flag. Even the sweetest person can turn callous, reckless, and mean when looking for their next hit.
This also coincides with disengagement from family and friends. While an addict may be able to maintain appearances for a while, they inevitably turn further and further inward as their addiction worsens. Usually, this shows up in the form of excuses, missed commitments, and lacking interest in the wellbeing of others.
4. Lying and Manipulating
There are two big commonalities across addictions: lying and manipulative behavior.
If you’ve known and trusted someone for many years, it can be hard to set that trust aside when they start lying to you. A particularly skilled liar can fool their closest friends and family members for years on end.
But the sad truth is that addicts lie constantly, whether the lie is big or small. They lie about where they were when they were actually buying or using drugs. They lie about why they were late or why they missed a commitment. They lie about the thousands of dollars they spend on drugs.
If a person’s behavior changes and their explanations don’t add up, you have to hold onto your common sense. When an explanation doesn’t make sense, there’s usually a good reason.
Sometimes, you can investigate the explanation and catch your loved one in a lie. A lot of the time, though, there’s no way to call your loved one out for lying to you without voicing your real suspicions.
Manipulative behavior isn’t as obvious, especially if your loved one is good at it.
Sometimes it’s a subtle redirection of the conversation when your loved one is avoiding an explanation of where they were. Sometimes it’s more insidious, like guilt-baiting, the silent treatment, passive-aggressiveness, or conditional acceptance.
Sometimes, it’s obvious–promising to go to treatment, or to quit using, or any number of promises to lull you into believing them.
Don’t let yourself fall for it in the hopes that the problem will go away if you believe them. You can’t afford to wait for them to hit rock bottom.
5. Shifting Blame
Another common tactic among addicts is shifting blame, also expressed as playing the victim.
Your loved one may have been a responsible person before. Heroin takes that away. Remember–when someone is addicted, the only thing that really matters is the next high.
Addicted individuals quickly become masters of lying to themselves in order to deflect their internal feelings of guilt and blame, which makes it easy, as time goes on, to deflect blame onto others.
For example, if your loved one loses their job, they’ll say they were unfairly targeted by their boss.
Anytime you attempt to bring up problems with your loved one, they’ll find a way to shift the blame onto you or others. Don’t get angry, don’t rise to the bait, and don’t let yourself be misdirected. You know what the problem is, and you can’t let your loved one off the hook.
6. Ongoing Health Problems
Along with the physical symptoms of heroin abuse, your loved one will also experience ongoing health problems as a result of long-term abuse.
One of the most common signs is a runny nose that cannot be explained by an illness, allergies, the weather, or any other medical condition.
Since heroin is taken via injection, problems with the blood and veins are unique to heroin abuse. Repeated abuse can lead to collapsed veins, which can, in turn, create blood clots and abscesses.
If your loved one is careless with their needles, there’s also a high risk of blood-borne diseases and STDs, particularly HIV. Even if they don’t contract illnesses from other users, there’s still a significant risk of blood infections.
This may result in sepsis or septicemia, a condition in which the immune system is fighting overtime to resist a blood-borne infection.
In severe cases, this can lead to septic shock (a dangerous drop in blood pressure) which can quickly cause multiple organ failure–the kidneys, lungs, and liver are at especially high risk.
In addition, because your loved one isn’t eating (or isn’t eating normally), and because they’re neglecting personal hygiene, their immune system is operating at a disadvantage. This leaves them more susceptible to common illnesses and poorly equipped to fight off infection.
7. Change in Relationship Dynamics
Another thing you’ll notice in your loved one, especially as their addiction progresses, is a shift in relationship dynamics.
This will come in two parts. First, you will notice a declining interest in spending time with their family or friends. Second, you will see them spending more time with new friends who don’t seem to have any organic tie to them.
To be clear, making new friends on its own isn’t cause for concern. People make new friends all the time. It’s concerning if your loved one’s excuses for their time often crop up when these friends are involved, or if these friends exhibit many of the same troubling signs as your loved one.
And while a missed commitment here and there is rude, it’s not the end of the world. It’s cause for concern when it becomes a pattern of neglected family or work obligations followed by a litany of lame excuses, dismissiveness, or outright hostility.
Tragically, some addicts do become outright abusive to their loved ones, especially a spouse. If this happens, don’t let fear control you, and don’t feel like you owe it to your loved one to tolerate it.
There is no excuse for abuse of any kind, and there’s a difference between wanting to help your loved one and enabling their behavior. If a loved one is physically harmful or emotionally toxic, don’t neglect your own wellbeing in order to tend to theirs.
8. Financial Problems
If you notice your loved one is experiencing money problems that cannot be explained away, it could be a dangerous sign when paired with other red flags for heroin abuse.
Heroin is an expensive habit to maintain and it gets more expensive as time goes on. If items go missing in your home, bills are missed, or groceries are neglected, you should wonder where that money is going.
If you have any shared accounts that show withdrawals that cannot be explained, the same thing applies.
Someone with access to cash may also embezzle funds from their workplace or steal valuable items. They may also shoplift or commit credit fraud.
It’s also concerning if your loved one keeps asking you for money without any real explanation for their financial problems or why they seem to use up the money you give without any apparent improvement to the situation.
9. Loss of Concentration or Interest
Finally, you may also notice a loss of concentration or interest.
For example, a teenager who previously had good grades and performed well in school may start having academic problems or neglecting activities they once enjoyed. A spouse may neglect date night, happy hour, work functions, or dinners with friends.
A shift in priorities due to a job or a move is one thing. A sudden lack of interest in beloved activities is something else entirely.
This also ties into a lack of communication with friends and family. As your loved one sinks deeper into addiction, it becomes easier for them to cover their addiction if they limit interaction with friends and family.
If You See the Signs of Heroin Use
If you see the signs of heroin use in your loved one, you can’t afford to wait. Heroin addiction is incredibly dangerous and can have a catastrophic effect on your loved one’s life.
The good news is that you don’t have to fight it alone.
We help you get in touch with recovery professionals specializing in heroin addiction. Click here to check out our available resources. Or, if you’re ready to get your loved one started on the road to recovery, get in touch with us today.