If you’ve noticed changes in the behavior of a family member or friend, the feeling that they may be struggling with substance abuse may have crossed your mind. If you already know that they’ve had a history of addiction to substances such as marijuana and alcohol, the thought that they may be using other harmful drugs may be a valid concern.
Heroin addiction is a life-threatening and devastating habit. It not only affects the person addicted to heroin. It affects everyone that’s close to and cares about the person.
Many people find it difficult to accept the fact that a loved one or family member (such as their child) is addicted to heroin. They use denial as a defense mechanism because the reality of their loved ones being addicted to heroin is so overwhelming.
However, being in denial about a loved one's heroin addiction has some serious risks associated with it. Heroin is an extremely dangerous substance and causes more overdoses than many other substances.
Street heroin is often cut with other substances such as fentanyl. It only takes a very small amount of fentanyl to cause someone (even with a high tolerance to heroin) to overdose. If you’re aware of the signs that a loved one may be addicted to heroin, you may be able to help them or at least be prepared in the case of an overdose.
People addicted to heroin often refer to their heroin addiction as a “full-time job”. Once addicted, their habit may become very expensive and difficult to maintain. If you’re addicted to heroin, then your whole day centers around getting more heroin.
One of the main reasons that heroin quickly becomes an everyday habit, is that you can quickly biome physically dependent on it. If you don’t keep using, you will start to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are often likened to “the worst flu you’ve ever had”.
As an addict tries to figure out how to pay for their habit on a daily basis, people around them will often fall into 2 categories - people that will help them get heroin and people that will get in the way of them getting heroin.
If a loved one is using heroin, they may constantly be canceling plans they’ve made to visit with you. They may also miss holidays and other times when the family gets together.
When you’re coming off of heroin, your anxiety can get very intense. This can make social interactions extremely uncomfortable.
If you think your loved one is doing heroin, you may notice that they stop doing things like going to the grocery store to buy food or going to a store to buy everyday products such as paper towels and deodorant.
If you are texting and calling a loved one that you suspect is using heroin and they never seem to get back to you, your suspicions may be true.
A heroin habit can get very expensive. This is partially due to the fact that if you do heroin on a daily basis you will begin to develop a tolerance to it. This means that you’ll have to start using more and more to get the desired effect. In fact, your tolerance can get so high that if you don’t use a certain amount of heroin each day, a smaller amount may not be enough to keep you from getting sick.
Many times heroin addicts are just trying to get enough heroin for the day so that they don’t get sick. They are not even using to get high anymore, they are using to “get by” (as addicts will say).
It’s easy to get to a $100-a-day heroin habit in a short amount of time. Even a person with a high-paying job might have trouble spending $100 dollars a day on heroin. Since periods in between heroin use can cause you to be extremely sick, you may stop going to work and lose your job.
So even if you had a job that allowed you to buy $100 worth of heroin, you may lose that job, making it extremely difficult to keep using the amount you’re accustomed to.
If a loved one is addicted to heroin, they may start asking to borrow money regularly. Maybe they go from asking for money once a month to asking for money once a week. Heroin addicts also will pawn items to help support their habit.
You may find that your loved one is selling or pawning many of their possessions. You may even begin to find that some of your belongings (such as jewelry or guns) are missing as well.
There is a stigma associated with being a drug addict/alcoholic. This is especially true for heroin addicts. For many people, the image of a heroin addict they have is of someone who lives under a bridge using dirty needles to inject heroin. Although this image is correct in many instances, it is by no means a picture of what every heroin addict’s life looks like.
Nevertheless, many people are ashamed of being heroin addicts.
If you’re a heroin addict, you may not want anyone to know. You might go to extreme lengths to attempt to hide your addiction from others.
If you suspect a loved one is addicted to heroin, you may catch them lying to you about a variety of things. They may say they are going to see a movie so they will have enough time to drive to go get heroin and use it.
If you question where they’ve been they might get extremely defensive and try to make you feel as if you’re crazy for even thinking that they are lying.
If you have a child who is living at home with you, a big reason they might be dishonest about their heroin addiction is that, if you know they’re using, you may try to prevent them from getting high.
You would then fall into the category of people who are getting in the way of them using heroin. They will lie to you in hopes that you will believe them so you’ll leave them alone so they can continue to use heroin.
Heroin can be used in a variety of ways. The most common ways it is used is by:
If a person is injecting heroin, you may notice things at either their home or your home (or both):
These are the most common forms of paraphernalia for heroin use.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are some of the worst withdrawal symptoms associated with substances that people commonly abuse. You may notice your loved one staying in bed for days (especially if they don’t currently have any money).
Here are some of the withdrawal symptoms that people experience when coming off of heroin:
A heroin habit can completely consume a person. It affects the brain's pleasure centers and actually convinces your brain that you need heroin just as much as air, water, and food. Since using heroin causes such an intense rush that many people spend most of their lives trying to capture that feeling.
However, it’s difficult for many people to get the feeling they got when they first started using heroin. This and other factors can cause a person addicted to heroin to have extreme mood swings.
If you’re addicted to heroin you may be happy one minute and irate the next. You may lash out at the people closest to you and say hurtful things that may harm your relationships with them permanently.
When a person becomes addicted to heroin, they may lose motivation in general. Perhaps they were very passionate about something before they got addicted to heroin. If they are in school, their grades may start to drop.
If they excelled in sports or music, they may withdraw from any activities associated with them. As was stated before, being addicted to heroin can easily become a full-time job.
If you get addicted to heroin, you may find yourself putting all of your resources into getting high for the day.
At this point, it’s common for depression to set in. You may begin to feel hopeless and as if you are in a bottomless hole that you’ll never get out of. This can lead to you giving up even trying to pursue anything that you used to be passionate about.
If you think a loved one is using heroin, if they currently don’t have a job, they may not even be actively looking for one. They also may make little to no effort to get help (such as going to an inpatient treatment facility).
Here are some general physical ad behavioral signs that a person may be using heroin.
There are many health consequences a person may experience as a result of using heroin. Here are some of them:
It’s hard to accept that a loved one may be using heroin. However, living in denial can lead you to be unprepared for bad things that can happen to a loved one due to their heroin use.
Since overdose is so common for heroin overdoses, it’s important that you have Narcan with you in case your loved one overdoses. You can talk to a medical professional or pharmacist about obtaining Narcan that you can keep at your home and/or your loved ones' home. Narcan can quickly reverse the effects of a heroin overdose until the person who has overdosed can get to the hospital.
In order to be best prepared for a possible heroin overdose of a loved one, you need to know the signs of a heroin overdose. These signs include:
If you notice signs that may indicate your loved one is using heroin, you may be unsure as to what to do. The fact is - heroin is a dangerous, life-threatening substance. You may want to talk to your loved one and let them know that you’ve noticed some signs that have led you to believe they are using heroin.
If they are using heroin, let them know that you are not there to judge them in any way, you just want to know what you can do to help them. Even though you want to let them know that you care about them and want to help them, you may also need to let them know that you have certain boundaries regarding their continued use of heroin. If they are living with you, you may have the boundary that they can not continue living with you if they continue to use heroin.
If they want help, they are people who care and are ready to assist them.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance abuse issue such as heroin addiction, it’s best to consult an addiction recovery professional.
Looking for substance abuse treatment in Texas? At ASIC Recovery, our Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) is dedicated to helping individuals develop healthier coping skills and build a supportive recovery network. Click to learn more.
Cristal Clark, LPC-S, is the Medical Reviewer for ASIC Recovery Services. She reviews all website content for quality and medical accuracy. She is a master’s level Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and graduated from Liberty University in 2011. She has worked in the behavioral and mental health field for over 12 years and has a passion for helping others. She has been clinical director and CEO of a 200 plus bed facility, PHP, and IOP, with experience managing a team of counselors, individual/group/and family therapy, and coordinating continuum of care. Cristal is trained in EMDR and certified in non-violent intervention. She is a member of American Counseling Association and American Association of Christian Counselors.