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Signs of Heroin Addiction

There are many signs of heroin addiction to look for if you suspect someone you care about is using. Heroin addiction affects the user’s brain. It enters their brain quickly and slows down the way they think, their reaction time, and their memory. This affects the way they act and make decisions.

The signs of heroin addiction affect the user’s body as well. It poses special problems for those who inject it because of the risks of HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other diseases that can occur from sharing needles. These health problems can be passed on to sexual partners and newborns.

Heroin, when pure, comes as a white powder but it usually contains other substances such as glucose, talcum powder or brick dust. When heroin is impure it comes as a brown powder and usually contains caffeine. Heroin is normally wrapped in small packets of paper.

Heroin is usually injected, sniffed/snorted, or smoked. Typically, a heroin user may inject (called "mainlining" or "shooting") up to four times a day. Intravenous injection provides the greatest intensity and most rapid onset of euphoria (7 to 8 seconds), while intramuscular injection produces a relatively slow onset of euphoria (5 to 8 minutes). Signs of heroin addiction include paraphernalia for injecting heroin. This consists of hypodermic needles, small cotton balls used to strain the drug, and water and spoons or bottle caps used for "cooking" or liquefying the heroin.

When heroin is sniffed or smoked, peak effects are usually felt within 10 to 15 minutes and usually last from four to six hours. Although smoking and sniffing heroin do not produce a "rush" as quickly or as intensely as intravenous injection, NIDA researchers have confirmed that all three forms of heroin administration are addictive. Paraphernalia for inhaling or smoking heroin includes razor blades, straws, rolled dollar bills, and pipes.


Individuals addicted to heroin may use many different slag terms for the drug.

Here are just a few slang terms for heroin:

  • Alquitran
  • Anti-Freeze
  • Aries
  • Beast
  • Big H
  • Brown Sugar
  • China White (specific type of heroin
  • Black tar (specific type of heroin)
  • Brown
  • Dope
  • Dr. Feelgood
  • H
  • Smack
  • Tigre de Blanco
  • Junk

It is important to know the signs of heroin addiction. Here are several common signs of heroin addiction:

  • Dry mouth
  • Droopy appearance, as if extremities are "heavy"
  • Alternately wakeful and drowsy
  • Disorientation, poor mental functioning
  • Signs of injection; infections
  • Shallow breathing
  • Euphoria
  • Drowsiness
  • Constricted pupils
  • Nausea
  • Unkempt appearance/hygiene issues
  • Missing cash/valuables, stealing/borrowing money
  • Change in performance, academic or otherwise
  • Drug paraphernalia
  • Apathy and/or lethargy
  • Possession of unexplained valuables
  • Runny nose
  • Lying/deception
  • Change in friends
  • Little or no motivation
  • Ignores consequences of chosen behaviors
  • Withdrawal from usual friends, activities, or interests
  • Eyes appear "lost" or have faraway look
  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of interest in usual, healthy activities
  • No interest in future plans
  • Broken commitments
  • Hostility towards others
  • Unexplained absences at work, school or family events
  • Poor self-image
  • Running away
  • Difficulty in maintaining employment

Please take note – many of these signs of heroin addiction are common to adolescent behavior, indicating irresponsibility or psychological problems like depression and do not necessarily mean someone is using heroin. If one or more signs were noted, it would be wise to follow-up and identify the source (s) of the problem.

Signs of a heroin addiction overdose include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Clammy skin
  • Convulsions
  • Coma