The signs and symptoms of heroin use and addiction are very prominent and noticeable unlike some other commonly abused drugs. Because it is such a fast-acting opiate, the visual effects appear rapidly and are evident: a flushing of the skin, dilated pupils, an immediate dry mouth sensation, fading in and out of consciousness, slowed breathing and unclear thinking. Additionally, the frequent heroin user will experience intense itching, nausea and vomiting, as well as persistent constipation. They may also contract frequent skin infections and common illnesses—heroin severely suppresses the body’s immune system—and will display “track marks” on their body as the result of frequent injections.
Like these physical markers that often-signal heroin use there are also environmental signs that many friends and family members of the abuser detect: depending on whether the drug is smoked, snorted or injected, it’s common to discover various paraphernalia and remnants of the drug left out in the open—once a shot or dose of heroin takes hold there is not much time for the user to hide the evidence.
Heroin itself appears as a powdery or crumbly substance that may be off-white or, in the case of black tar heroin, a sticky substance. Related paraphernalia can include syringes, small glass or metal pipes, dirty spoons (used to cook the drug to a liquid form that can be injected) as well as belts or rubber tubing which help the user find a strong vein in which to inject themselves.
Although many heroin users report being able to function during the early stages of heroin use, the long-term addict has a difficult time living a life of normalcy. Like cocaine, alcohol, methamphetamines and other highly addictive drugs, the user will begin to make rash choices in order to secure the drug. Heroin addiction and crime is therefore a serious problem for many addicts: the most current statistics show that more than half of all heroin abusers commit a felony—aside from the possession of the drug itself—such as assault, rape, murder, petty larceny or armed robbery at some point, often as a way to obtain more of the drug and avoid the grueling effects of withdrawal.
When it comes to life expectancy with heroin addiction, the statistics are equally disturbing: one study noted that, on average, the long-term heroin user loses 18.3 years of their life before the age of 65. And unfortunately, the leading cause of premature death among heroin addicts is due to an overdose, as over time the abuser must increase their intake of the drug in order to continue its desired effects.