Heroin is a synthetic opiate substance made from morphine. Morphine is a naturally occurring chemical found in the Asian poppy plant’s seed.

Heroin can be smoked, snorted, sniffed, or injected. Heroin acts by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain, causing the user to feel euphoric. Breathing, heart rate, and arousal are all controlled by opioid receptors.

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Heroin addiction can cause a variety of side effects. One of the most noticeable side effects is a rapid change in body weight.

Heroin can cause both dramatic increases and decreases in appetite and weight depending on the individual through its effects on the GI system — like appetite changes and nausea or vomiting.

Looking for these and other symptoms of heroin addiction can help you get your loved one the treatment he or she needs.

Heroin Addiction And Weight Problems: What Does A Heroin Addict Look Like?
Heroin Addiction And Weight Problems: What Does A Heroin Addict Look Like?


Signs of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction happens when the body develops a tolerance to the drug and continually needs more to produce the same type of experience.

Once tolerance for the drug occurs, the person abusing heroin feels he or she needs the drug to function at normal levels.

Tolerance and dependence quickly lead to addiction. The person addicted to heroin becomes more and more preoccupied and obsessed with getting and using the drug and is unable to control the amount he uses or how often he gets high.

If you suspect your loved one is addicted to heroin, there are several side effects to look for.

Some side effects include the following:

  • Sudden and rapid weight gain or weight loss
  • Periods of increased energy or euphoria
  • Restlessness, inability to sleep
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  • Excessive sleeping
  • Changes in clothing (to hide scars and needle marks from IV drug use)

Noticing any of these symptoms in your loved one means it is time to get help.

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Heroin and Weight Changes

One of the most common symptoms of heroin addiction is a sudden and rapid change in weight. This is because heroin suppresses the appetite.

Most people who are addicted to heroin become dangerously thin — not only because the appetite is suppressed, but because the person addicted to heroin will often sacrifice basic needs like food to be able to buy more of the drug.

Heroin can also cause severe nausea, which can lead to weight loss as well. Heroin users can sometimes see a rapid weight gain if they are also using other drugs like marijuana to control the nausea from the heroin use.

Marijuana can stimulate the appetite, which can lead to weight gain from binge-eating while using both drugs.

The Old Stereotype of the Heroin User

The heroin addict or “junkie” stereotype still exists, but many of today’s opioid addicts appear to have little in common with this clichéd character.

Envisioning a dirty, homeless person who lives on the street and engages in all manner of humiliating behavior to support a drug habit, people generally feel little aside from pity or contempt for the heroin addict who looks to be straight from central casting.

Most people also think of someone with obvious physical and mental health problems as the typical heroin addict.

Today, however, even people addicted to heroin rather than other opioids may appear completely different from what you imagine or see in movies.

Heroin Addiction And Weight Problems: What Does A Heroin Addict Look Like?
Heroin Addiction And Weight Problems: What Does A Heroin Addict Look Like?


How Today’s Opioid Addict Is Different

Today’s opioid addict may look like your best friend, neighbor, or even your aging parent.

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A recent survey of long-term opioid use conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Washington Post found that 60 percent of long-term users were between 40 and 64.

Approximately one-third were on disability, and one in five were retired.

The opioid addict of today is more likely to be found in a rural area than an urban one, and the problem is particularly acute because treatment options in rural areas are few and far between.

A study by the University of Michigan found that the rate of babies being born with drug withdrawal symptoms for opioids grew substantially faster in rural communities than in cities.

Moreover, jails in remote counties and emergency departments at rural hospitals do not always have the resources to deal with crimes committed by addicts or with opioid overdoses.

For heroin, in particular, the greatest increase in use is being seen in young adults aged 18-25, and the number of people reporting heroin use has been on the rise since 2007.

Other Physical Characteristics of a Heroin Addict

Facial Characteristics

People abusing heroin may also have dark circles around their eyes and a pale complexion. Heroin use impacts blood pressure and heart rate, so people may also have a bit of a bluish tint to their skin.

Itching, Picking, and Sores

When you take heroin and other opioids, it can cause itchiness and people may start itching and picking at their faces, causing sores and scabs.

>>> READ THIS NEXT: Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, Detox And Treatment – Ritual Meditations

“Heroin Hunch” or “Heroin Lean”

Heroin also tends to make people’s coordination unbalanced and their limbs feel heavy, so it can seem at times like they’re dragging themselves as they’re walking, or they’re slouching over strangely.

Heroin Track Marks

Of course, if someone is injecting heroin, they may also have marks where the needles were used, or they might wear long sleeves and pants even when the weather is hot to hide the needle marks.

Abscesses and Skin Infections

People addicted to heroin can have abscesses or infections on their skin from injecting the drug, sores on their nose or lips, and burns on their fingers from smoking it. The skin around their eyes may appear puffy, as well.

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Other Signs of a Heroin Addiction

The aforementioned signs are not the only indicators of heroin use. The drug has many physical effects on people, depending on the volume and regularity of heroin use.

Some other signs of heroin use include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Dry mouth
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Nosebleeds
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Runny nose
  • Constipation
  • Loss of menstrual cycle
  • Sexual problems in men

Beyond the physical changes that heroin can cause, the drug impacts a person’s behavior too.

In some cases, recognizing a change in personality and behavior may be easier for friends and family members to identify than the physical signs of heroin addiction.

Heroin Addiction And Weight Problems: What Does A Heroin Addict Look Like?
Heroin Addiction And Weight Problems: What Does A Heroin Addict Look Like?


Behavioral changes can include:

  • Seeming disoriented or uncoordinated
  • Being jittery or alert and then nodding off shortly after that
  • Excessive sleep
  • Declining performance in school or work
  • Slurred speech
  • Apathy
  • Hostility
  • Lack of motivation
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Declining hygiene
  • No concern for their appearance
  • Being alone
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Wearing sunglasses more than usual

Aside from physical appearances and behavior, the presence of heroin paraphernalia is an indicator of addiction. The following are some of the items that you may find when someone close to you is using heroin:

  • Syringes
  • Orange caps from syringes
  • Burned spoons
  • Aluminum foil or gum wrappers
  • Shoelaces or missing shoelaces
  • Straws
  • Empty pen cases
  • Small plastic bags
  • Bottled water and bottle caps
  • Razor blades
  • Empty drug capsules
  • Cotton balls or q-tips

It’s important to realize that there are not always outward signs that indicate heroin addiction, but if there are any red flags, it’s important to speak with a medical professional.


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