Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Heroin abuse may be tough to detect, yet there are many signs that a person may be abusing the drug. If you believe a friend, family member, or colleague is abusing heroin, you may face an uphill battle to get this individual to address his or her addiction. In most instances, heroin addicts will do everything possible to hide their addictive behaviors. But with an honest, upfront approach, you could help an individual treat his or her heroin addiction before it is too late.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin (diamorphine) was initially synthesized in 1874 by Charles Romley Alder Wright, one of the founders of the Royal Institute of Chemistry in Great Britain. Wright’s discovery led to no further commercial developments until the Bayer pharmaceutical company independently re-synthesized diacetylmorphine in 1898 and commercialized Heroin as a “non-addictive form of morphine” and a “cure for coughs” (a situation remarkably similar to Purdue Pharmaceuticals marketing for OxyContin and the creation of the current opioid epidemic in North America and world-wide). Since that time heroin abuse has grown, and it is now a global problem.

When a person uses heroin, the drug enters the brain and binds opioid receptors, including those that manage feelings of pain and pressure. This leads to a surge of euphoria. If a person regularly consumes heroin, he or she may develop cravings for the drug. As a result, this individual may take excess amounts of heroin over an extended period of time to try to capture the drug’s euphoric effects.

Heroin abuse may cause various short-term side effects, including: [1]

  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy arms and/or legs
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

There are many long-term side effects associated with heroin abuse as well. These side effects include: [2]

  • Collapsed veins
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Liver and/or kidney disease

A heroin addiction won’t disappear on its own, and it gets worse over time. Thus, if you or someone you know is abusing heroin, medical treatment is key. By pursuing medical treatment, an individual can receive expert medical tips and recommendations to overcome a pattern of heroin abuse.

Is Heroin Abuse Common?

Approximately 13.5 million people take opioids, according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. This figure also includes 9.2 million heroin users.

Research indicates the number of heroin overdose deaths in the United States is increasing, too. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports there was a 7.6-fold increase in the number of heroin overdose deaths in the United States between 2002 and 2016. Without the resources and tools to address heroin abuse, the number of heroin overdose deaths nationwide may continue to increase as well.

Signs of Heroin Abuse

There are many signs of heroin abuse, but there is no need to instantly accuse an individual of heroin abuse based exclusively on these signs. Instead, if you believe an individual is using heroin, it is crucial to remain calm and patient. Express your concern for his or her addictive behaviors, and make it clear that you want to help this individual in any way possible. You can also help this individual pursue a medically supervised heroin addiction treatment program.

Heroin is typically snorted, smoked, or injected, and it is important to keep an eye out for evidence of heroin use in a person’s home. For example, various paraphernalia may be used to consume heroin, and off-white powder or crumbs or a dark brown sticky substance may be signs of heroin [3]. Syringes are sometimes used for injecting heroin, and small metal or glass tubes may be used to smoke the drug. Homemade smoking devices like plastic pen cases may even be used for heroin abuse, too.

Also, individuals who inject heroin may need items they can use to prepare a vein for drug use. This means belts, rubber tubes, and shoelaces may be scattered across a heroin addict’s home.

Of course, one of the biggest signs of heroin addiction is track marks on a person’s body.

What Are Heroin Track Marks?

Heroin track marks occur after a person injects the drug into his or her body. Heroin quickly enters the system during injection, enabling a person to receive a rapid, intense high. As such, injections are popular among heroin users, particularly for those who want to capture the drug’s high as frequently as possible.

Although people sometimes believe intravenous drug use involves injecting a drug directly into a vein, some injections are actually made into muscles. However, track marks form after a person injects heroin or any other drug into the veins.

Veins located in the crook of the arm are commonly used for injecting drugs. People tend to use their dominant hand to inject a drug, which means track marks often appear in the non-dominant arm. In certain instances, people search for assistance so they can inject heroin or any other drug into different areas of the body.

Outside of the arms, other areas where people inject heroin include the legs, feet, and groin. People may switch locations and sides of the body to hide track marks. Over time, injection sites may become inflamed or scarred, leading an individual to pursue other injection sites.

What Do Heroin Track Marks Look Like?

Heroin track marks form after the drug is administered via IV injection. The track marks appear similar to those associated with other drugs, including:

  • Crack and cocaine
  • Ketamine or special K
  • Morphine
  • Methamphetamine
  • PCP
  • Opioids
  • Prescription stimulants

Sometimes, individuals use a combination of injections, smoking, and/or snorting to consume heroin or other drugs. Taking heroin via any of these methods can be dangerous, and using a combination of methods further increases the risk of a fatal overdose.

Track marks leave scars on the body – something that makes these marks telltale signs of heroin abuse. There are several reasons why track marks develop, including:

  • Chronic Abuse: Repeated and prolonged heroin abuse at the same injection site increases a person’s susceptibility to track marks. If a person frequently uses the same injection site, he or she causes vein damage, resulting in scars.
  • Old, Dull Needles: Needles used to inject heroin often become dull and blunt due to repeat use. They may damage the vein, especially if a person exerts excess pressure when injecting heroin into the body.
  • Impure Drugs: Street drugs vary, and they are cut with different compounds and manufactured in different ways. This means heroin varieties differ, and each variety may contain different contaminants. Meanwhile, heroin contaminants build up in the body over time, which may lead to discolored track mark scars.

Track marks are often signs of heroin abuse, but identifying them is sometimes challenging. Depending on how a person’s body heals, it may be tough to tell if a scar is actually associated with heroin use.

Some of the things to look for when trying to identify heroin track marks include:

  • New Marks on the Body: Track marks look like punctures an individual might see after blood is drawn from the body. They may also resemble bruises or scabs.
  • Old Marks on the Body: Ongoing heroin injections cause the skin at the injection site to crack, bleed, and become infected. This often leads to scarring along the length of a vein. In some places, the skin may appear darker and slightly elevated in comparison to skin in surrounding areas.
  • Efforts to Hide Injection Sites: An individual may go above and beyond the call of duty to hide his or her heroin injection sites. To do so, this individual may wear long sleeves, long pants, and other clothing and accessories to prevent others from seeing heroin injection sites. Some longtime heroin users may even use tattoos to cover their track marks.

Track marks may last for years after a person’s last use of heroin. This means a person may have previously used heroin but no longer takes the drug. But with the ability to identify heroin track marks in conjunction with the signs of heroin addiction, an individual may be able to help a friend, family member, or colleague address his or her addictive behaviors.

How to Treat a Heroin Addiction

Ongoing heroin use may result in drug tolerance. This causes a person to use higher doses of heroin more frequently than ever before. As a person constantly consumes heroin, his or her body is more prone than ever before to physical issues. This individual is also susceptible to fatal heroin addiction.

Proper treatment of a heroin addiction generally requires medical intervention. To understand the importance of medical intervention, let’s first consider what happens when an individual experiences heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Acute heroin withdrawal typically starts within six to 12 hours after a person’s last use of heroin. It usually peaks within one to three days of a person’s last use of heroin and causes physical symptoms that linger for up to three weeks. Residual heroin withdrawal symptoms may last for months or years after last use, too.

Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Body cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle and/or joint pain
  • Nausea

First-time use of heroin may result in an overdose. During an overdose, a person’s heart may slow down or stop beating. At the same time, an overdose may limit the amount of oxygen that reaches a person’s brain, resulting in severe damage to a person’s brain and nervous system.

If a person experiences a heroin overdose, immediate medical attention is required. Because if a person ignores his or her heroin overdose symptoms, this individual may suffer a coma or permanent brain damage. Worst of all, a person may die if his or her heroin overdose goes untreated.

Naloxone is often used to treat a heroin overdose [3]. It binds opioid receptors in the brain and in doing so, blocks heroin’s effects. In certain instances, an individual may require multiple doses of naloxone to recover from a heroin overdose.

Heroin detox sometimes leads to relapse. In one study performed by American Addiction Centers, 91% of opiate detox program participants suffered a relapse. The study also revealed 59% of these participants suffered a relapse within one week of completing their detox program.

An at-home heroin detox is sometimes dangerous. The psychological effects of heroin withdrawal can be overwhelming, and an at-home heroin detox may make it tough for an individual to address these side effects.

Heroin withdrawal sometimes lead to hallucinations, tremors, and suicidal thoughts. Therefore, if an individual is at home and attempting to withdrawal from heroin, these side effects may put him or her in physical danger or increase the risk of a relapse.

Heroin addiction treatment may require various detoxes and rehab. Yet regardless of how many detoxes and rehabs an individual uses, the treatment does not offer surefire results. Conversely, ibogaine therapy has been shown to provide a gentle, effective heroin detox treatment. Ibogaine therapy helps people manage their heroin cravings, as well as reduce their physical dependence on the drug.

Heroin Addiction FAQ

What is the best way to treat a heroin addiction?

Behavioral and pharmacological treatments are commonly used to address a heroin addiction. However, it is important to note that heroin addiction affects each person differently, and how a person responds to heroin addiction treatment varies based on his or her health, the length of a heroin addiction, and other factors.

Ultimately, medical intervention is essential to determine the best course of action to treat a heroin addiction. If a person meets with a doctor, this individual can work with a medical professional to find a way to safely and effectively manage his or her heroin addiction.

What do heroin marks on the body look like?

If heroin is injected into a person’s veins, heroin marks may develop. Heroin marks often look like small holes, and they may appear near veins in the hands, feet, and legs. In some instances, people may try to hide heroin marks as well. For example, if a person injects heroin via veins in the hands, he or she may wear gloves or use a bandage to cover up heroin marks. Or, an individual may wear long pants or boots to hide heroin marks on the legs and feet.

How prevalent is heroin abuse?

Heroin is an ongoing problem across the United States, and heroin abuse affects millions of individuals nationwide. Research indicates that heroin abuse in the United States increased between 2007 and 2016. Additionally, heroin abuse is one of the most-common drug use issues in the country.

What are the long-term side effects of heroin abuse?

The more often an individual abuses heroin, the more likely it becomes that a fatal heroin addiction develops. Long-term heroin abuse causes brain damage, making it more difficult than ever before to regulate his or her behaviors and respond to stress. Over time, a heroin addict’s tolerance for the drug disappears as well. When this happens, an individual becomes more susceptible to using large quantities of heroin in short periods of time. This individual may be more prone to heroin withdrawal symptoms; these symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle and bone pain.

What is the best way to tell if someone is dealing with a heroin addiction?

The physical warning signs of a heroin addiction include dry mouth, disorientation, and shortness of breath. These signs are associated with a wide range of medical conditions, but they may appear in conjunction with other environmental and behavioral warning signs of heroin abuse. Common environmental warning signs of a heroin addiction include possession of any items that may be used to consume heroin, such as straws with burn marks or burned silver spoons. Furthermore, a person coping with heroin abuse may lie to others to hide his or her drug addiction, become disinterested in people, places, or things that he or she previously enjoyed, and display hostile behavior toward others. As a person builds a tolerance to heroin, he or she may also appear thinner, have cuts or scabs due to skin picking at heroin injection sites, and display needle track marks on different parts of the body.

Ibogaine for Heroin Addiction: Here’s What You Need to Know

Short- and long-term recovery plans are essential to treat heroin addiction. In the short-term, an individual may experience physical symptoms due to heroin withdrawal. Then, an individual may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) that persist for several months or years following his or her last use of heroin.

Ibogaine therapy is designed to treat the short- and long-term effects of heroin withdrawal. To date, ibogaine therapy has been shown to eliminate up to 98% of heroin withdrawal symptoms. It has also been shown to address PAWS.

During an ibogaine treatment program, ibogaine hydrochloride (HCI) helps an individual treat his or her addiction symptoms. Ibogaine HCI resets the body’s dependence on heroin, ensuring an individual’s body can return to its pre-addicted state.

Ibogaine therapy is backed by expert medical professionals who work with an individual and craft a custom treatment plan for him or her. This plan accounts for an individual’s mental and physical health. Plus, medical professionals monitor a patient’s progress throughout his or her heroin addiction treatment to ensure this individual achieves the best-possible results.

Heroin detox is challenging, but ibogaine therapy reduces the risk of relapse. Ibogaine treatment address the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of heroin addiction. That way, an individual can gain the skills, confidence, and support he or she needs to overcome his or her heroin addiction.

Clear Sky Recovery provides custom ibogaine therapy programs for heroin addiction. To find out more about our ibogaine therapy programs, please contact us today at 305.901.5371.