Maybe it’s a subtle change in behavior or a new group of friends; maybe you aren’t quite sure what it is, but gradually you notice that a friend or loved one just seems different. At first you can’t quite place your finger on it; however, further investigation into these seemingly minor changes might reveal a pipe, a syringe, or even track marks on an arm. Then reality sets in: someone you love is using heroin.
Looking back on the situation, you might be totally shocked – or you might realize that your brain just confirmed what your heart already knew. Regardless of your conclusion of past observations, your most important steps are yet to come.
There are general guidelines and research-based recommendations for addressing and supporting loved ones addicted to heroin, but also remember that the challenges and potential roadblocks that face each heroin addict during the journey to recovery will be as unique as the individual fighting to break the vicious cycle of heroin addiction.
Why Users Initially Experiment with Heroin
Recent heroin use and addiction has reached record high numbers. A recent study conducted by the Robert Crown Center For Health Education revealed startling reasons why people experiment with, and eventually become addicted to, heroin. According to the findings of the “Understanding Suburban Heroin Use” study, participants provided following reasons why they initially experimented with heroin:
- 33% of respondents reported initial use of heroin after using or abusing prescription pain medication such as Oxycontin or Vicodin;
- 3 out of 4 users surveyed reported self-medicating with heroin to address current mental health conditions, including ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder;
- 66% reported experimenting with the drug as a way to address their sensation-seeking behaviors.
- Most users reported having little or no knowledge of the dangers of heroin before trying it.
Other reasons cited for initial experimentation with heroin include peer pressure, rebelling against parents or authority figures, lack of confidence, and the need for instant gratification.
Adding to the concern with the rapid increase in heroin use are the following facts:
- The average age of first use is 18 years old;
- An 80% increase in teens and young adults trying heroin (compared to 2000);
- 25% of initial heroin users become addicted;
- There has been a 94% increase in the number of teens injecting heroin over the last 10 years;
- Half of heroin addicts have overdoses resulting in death;
- 90% of addiction begins in the teenage years.
How To Tell if a Loved One is Using Heroin
Because of heroin’s addictive nature, the drug is rarely used recreationally beyond initial experimentation. The signs and symptoms indicating heroin addiction tend to vary and depend on a number of factors, including amount/purity of drug, how the drug was ingested, user’s genetics, how often drug is used, and the current level of addiction/dependence on the drug. The most common symptoms of heroin use and addiction include:
- Significant mood swings, including periods of severe agitation and irritability
- Confusion or appearing disoriented
- Wearing long sleeves and pants (to cover track marks)
- Behavioral changes, including change in attitude towards work and/or school
- Odd or changing patterns of sleep
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Lack of concern for personal hygiene
- Lying or defensiveness when asked about drug use
- Sudden appearance of burnt spoons, syringes, metal or glass pipes
- Missing money
- Flushed skin
- Constricted pupils
- Nodding out (sometimes while engaged in mid-conversation)
Steps To Take If You Suspect Heroin Use
Most heroin addicts understand that they need outside support in order to break the cycle of heroin addiction; however, many addicts are just not able to tolerate the traumatic withdrawal that accompanies heroin recovery long enough to break the addiction cycle – especially without the support of their families and/or friends. The following are steps you can take if you suspect a friend or loved one is using heroin:
- Be there for the user/addict;
- Maintain an open-mind and be understanding;
- If needed, provide your friend/family member with a place to stay and/or assistance with bills (as opposed to giving the user/addict cash);
- Be honest and let the user know you do not agree or condone his or her use of heroin;
- Follow the advice of drug counselors and medical professionals;
- Make an effort to network and meet others who are dealing with similar situations;
- Support the addict by following your role of the recovery plan.
Heroin abuse is at an all-time high, , 25% of users become addicted, and 50% of addicts die as a result of heroin addiction. Suspected use by a friend or loved one requires immediate action. Do you suspect a friend or loved one is using or abusing heroin or other opioids? Please, CALL 888-786-9570 TO LEARN HOW YOU CAN HELP; Every second counts, don’t delay Call right now.
 “Understanding Suburban Heroin Use – Robert Crown Center.” 2013. <https://www.robertcrown.org/files/Understanding_suburban_heroin_use.pdf>
 “Top 8 Reasons why Teens Try Alcohol and Drugs …” 2014. 16 Mar. 2016 <http://www.drugfree.org/resources/top-8-reasons-why-teens-try-alcohol-and-drugs/>