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4 Signs of Heroin Abuse That You May Not Expect

by Terry Wilson

There are many stereotypes about what an addict looks like, especially a heroin addict. Many people expect a heroin addict to be homeless, to be covered in obvious needle marks, or to display other very obvious signs of addiction. The truth is that heroin addicts can look like anyone, even you or someone that you know. There are plenty of high-functioning addicts who manage to maintain a basically normal appearance for their friends and family. The signs of heroin abuse are often easy to overlook if you don't know what you're looking for. Take a look at some signs of heroin abuse that you may not expect. 

Unexplained Weight Loss

Heroin use can cause the user to feel nauseous, and it can also noticeably decrease their appetite. As a result, a person struggling with a heroin addiction may lose weight quickly, even to the point of becoming dangerously underweight. 


Scratching is a common sign of heroin use, or the use of related opiates. Heroin causes the body to release histamines, which are also released during an allergic reaction (notice that allergy medications are known as anti-histamines.)

The release of histamines in the body causes the skin to feel itchy, which results in a maddening urge to scratch. Users may feel the itch in their faces or in their arms and legs.

Tooth Troubles

Heroin and other opiates can cause dry mouth, or "cottonmouth," as it is sometimes called. While mouth dryness may seem like a minor problem, it can actually lead to serious dental issues. Saliva is important to dental health because it washes away food particles and bacteria that can cause tooth decay. An addict that experiences frequent dry mouth loses the cleansing benefits of saliva and is more prone to cavities, abscesses, and tooth infections. 

Mood Swings

Heroin users feel euphoric when they're using and depressed and irritable when they're coming down or going through a period of withdrawal. A high-functioning addict may try to pass off their mood swings as being a result of something else – for example, if they wake up feeling angry and irritable because they're coming down from the night before, they may explain it by saying that they aren't a morning person.

But habitual users often develop recognizable patterns in their mood swings, and in combination with other signs of drug use, mood swings can be a giveaway.

Heroin addiction is a disease, and if you suspect that a loved one is suffering from it, they need your help. Look into drug treatment facilities in your area to find out more about how to help a loved one who is struggling with addiction.