Heroin use is an epidemic that affects people from all walks of life all around the globe, and its impact is growing faster than ever.  In a 10 year period, between 2002 and 2012, heroin overdose deaths have quadrupled and are continuing to rise. It can be hard to imagine that a friend or family member might be struggling with a heroin addiction, but it can impact anyone.  How can you determine if someone you love is using heroin?

Risk Factors

While heroin addiction can affect anyone, there are risk factors that make an individual more likely to become addicted to heroin.  These risk factors include:

  • Family history or genetics: People who have a family history of drug addiction are more likely to develop a drug addiction themselves.
  • Mental health concerns: Individuals with other mental health disorders may become dependent on drugs like heroin to help them cope with their symptoms
  • Gender: Men are more like to develop drug addiction problems than women.
  • Environment: If an individual hangs around with friends or family members who use drugs, they are more likely to become addicted as well.
  • Prescription Drugs: Taking addictive prescription drugs, such as morphine, can make an individual more likely to seek out more addictive substances.

These are just basic risk factors for drug addiction.  They might not apply to everyone.  People with no history of addiction might still turn to heroin, but it gives you a good idea of things that could possibly lead to heroin addiction.


Another indicator of heroin addiction is the paraphernalia that is used to feed the addiction. Items like needles, burned spoons, or plastic baggie with white residue in them can all be indicators of a heroin addiction.

Note: This doesn’t always apply, especially if your loved one has syringes and needles for medical purposes.

Behavior Changes

One of the biggest indicators of heroin addiction, and the one that you’re most likely to notice, is changes in behavior. If you notice things like:

  • Mood swings
  • Intense anger or irritability
  • Changes in routine
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Problems at work or school, including suspension or job loss.

If you notice sudden or dramatic changes in your friend or family member’s behavior, it could be an indication of heroin addiction.

Physical Changes

You may not be able to look at a friend or loved one and see that they have a drug addiction. They might appear perfectly happy and healthy, save for a few mood changes. Heroin addiction does cause physical changes but they don’t usually become evident until further into the addiction.  Some physical changes that you can look for are:

  • Nosebleeds, especially if they are uncharacteristic
  • Dilated pupils and/or bloodshot eyes
  • Sudden weight loss with no changes in diet or exercise

There will also often be physical indicators, such as injection marks on their arms. These might not be obvious, depending on the chosen delivery method of the drug.

Other Indicators

There are other actions or behaviors that could also indicate a drug addiction, including:

  • Financial Troubles: This could be tied to problems with jobs, also caused by addiction, but addictions on their own are expensive. Asking friends for money or having trouble paying bills might be an indication of a drug problem.
  • Missing Valuables: This ties in to the financial troubles. People dealing with drug addictions will often do just about anything to get their next fix, including selling their own valuables or stealing saleable objects from friends or family members to sell.

None of these are absolute indications that your loved one is struggling with a heroin addiction, but if you notice one or more of these signs, it might be a time to open up a line of dialog with your friend or loved one.

How to Help

Asking someone if they’re using heroin or have a drug problem might seem like a hard conversation to start, but you have to be willing to start the conversation before your loved one can get some help. Thankfully, there are plenty of tools available to help you help your loved one make the right decision.

  1. You don’t have to go it alone. You don’t have to be the only source of support for your friend or loved one. Be there for them when they need you but don’t try to do it alone. There are plenty of resources available.  Use them.
  2. Offer them a chance to make a change. Rehab facilities and jails might be an option, but an addict isn’t going to be able to get clean until they make the decision to do so themselves. It has to be their choice. All you can do is help them make it.
  3. Learn as much as you can. Learn everything about addiction, recovery, relapse and everything in between. They say that knowledge is power, and in this case that old adage is absolutely true. The more you know, the more help you can offer.
  4. Forget all the stigmas. There is a very negative stigma surrounding drug addiction but when it comes right down to it, addiction is a disease and needs to be treated like one. You wouldn’t disown a family member for being diagnosed with cancer would you? The same rule applies to family members or friends who are struggling with addiction.
  5. Don’t give up. Recovery from addiction is a lifetime endeavor, and relapse is part of that recovery.


Finding out that your friend or loved one is struggling with addiction can be a difficult realization. The best thing that you can do to help them is to be there for them, offering whatever help you can. Recovery from any addiction can take a lifetime and it’s always easier if you have someone who is willing to walk the path with you. It’s a hard road, and one that is nearly impossible to travel alone.