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Heroin Addicts

Certainly, the public has its own perceptions about what the “typical” heroin addict looks like. These preconceived notions might include images of someone unkempt, visibly strung out, and living on the street. Most people probably think that they can spot a person addicted to heroin from a mile away. But the truth is, a heroin user can be anyone—a neighbor, friend, or even a family member.
Below is information about heroin addicts, including recent data about users, what signs and behaviors they might display, and how they can get help.

What Does a Heroin Addict Look Like?

There is no “typical” heroin addict. Addiction doesn’t discriminate based on demographic or socio-economic group. It doesn’t matter whether the person is black, white, rich, or poor. In fact, in recent years, heroin use has increased among men and women, almost all age groups, and every income level. (Note: Percentages are based on annual average rate of heroin use per 1,000 people in each demographic group.)

  • The relative proportion of non-whites having used heroin in the last year has decreased.1 Between 2002-2004 and 2011-2013, heroin use increased among non-Hispanic whites (1.4% to 3%) and decreased for other racial/ethnic groups (2% to 1.7%).2
  • Between 2002-2004 and 2011-2013, heroin use increased among men (2.4% to 3.6%) and women (0.8% to 1.6%).2
  • Heroin use also increased among all income levels during that time.2
  • During the same time period, heroin use also increased among 12- to 17-year-olds, 18- to 25-year-olds, and those age 26 and older.2 The highest number of users appear to be in the 18 to 25 age range, with 0.3% or about 88,000 people in this age group reporting heroin use in the past month in 2016.

Heroin addict experiencing withdrawal
Those most at risk of heroin addiction include:2

  • People with an addiction to prescription painkillers, marijuana, cocaine, or alcohol.
  • Non-Hispanic whites.
  • Men.
  • People in large metro areas.
  • Those age 18 to 25.
  • People without insurance or on Medicaid.

There are some signs and symptoms of heroin addiction that may help family members identify whether or not their loved one is using “H.” Heroin abuse signs include:3

  • Track marks and puncture marks on the arms or legs. This is a common sign that the individual is injecting heroin on a regular basis.
  • Confused and lethargic behavior. While under the influence of heroin, the individual will seem to be “in a fog” or disoriented.
  • Poor performance at work or school. Individuals addicted to heroin will have difficulty focusing on anything but the drug. They may struggle to take care of responsibilities at their job, at school, or in the home.
  • Criminal behavior. Some heroin addicts have brushes with the law, as they may need to steal money or engage in other criminal behavior to buy heroin.
  • Loss of interest in activities. People who are addicted may neglect hobbies or other activities they used to enjoy in favor of heroin use.

Getting Drug Rehab Treatment

Reaching out, helping, and loving an individual who is suffering from heroin addiction can be very hard.

First, friends and family should try talking with the person about their problem in a nonjudgmental way—preferably at a time when the person is not high. If the person still refuses to get help, the next step may be to hold an intervention.

A drug intervention is a meeting in which concerned friends, family, or coworkers gather together to show the person how serious their heroin addiction has become—and how it is affecting everyone around them. The end goals of an intervention are to get the person to admit that they have a problem, and then take them immediately to a heroin rehab center where their addiction can be treated by professionals.

Treatment can take place in many different settings depending on the person’s insurance, schedule, personal preferences, and level of addiction. Recovery options can range from free 12-step programs to part-time outpatient programs to standard inpatient to luxury facilities near the ocean.


Can an Addict Ever Really Recover?

People can begin to recover and manage their heroin addiction with proper treatment and services. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, many people who enter and remain in treatment stop using, are less involved in crime, and begin to perform better at work or school.4

Exactly what treatment type is most suitable for each person will be based on their addiction severity as well as related issues such as the strength of family and social supports (or the lack of such supports) and any significant medical issues that will need attention. A tailored treatment program can heighten patient engagement, provide a better connection between patient and treatment team and, ultimately, enhance the overall recovery experience.

Each individual will experience a different recovery journey. But, for many, relapse is part of the long-term process. However, relapse doesn’t mean treatment or the person “failed.” It just means they need to adjust treatment or go back to treatment.4

Browse our directory if you’re ready to begin your search for rehab options.


[1]. Cook, L. (2015). The Heroin Epidemic, in 9 Graphs. U.S. News and World Report.

[2]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Today’s Heroin Epidemic.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

[4]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). How effective is drug addiction treatment?

[5]. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key Substance Abuse and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

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