Nine out of ten heroin addicts when questioned about their addiction will deny it. However, there are several early warning signs that may serve as pointers. One should not jump to conclusions if merely a few of these are noticed in the suspected user. The final confirmation should be left to a Doctor or drug rehabilitation facility.
How to identify a heroin addict
- On waking up, the heroin addict rushes to the bathroom. But unlike most people, the addict spends longer periods of time. This may extend to well over an hour because heroin, being a narcotic, causes constipation. Also, while high the addict is disoriented in time. Often addicts go for early morning walks to procure the drug and return home 'high'. It is also possible to detect withdrawal symptoms when the addict wakes up in the morning. This usually manifests in a running nose and eyes, restlessness, yawning, coughing, sneezing, gooseflesh, fever, chills, cramps in the abdomen, back and calf muscles, muscular twitching, aching joints, loose motions, vomiting and mental confusion. Despite taking such long periods of time in the bathroom, the heroin addict usually does not like cleanliness. He may not bathe for weeks.
- Eating habits serve as useful indicators. The heroin addict generally has a poor appetite. It is easy for parents to notice that their child is eating less or losing weight fast. On an average, the addict loses 22 pounds by the time he completes one year of addiction.
- There are also changes in the heroin addict's food preferences. There is a sudden craving for sweet dishes - this is because brown sugar is bitter. Often, the addict may interrupt his or her meal and go to the bathroom to vomit. Also, the addict may slip into a heroin 'nod' and doze off at the table. The addict's sleep pattern becomes owlish. The addict stays awake during the night. At times the sleep is punctuated by bouts of coughing. In the later stages of addiction, the addict does not seem to sleep at all.
- Compulsive lying is perhaps the hallmark of an addict. Along with this is
manipulative behavior and constant justifications with rationalizations. In
fact, even when the drug addict is caught red handed with the drug on him,
he will usually try to wriggle out of the mess. "Mom, this is just snuff.
It helps me cut down on smoking. You see, I don't want to get Cancer. I am
trying to give up and instead of encouraging me, you do this. You think I
am mad to smoke Heroin and waste my life?" This is a typical example of manipulation.
Many parents succumb to such explanation.
- Some addicts when interviewed, also revealed that heroin initially triggered off sexual promiscuity. Male addicts talked of frequenting brothels. This is because, during the first few days, heroin serves as an aphrodisiac, and delays ejaculation time by as much as 45 minutes. However, after a month or two, the sex drive wanes. Patients often complain of impotency. The impotency that sets in is reversible. In about a month after giving up, the patient is back to normal. Depression sets in at this point. An average college male, who has a keen interest in the opposite sex, suddenly loses all interest. (This is usually more marked from the third year of addiction).
- There are other tell-tale signs. If the heroin addict is allowed to smoke normal cigarettes in the house, the contents of the ashtray will be very different from the non- addict's. There will be loose and unburnt tobacco. This is because a little bit of tobacco is removed from the cigarette to create space for the brown sugar to be added. If the addict is chasing the drug, one can notice matchsticks much more in proportion to the cigarette butts. The match sticks will be burnt to the end. If the drug is smoked in cigarettes, then one finds that the cigarette is smoked down to the filter. "We don't even waste a speck of smack", is the explanation.
- There may be more direct evidence in the form of a 'puddiya' (paper pouch or packet) or a vial or a plastic packet containing a chalky brown powder. Or, one may find on the heroin addict a stained foil, a stained coin, a 'toker' and a candle. If the addict is a 'mainliner' (intravenous user) then needle marks or abscesses will be seen on the forearms usually below the elbow joint. In hard core users, pin pricks or abscesses can even be seen on their legs. One patient had needle marks on his neck, close to the jugular vein. The mainliner's paraphernalia will include a spoon, a candle, a lime, a needle (often rusty and infected) and a syringe.
- The other marks seen on the addicts body are scratch marks, usually on the face, arms and legs. This is due to the Histamine released. In later stages of addiction, skin infections are common. The addict has what can be described as a 'zombie' look. When observed closely, tightening of the skin of the face is noticeable. The eyes will be glassy and there will be dark circles under them and the eyelids are usually droopy, and the mouth partially open.
- The heroin addict's mood will fluctuate frequently. From calm when he is
high, to restless when deprived of his drug. Chances are that he or she will
either be depressed or very happy. Anti-authority behavior or socially deviant
behavior is usually displayed. Addicts are known to neglect their schools
or college, or if they are employed, their work.
- One sure method of identifying an addict is by observing the pupils. In bright light the pupil constricts, and in the dark it dilates. This is because the pupils regulate the light that strikes the retinas. In the heroin user however, the pupils become pin point, (very small) and during the addict's withdrawals, they dilate. So, pinpoint pupils in the dark or at night is an almost conclusive sign of heroin addiction. Similarly, dilated pupils in broad daylight is also proof of heroin withdrawal.