How to Identify Heroin Paraphernalia

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Someone you care deeply for has been acting a little bit unusual as of late. They might be behaving differently; sleeping long hours, avoiding their friends and family and seeming excessively disheveled in appearance. Maybe they have stopped showing up to work on time — or even at all. You know in your gut something is amiss, but you aren’t sure exactly what. Then one day, as you are tidying up the bathroom, you notice some stained cotton balls in the garbage. Several days later you find a hypodermic needle. These are clear indications your loved one has been using drugs intravenously.

Over the course of the past several years, rates of intravenous heroin use have been skyrocketing throughout the U.S. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, roughly 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in 2016. This number has been on the rise since 2007. The majority of current heroin users are young adults between the ages of 18 and 25. If you believe someone you love has been abusing heroin, Guardian Recovery is available to help. We offer a range of treatment options across the country, from medically monitored detox services through intensive outpatient treatment and aftercare. Because heroin addiction progresses rapidly and is responsible for an increasing number of overdose deaths across the country, seeking professional treatment sooner rather than later is extremely important.

The first step is determining whether or not your loved one is abusing heroin, and knowing what signs and symptoms to look for can help immensely. We have completed a guide focused on how to identify heroin paraphernalia — if you have any additional questions, contact us directly at any point in time.

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How to Identify Heroin Paraphernalia

Learning what paraphernalia to keep an eye out for is a great way to help a loved one you believe might be struggling with heroin addiction. If you find a piece of paraphernalia in your home, it allows you the opportunity to initiate an important conversation without jumping to conclusions or spurning defensiveness. If a person is using heroin — whether they are injecting the drug, snorting it or smoking it — they need certain pieces of equipment in order to get high. Heroin itself can be found as a coarse powder or as a dark, sticky substance. When purchased in a powdered form heroin is typically off-white, yellow or brown. Black tar heroin is dark in color and sticky to the touch. While heroin can be snorted or smoked, most heroin users eventually transition to intravenous use because the effects are more intense and they are felt more quickly. When a person injects heroin they first reduce it to a liquid, which requires certain pieces of equipment like spoons and cigarette lighters. To learn more about identifying heroin paraphernalia continue reading, and reach out to us with any additional questions you might have.

What Does Heroin Paraphernalia Look Like?

The picture to the right is a good example of what heroin paraphernalia looks like. The image shows heroin being reduced to a liquid with the use of a cigarette lighter and a metal spoon. The drug user is pictured holding a hypodermic needle — a telltale sign of intravenous drug use.

The Different Types of Heroin Paraphernalia

The type of paraphernalia depends heavily on the method of ingestion. The most common types of heroin paraphernalia are listed below, along with images of what the paraphernalia might look like should you happen upon it. Remember, if you have any specific questions you are more than welcome to reach out to use directly at any point in time.

Intravenous Use – If your loved one is injecting the drug, you might find hypodermic needles or syringes, crude tourniquets fashioned from a belt, a shoelace or a rubber tube, and concealer used to cover up track marks. You might find torn up and stained cotton balls or q-tips, used to remove impurities from the heroin after it has been melted down. Metal spoons are frequently used to melt down the heroin; paraphernalia includes spoons which have been bent and burned (you might notice spoons are missing from your utensil drawer). Bottle caps can also be used to reduce heroin to a liquid. You might also find one or several lighters stashed away.

Nasal Use – If your loved one is snorting heroin, you might find rolled up money (bills), cut up straws, razor blades (used to cut the substance into thin lines) and an off-white or brown powder residue. Many people who begin snorting heroin eventually transition to intravenous use, which increases the risk of overdose significantly.

The image to the left depicts a razor blade next to a small pile of powdered cocaine. Razor blades are often used to crush the substance into a fine powder so it can be snorted more easily.

Inhalation – If your loved one is smoking heroin you might find burnt pieces of aluminum foil, which can be used to hold the heroin as it is being smoked. You will also likely find several lighters, matchbooks or candles, along with rolling papers or a glass pipe. If your loved one is smoking heroin they might also be mixing the substance with tobacco or marijuana, attempting to disguise the distinct smell.

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What are the Effects of Heroin Use?

When a person uses heroin through any method of injection, they feel a rush of euphoria followed by a range of other short-term effects. As soon as heroin enters the brain it converts into morphine and attaches to opioid receptors, which provides the user with an intense rush. This rush might be pleasurable, but it is often accompanied by a range of unpleasant physical symptoms including nausea and vomiting, dry mouth, itchy skin, a heavy feeling in the extremities, sluggishness, a lack of coordination and compromised cognitive function and an increase in body temperature. Heart function slows and the person experiences respiratory depression, making breathing more labored. If a person takes more than their system can handle or if the heroin has been laced with fentanyl (a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine), overdose is possible and can be fatal.

The Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use Include:

  • The development of a physical and psychological dependence.
  • Permanent changes to the physical structure and physiology of the brain.
  • Compromised impulse control and decision making abilities.
  • The development of a physical tolerance, meaning a greater amount of heroin is required in order for the desired effects to be produced.
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when use is stopped abruptly.

How to Tell if Someone is Using Heroin

In addition to keeping an eye out for heroin paraphernalia, there are several behavioral symptoms which indicate the presence of a heroin abuse disorder. Your loved one might be abusing heroin if:

  • They spend more time alone, socially isolated.
  • They seem to be neglecting personal responsibilities and activities which were previously enjoyed and held in high esteem.
  • They exhibit regular changes to mood, they sleep strange hours and their eating patterns have changed significantly.
  • They pay little attention to personal hygiene.
  • They spend time with a new group of people who you have never been introduced to.
  • They frequently visit the restroom.
  • They seem excessively sleepy throughout the day, or seem to slip in and out of consciousness regularly (this is known as nodding).

Why Do People Use Heroin?

Watching someone you love fall victim to a life-threatening heroin addiction can be confusing. Why would they begin using heroin in the first place? The reasons behind initial use vary significantly depending on the person. Some people might begin using heroin because they were pressured to do so in a social setting. Some people might begin using heroin in an attempt to self-medicate an underlying mental illness of symptoms associated with unresolved trauma or PTSD. As soon as your loved one enters into a therapeutic recovery program the underlying causes of addiction are going to be thoroughly explored and treated. If you suspect someone you love has been abusing heroin, the most important step to take is getting them into a recovery program as quickly as possible. But what steps can you take to help?

How to Help Someone Who is Using Heroin

Because denial often goes hand-in-hand with heroin addiction and because associated drug cravings are so overwhelming, a professionally staged intervention might be a good option. At Guardian Recovery we work directly with several professional interventionists, all with ample experience and high success rates. If your loved one is struggling with a life-threatening heroin addiction and repeatedly refuses help, we are available. Contact us today to be put in touch with an interventionist in your area.

The Best Treatment for Heroin Addiction

At Guardian Recovery we believe in a whole-person approach to addiction treatment as well as a multi-phased program of recovery, regardless of the severity of the problem at hand. We suggest beginning with medical detox, where your loved one undergoes a safe and pain-free heroin withdrawal. Next, we recommend they transition directly into a higher level of clinical care. This could be residential inpatient treatmentPHP or IOP depending on the needs of your loved one. Our Treatment Advisors are standing by to help you determine which level of care is the most appropriate choice. Contact us today to learn more.

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When you or your loved one is ready to ask for help, Guardian Recovery will be available. Our admissions process is simple and straightforward and can be completed in as little as 15 minutes. We provide a complimentary pre-assessment during our initial phone call, which helps our clinical team determine which level of care is the most appropriate for each unique case. We then offer a free insurance benefits check. At Guardian Recovery we work with most major national health insurance providers as well as regional providers in FloridaNew JerseyNew HampshireMaine and Colorado. Once we have determined which level of care is best-suited for your loved one and worked through potential coverage options, the next step is to coordinate local travel to our facility. All you or your loved one has to do is ask for help, we will take care of the rest. Contact us today to learn more about our effective, multi-phased program of heroin addiction recovery.


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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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