Skip to content

6 Signs of a Functioning Heroin Addict

How to identify a high-functioning heroin addict? Heroin addict personality, Signs & Addiction Treatment

What Is A Functional Heroin Addict?

A high-functioning heroin addict is someone who uses the drug but can maintain a certain lifestyle, including holding up their job and maintaining their relationships. These are individuals who can have their families, jobs, and school without raising any red flags.

Unfortunately, heroin use is becoming more and more prevalent in light of the opioid epidemic, which began in the late 1990s when opioid prescriptions were being written at an alarming rate. For some, addiction is genetic, and for others, chronic pain and lack of legal prescription opioids got them to this point. Sometimes experimentation simply got them hooked.

Heroin is a type of opioid, like morphine or oxycodone. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, not only blocking pain signaling like prescription opioids but also increasing the level of dopamine. Its impact on dopamine – the feel-good chemical associated with elevated mood, pleasure, and reward – is why heroin is so addictive.

functioning heroin addict
A high-functioning heroin addict is someone who uses the drug but can maintain a certain lifestyle, including holding up their job and maintaining their relationships.

Usually, heroin addiction is the result of a growing prescription opioid addiction. Many people who started taking prescribed narcotics for pain eventually became hooked on the drugs’ euphoric effects. But once the prescriptions stopped coming and the pills ran out, they turned to a cheaper, more accessible, and illegal alternative, such as heroin.

Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

Get Your Life Back

Find Hope & Recovery. Get Safe Comfortable Detox, Addiction Rehab & Dual Diagnosis High-Quality Care.

Hotline (844) 597-1011

Heroin Addict Personality

There are a variety of risk factors for addiction. Some addicts are genetically predisposed to substance use disorder. They could have been raised in a family with a deeply rooted history of addiction. For others, addiction may have been the product of a traumatic event or period in their life.

In many cases, people take on certain personality traits that increase their likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. Addiction is a complex medical condition that makes it hard to generalize the traits and actions of heroin addicts. However, some commonalities can help both professionals and concerned friends or family members identify whether an individual could be struggling with a substance use disorder.

If you or someone that you care for is struggling with a heroin addiction, know that recovery is possible. Many recovery centers and programs have been designed to treat and aid in highly effective ways. No matter what age or background clients have, they can be sure that they will be well cared for while their needs are met and their goals prioritized.

functioning heroin addict
Lying is a way of life for a functioning heroin addict.

These are the personality traits that are commonly linked to heroin addicts:

1. Slow or Sudden Changes in Physical Health and Appearance

Histamine, a chemical created in the body, will be released quite often when heroin is present. Once it is released, it may cause the user to have a runny nose and an overwhelming sense of itchiness. As a result of this, someone suffering from heroin addiction may often have a runny nose and an inability to fight off common colds and seasonal allergies. Heroin can hurt the immune system and weaken its ability to combat infections.

In addition to this, heroin addicts may often have dry mouth, abscesses, and other skin infections. Dry mouth, also known as cottonmouth, is a common side effect of heroin. Most heroin users inject the drug in large quantities via a syringe. This is what often leads to infections such as abscesses that appear at the site of injection. Injecting multiple times a day will damage the skin and leave scars behind.

Most people will experience the side effects of heroin for up to five hours after ingestion. The most common effects are slurred speech, trouble breathing, and disorientation. Cottonmouth and dilated pupils are also common amongst those who have recently ingested the drug.

2. Frequent Impulsivity

Impulsivity is defined as a behavior that involves someone tending to act with little regard for the consequences of their actions. For example, an impulse purchase might be made off the cuff without considering how it could impact the buyer’s budget or lifestyle.

Impulsivity is a common personality trait amongst those who struggle with the escalation of drug use. It is also present among those who often relapse after long or short periods of sobriety. Impulsivity is commonly linked with addiction because it feeds the desire for instant gratification. Impulsive people yearn for the desire to feel gratification and pleasure at the moment, rather than setting goals and making strategic plans to achieve success and happiness.

Impulsive behavior can be exhibited in many ways. Some people may eat an excessive amount of food in one sitting without considering how their body will respond to the high levels of calories, fat, sugars, etc. Some may drive recklessly or engage in other risky behavior without considering how it could harm them and others. Some people engage in shoplifting, extreme sports, property damage, violence, and many other impulsive behaviors with little to no regard for the consequences.

3. Constant Fatigue

Opium, a derivative of the poppy flower used to make heroin, has properties that encourage numbness and feelings of fatigue and drowsiness. This can easily lead most heroin users to a lifestyle full of frequent napping and extensive sleeping.

Although that could be a sound explanation for constant fatigue in a heroin addict, other issues can bring the same effect. Many people who struggle with substance use disorder eventually fall into a depression and begin to lose interest in the things that once brought them immense joy and happiness. They may eventually find nothing to look forward to each day other than the high or satisfaction that they will get from their substance of choice. Once things reach this point, they may sleep more than usual or have a lower energy level than most.

Keep in mind that heroin may not impact every user in the same manner. Some of those with pre-existing health conditions may have side effects that are different from those of the average person with substance use disorder. Therefore, sleepiness and chronic fatigue may or may not be a product of their heroin addiction. Although it is common among heroin users, many other health issues can lead to that as well, such as depression and sleep apnea.

4. Patterns of Dishonesty and Manipulation

The core of addiction is often the struggle to go without whatever it is that is making the person addicted. Though it may seem like an obvious observation, understanding the basic foundations of addiction can help you understand why they lead to certain changes in behavior and personality. Heroin and other addictive substances can cause intense cravings in the user that override their ability to control their impulses. Those struggling with the ability to control cravings will do almost anything to obtain the substance they are addicted to, even if it means harming others.

For example, an addict could resort to theft and manipulation of family members and friends if it meant that they could get access to heroin that way. This behavior is often the biggest reason why those who struggle with substance use disorder eventually find themselves to be on the outs with their loved ones. When the addiction is out of control, it can hurt the addict’s moral compass and reasoning.

5. Questionable Acquaintances

Peer pressure can be a struggle for people of all ages, not just those who are younger and in school. Some of those struggling with substance use disorder may already know people who have access to toxic and addictive substances, while others could begin to befriend questionable characters solely because they offer access to heroin.

Once a heroin addiction becomes obvious enough that family members and friends notice it, addicts may choose to distance themselves and go where they feel they will be accepted and comfortable. This could be in the company of other addicts or distributors of addictive substances. They will often feel the need to escape those feelings of guilt and judgment, which encourage them to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, even if that will only drive them further into their addiction.

Even if family members and friends are only showing concern and care for their well-being, it can be difficult for heroin addicts to face the reality of the issue and make a change. Stubbornness is incredibly common amongst those who are addicted. Like most people in the world, they find the comfort of instant gratification and pleasure to be more rewarding than the pain and discomfort that could come with having to make a change.

6. Chronic Financial Issues

Impulsivity and the struggle of dealing with cravings can quickly lead an addict to financial woes. Illegal drugs can be expensive, and the impulsive nature of most addicts leads them to do whatever they can to feed the addiction, even if they don’t have the financial means for it.

Heroin addicts typically find themselves pawning prized possessions, gambling, or using money intended for bills to further their addictions. Some soon find themselves in debt and need to part with their most important possessions. If you are a family member or friend of someone with substance use disorder, you may also find that they are asking to borrow money more often or can’t afford simple things that they used to be able to buy.

As addiction progresses, to the user, nothing seems more important than the substance they are addicted to. Their need and desire for the substance will override almost anything else that they possess, regardless of how valuable the items may be. Be wary of this and pay close attention to how they behave when they can’t find a route to their next opportunity to use the substance. This is an easy way to determine that they need professional help.

7. Trouble With Stress Management

Stress is common, regardless of whether one has a substance use disorder. Some people, however, have higher levels of stress than the average person. For example, those who are involved in careers that impact their safety or character daily will be more stressed than most. A movie star could often feel suffocated by trying to maintain a particular image to be favored in the public eye. A firefighter, policeman, or soldier could often find themselves struggling with the thought of whether or not their next workday could be their last.

The inability to cope with stress is an understandable and highly relatable struggle that impacts billions of people each day. When it becomes too overwhelming to bear, the individual could often feel the need to seek relief from a substance. In most cases, that substance can provide a temporary feeling of relief and satisfaction, which is what leads to the addiction. Once the individual finds that they can escape from the haunting levels of stress and anxiety via the substance, they will begin to rely on it, even if they can only feel that relief for a few moments.

If you know that your loved one, friend, or acquaintance is dealing with high levels of distress, reach out and pay attention to their behavior and actions, as this can help you lead them to a better method of stress relief. Some people dealing with high levels of stress begin to withdraw from their family and friends. They could also engage in behaviors such as binge-watching TV, binge eating, oversleeping, and overworking. Some could also begin to change in a way that is harmful to others in their vicinity, such as lashing out and engaging in physical or emotional abuse. Self-harm is another common link between highly stressed individuals and substance use disorder.

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for an Accredited Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers in Near You?

Even if you have failed previously and relapsed, or are in the middle of a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

FREE Addiction Hotline – Call 24/7

6 Signs of a Functioning Heroin Addict

Considering how well functional heroin users hide their drug use and keep up with their responsibilities, identifying the addiction can be challenging. And even if you do have an idea, you might be too afraid to bring it up to this person for fear of upsetting them. However, there are signs of high-functioning heroin addiction, and these indicators can help you know for sure if your loved one needs help.

1. They lie a lot

Lying is a way of life for a functioning heroin user. They might fake doctor’s appointments or long hours at work when they’re visiting a dealer or using drugs with friends or even colleagues.

2. They’re frequently sick

If this person is always complaining of nausea, headaches, or just always seems to be having a rough day, they might be going through withdrawals or a “heroin hangover.”

3. They make excuses for their actions

Similar to lying, the person might always have an excuse up their sleeve for their behavior. They might not take responsibility for their actions or even make it seem like you’re confused or overthinking.

functioning heroin addict
Considering how well functional heroin users hide their drug use and keep up with their responsibilities, identifying the addiction can be challenging.

4. They hang out with people who also use drugs

The saying, “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are,” rings true. Typically, those who abuse drugs like to surround themselves with other people who also use drugs. This helps them avoid any unwanted judgment or guilt.

5. A lot of their money goes to drugs

If you’re a partner or close friend of a high-functioning heroin addict, then you may notice that they spend lots of money on things that aren’t clothes, groceries, other necessities, or basics. They might try to lie about or brush off any accusations about how they’re spending their money.

6. They go off on their own frequently when out with friends or at work

Even functional heroin addicts have to use the drug frequently to feel “normal,” and to keep up with this need, they might step away frequently while in social settings or at work, to use.

First-class Facilities & Amenities

World-class High-Quality Addiction & Mental Health Rehabilitation Treatment

Rehab Centers Tour

Renowned Addiction Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient rehab programs vary.

Addiction Helpline (844) 597-1011

Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:

  • 15+ Years Experience
  • 100s of 5-Star Reviews
  • 10K+ Recovery Successes
  • Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
  • Onsite Medical Detox Center
  • Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
  • Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
  • Coaching, Recovery & Personal Development Events

Can You Be a High-Functioning Heroin Addict?

The media has painted a particular picture of a heroin addict. When you think of a person who uses heroin, you might picture someone who looks physically ill, has destroyed their relationships, and is slumped in an alley with used needles by their side. But this isn’t the case for all heroin users. Unlike those who visibly struggle because of their drug addiction, there are others who can carry on what seems like a normal life despite their behavior. But can you be a functioning heroin addict and get away with it?

Although you can be a functioning heroin addict, this usually doesn’t last. There are different personalities when it comes to addiction: the person with the “go big or go home” mentality and the person who uses just enough to “take the edge off.” Functioning heroin addicts are usually the latter.

These people may use just enough to maintain themselves and function “normally.” They might even use the drug only in social settings or “recreationally.” However, considering how potent and addicting heroin is, individuals who follow this pattern of drug use eventually succumb to a full-blown addiction that takes over their life.

World-class, Accredited, 5-Star Reviewed, Effective Addiction & Mental Health Programs. Complete Behavioral Health Inpatient Rehab, Detox plus Co-occuring Disorders Therapy.

CALL (844) 597-1011

End the Addiction Pain. End the Emotional Rollercoaster. Get Your Life Back. Start Drug, Alcohol & Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Treatment Now. Get Free No-obligation Guidance by Substance Abuse Specialists Who Understand Addiction & Mental Health Recovery & Know How to Help.

Treatment Options for a High-Functioning User

Treatment for Heroin Addiction includes medical treatments and behavioral therapies. For a treatment to be effective, it’s important to match the best treatment approach to meet the particular needs of each patient. Medicines are being developed to help with the withdrawal process. The FDA approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Medicines to help people stop using heroin include Buprenorphine and Methadone. They work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin, but more weakly, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Another treatment is Naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors and prevents opioid drugs from having an effect. A NIDA study found that once treatment is initiated, both a Buprenorphine/Naloxone combination and an extended release Naltrexone formulation are similarly effective in addiction. Because full detoxification is necessary for treatment with naloxone, initiating treatment among active users was difficult, but once detoxification was complete, both medications had similar effectiveness.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Behavioral therapies for Heroin Addiction include methods called Cognitive-Behavioral therapy and contingency management. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy for addiction helps modify the patient’s drug-use expectations and behaviors, and helps effectively manage triggers and stress. Contingency Management provides motivational incentives, such as vouchers or small cash rewards for positive behaviors such as staying drug-free. These Behavioral Treatment approaches are especially effective when used along with medicines.

National Institute on Drug Abuse

functioning heroin addict
Medicines to help people stop using heroin include Buprenorphine and Methadone. They work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Heroin Addiction is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from Heroin Addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

Start a New Life

Begin with a free call to an addiction & behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers recovery programs that vary by each treatment facility. Call to learn more.

  • Personalized Care
  • Caring Accountable Staff
  • World-class Amenities
  • Licensed & Accredited
  • Renowned w/ 100s 5-Star Reviews

We’ll Call You


[1] ‘Heroin’ – National Library of Medicine (
[2] ‘Heroin DrugFacts’ – The National Institute on Drug Abuse (
[3] ‘[Heroin Addiction]’, Sándor Hosztafi, National Library of Medicine (

Popular alcohol & drug rehabilitation & mental health treatment-related articles: