We previously discussed Chicago’s heroin epidemic and saw that the rapid increase in young adults becoming addicted to heroin is truly startling. There are steps that parents can take to prevent their loved ones from becoming a sad statistic of the heroin epidemic.

DO NOT keep prescription medications in an  easily accessible spot such as in your medicine cabinet. Protect your prescriptions by monitoring them and check periodically to see if any are missing. Particularly dangerous for your youth are the opiate-based painkillers, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. As we mentioned, these opiate-based drugs have increasingly become a major gateway to heroin use.

DO NOT assume it can’t happen to your child – no young adult is immune.

DO pay attention to your youth’s friends. Most heroin use results when current friends begin using, as opposed to getting new friends who use. If you notice signs of drug and heroin use in friends, or your youth begins to spend a great deal of time with new friends, pay attention.

DO look for warning signs of heroin use which include:

  • Loss of interest in family
  • Sudden decrease in appetite - unexplained weightloss
  • Drop in grades
  • Increased secretiveness
  • Sullen, withdrawn, depressed
  • Unusually tired
  • Silent, uncommunicative
  • Hostile, angry, uncooperative
  • Frequent requests for money
  • Missing valuables
  • Lethargic, no motivation
  • Nodding off
  • Unable to speak intelligibly, slurred or rapid-fire speech
  • Decrease in personal hygiene or personal care
  • Needle marks
  • Paraphernalia: smalls baggies, needles or needle tip covers, small cotton balls, burns on spoons, any tube-like objects such as inkless pens, straws, rolled up money
  • Large increase in mileage on car odometer

DO understand the workings of heroin. Withdrawal symptoms are horrible and often are what keep the addict using. These symptoms are quite painful and unpleasant:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Severe muscle aches
  • Severe bone aches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Cold sweats and chills
  • Dilated pupils
  • Involuntary spasms
  • Nausea/Vomiting


1. Educate your youth about drugs, and heroin in particular. Don’t rely on schools for heroin education. The typical drug education provided in schools does not adequately cover heroin dangers. Check out Heroin Prevention Education - it is a great source of information.

2. Discuss the extremely addictive nature of heroin and the horrible withdrawal symptoms.

3. Discuss the dangers and effects of prescription drugs. Listen to what your young adult thinks about prescription drugs.

4. Contact Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization (HERO) They offer guidance and education regarding heroin use.

5. Realize that heroin and opiate-based prescription drugs are VERY addictive. Your youth will almost certainly not be able to just stop on their own. They will need professional treatment and possibly medical help.

6. Understand that snorting and smoking is just as dangerous as injecting. Most people begin using heroin by using snorting and quickly move on to injecting. We have seen parents mistakenly believe that snorting pills or drugs is not a big concern - IT IS!

7. Take action IMMEDIATELY if your young adult is using heroin or any opiate-based drug. Remember how addictive heroin is AND how lethal. With a median age at death of 30, understand you are dealing with a VERY dangerous substance. Fast action is critical. Don’t let shame or guilt keep you from quickly getting help.

New Hope Recovery Center has had years of experience treating heroin addiction in young adults 18 and over. Contact us anytime at 773-883-3916 or via email at info@new-hope-recovery.com if you have questions or need help.

By Jeff Zacharias LCSW CAADC RDDP