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Heroin Effects | Short-Term & Long-Term Effects Of Heroin Abuse

Published on December 28, 2020
effects of heroin use

If you use heroin, understand that this drug has a profound effect on both your body and mind. Continued use can quickly lead to physical dependence, addiction, and devastating long-term health effects.

Heroin Short-Term Effects

In the United States, Heroin is an illegal drug derived from morphine, a natural opiate that comes from the seed pod of opium poppy plants. 

Heroin may look like either a white/brown powder or sticky black mass (black tar heroin) and can be taken by snorting, smoking, or injection. 

Once it enters the brain it is converted back to morphine and attaches to opioid receptors, resulting in a rush or heroin high described as an overwhelming sense of pleasure and euphoria.

Heroin Side-Effects

Side effects of taking heroin include:

  • dry mouth
  • heavy-weighted arms and legs
  • nausea and vomiting
  • nodding-off between conscious and semi-conscious states
  • severe itching
  • slowed or cloudy thinking
  • warm, flushed skin

Heroin Overdose

Heroin overdose deaths are most common when the drug is taken intravenously, or if it is taken along with drugs like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or prescription opioids—especially fentanyl. But even small amounts can trigger overdose symptoms in certain circumstances.

A heroin overdose can be identified by the following telltale signs and symptoms:

  • blue-tinted nails and lips
  • drowsiness
  • low blood pressure
  • pinpoint pupils
  • weak or fluttering pulse
  • weak, slow, or interrupted breathing

Treating Heroin Overdose

A heroin overdose suppresses central nervous system activity, including breathing and heart rate. If these slow down too much or stop, the brain will almost immediately run short of oxygen (hypoxia) with devastating results progressing from coma to permanent brain damage and death.

Reacting quickly is critical in overdose situations. Call for medical assistance as soon as possible. If you have a supply of naloxone nasal spray (an opioid overdose antidote widely available without a prescription), you should use it on the victim immediately.

Long-Term Health Effects Of Heroin Use

The first experience many individuals have with heroin is profound, and one that powerfully calls them back for more. But the longer you chase that first rush the harder it will be to experience again—and, the harder it will be to stop.

This is due to two biological facts of heroin use: tolerance and dependence.

Heroin Tolerance

The more you take a drug like heroin, the more your body adapts to minimize its effect. This means that heroin will stop working as well unless you take larger, more dangerous doses over time.

Repeated heroin highs naturally become less and less rewarding.

Heroin Dependence

Physical dependence is likely to develop as the body becomes accustomed to heroin in your system. 

Over time, if you go without the drug you are more likely to experience uncomfortable, painful, and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms until you aren’t taking heroin to get high; you’re taking it just to feel normal.

Heroin Addiction (Substance Use Disorder)

A heroin high has such a profound effect on the reward centers of your brain that it can completely change the way you think and feel about life. 

This addictive drug will push you to seek that rush again and again no matter the cost, no matter the risk, and no matter the damage to your body, family, or friends.

Other Health Effects

Other health effects associated with long-term heroin drug use may stem from how you take the drug or the harmful additives mixed in with street heroin. 

These may include:

  • nasal, sinus, and palate tissue damage (if the drug is sniffed/snorted)
  • lung and breathing damage (if the drug is freebased/smoked)
  • abscesses, scarring, collapsed blood vessels, and infections including hepatitis b, c, and HIV/AIDs (if the drug is injected)
  • constipation
  • cold Sweats
  • compromised decision-making
  • itching
  • insomnia
  • liver damage
  • muscular weakness
  • memory and intellect impairment
  • sexual and reproductive system dysfunction, including impotence
  • tooth and gum deterioration
  • unhealthy loss of appetite leading to weight loss and malnutrition
  • weakened immune function
  • worsening mental illnesses including antisocial personality disorder and depression

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Professional care is available to help heroin users go drug-free and recover from heroin abuse and its effects. 

Outpatient or inpatient treatment programs may include:

  • medical detox to stabilize and prepare you for treatment
  • medication-assisted treatment using buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone along with treatment services like individual or group therapy
  • group therapy with family members or others in recovery
  • behavioral therapy to help you adjust how you think and feel about heroin addiction
  • ongoing support groups and continued supportive programs to reduce the likelihood of future relapse

To learn about our personalized treatment plans for heroin addiction, contact an Ark Behavioral Health specialist today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin DrugFacts
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin Research Report Overview
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Heroin

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