Heroin is a powerful drug. According to national survey data, hundreds of thousands of people report using heroin each year. Nearly 60 percent have a heroin use disorder or addiction.
Understanding the effects of heroin and its potential dangers can be important for anyone who uses heroin or has a loved one battling heroin addiction.
Effects Of Heroin
Heroin is an opioid drug that, when taken, is converted to morphine and binds to opioid receptors in the brain. Although similar to morphine, it is about twice as potent.
Almost instantly after use, heroin can cause a powerful rush of happiness and relaxation, also known as euphoria. It can also have other physical, cognitive, and psychological side effects.
Effects of heroin will be felt most quickly after injecting or smoking heroin, due to how quickly it can pass the blood-brain barrier. After snorting heroin, effects may be felt within minutes.
Acute Side Effects Of Heroin
As a depressant, heroin primarily slows down activity in the body’s central nervous system, which can depress breathing rate, heart rate, and cause drowsiness.
Other physical side effects of heroin can include:
- dry mouth
- heavy feeling in the extremities
- warm flushing of the skin
- constricted pupils
- pain relief
- heroin teeth
- severe itching
In addition to its physical effects, heroin can also have effects on the brain and emotions. People who use heroin may experience mental fogginess, reduced anxiety, and warmth.
Learn more about the physical effects of heroin.
How Long Do Heroin Effects Last?
The effects of heroin can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
Drowsiness from heroin, for instance, can last for hours after a person’s last use, while the euphoric effects of heroin will likely fade much more quickly.
The length of time a person feels the effects of heroin will largely depend on the amount taken and the method of use i.e. sniffed, injected, smoked, or inserted rectally.
Effects Of Heroin In High Doses
Taking high doses of any drug, including heroin, can have toxic effects. In 2019, over 14,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States involved heroin.
High doses of heroin, or heroin laced with fentanyl, can have severe respiratory effects, including slow or stopped breathing. Without treatment, this can be fatal.
Long-Term Effects Of Heroin Use Based On Method Of Administration
Chronic heroin use is associated with a number of long-term side effects on physical and mental health, in large part due to how it can affect the structure and physiology of the brain.
People who repeatedly use heroin may develop a tolerance, heroin dependence, and addiction, which can cause severe disruption to a person’s general way of life.
The following are some of the detrimental effects that may occur based on the method of heroin use.
Effects Of Injecting Heroin
Injecting heroin, or “shooting” it into the blood vessels is the most common way that heroin is used. This can cause an instant, euphoric rush.
Shooting heroin is also associated with a high risk of overdose, collapsed veins, and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, or Hepatitis B through the sharing of needles.
Some people may also experience infection at the injection site that may result in abscesses and a range of health problems.
Effects Of Snorting Heroin
Snorting, or sniffing, powder forms of heroin can irritate the nose. Sniffing heroin may result in nosebleeds, inflammation, affect sense of smell, and cause damage to the nasal passages with chronic use.
Effects Of Smoking Heroin
Heroin can be smoked in a pipe, heated on top of aluminum foil, or smoked in a cigarette mixed with marijuana.
Like shooting heroin, inhaling heroin can produce very quick effects. Over the long term, smoking heroin can cause damage to the lungs and other respiratory complications.
Effects Of Plugging Heroin
Plugging is a term used to refer to the rectal use of a drug. Although plugging heroin is less common than snorting, injecting, or smoking, it is one way that heroin is used.
Inserting heroin into the rectum may cause persistent diarrhea, constipation, damage to the rectal tissue, and poor blood circulation.
The Effects Of Heroin Can Lend To Dependence And Addiction
Heroin is a powerful drug that can cause physical dependence and become addictive, no matter how it’s used.
Someone who is physically dependent on heroin may experience withdrawal symptoms and feel physically sick if they try to quit heroin all at once, also known as going “cold turkey”.
An addiction to heroin can develop as a result of how heroin affects the brain. Heroin can trigger a release of the brain chemical dopamine, which is associated with the brain’s reward system.
Chronic, heavy heroin use can alter the physical structure of the brain, according to some research, and may lead to long-term imbalances in the hormonal and neuronal systems.
Chasing Perceived Positive Effects May Lead To Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can develop if a person who is dependent on heroin tries to stop taking it all at once.
This condition is one reason why it can be very hard for a person who’s addicted to heroin to stop using it, as they will continue using heroin both for its effects and to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
People undergoing withdrawal may experience insomnia, agitation, strong cravings for heroin, as well as diarrhea and vomiting which, together, can severely dehydrate the body.
Certain medications such as methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine (Suboxone) can help reduce the discomfort of these symptoms during the withdrawal process and curb drug cravings.
How Heroin Use Affects Pregnancy
Heroin abuse can be very detrimental to pregnant women and their fetus.
Heroin use during pregnancy may result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which is a condition that causes the baby to become dependent on heroin along with the mother.
Learn more about the effects of heroin on pregnancy.
Finding Treatment For A Heroin Addiction
Heroin is an addictive drug that can be dangerous. If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin, there is a wide range of addiction treatment options for heroin use.
Treatment centers for heroin addiction may offer:
- medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- contingency management
- group therapy
- services for family members
- support groups for people with opiate drug
- aftercare support
- other behavioral health services
Find Heroin Addiction Treatment Services Today
Overcoming an addiction to heroin is possible with the right support. Call our helpline today to find an addiction treatment program that can help lead you to a drug-free life.Article Sources
- American College of Chest Physicians
- Drug Policy Alliance
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)