Physical Effects Of Heroin On The Body

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Heroin is an addictive drug that can have both short-term and long-term effects on the body. Overcoming heroin use disorder may require both medical and behavioral health treatment.

Physical Effects Of Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug that’s partially derived from the opium poppy plant, similar to drugs such as morphine and codeine, with effects similar to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

As an illicit drug that is unregulated, heroin can wreak havoc on the body. It can cause a range of acute physical effects, as well as long-term consequences without professional intervention.

Keep reading to learn about the physical effects of heroin addiction.

What Are The Effects Of Heroin On The Body?

Heroin, an illicit opiate, is known for its euphoric effects, as well as its ability to reduce pain.

This drug binds to opioid receptors located throughout the body. These are responsible for regulating pain sensation and mood among other functions.

Heroin also depresses activity in your central nervous system (CNS). This can produce a range of physical long-term and short-term effects, in addition to effects on mental health and cognition.

Short-Term Heroin Effects On The Body

Heroin is classified as a depressant. This is a type of drug that slows down brain activity, as well as your vital signs, through its effects on the central nervous system.

Depending on how it is taken into the body, some physical side effects of heroin may begin to kick in within minutes, or even seconds after use.

Short-term physical effects of heroin may include:

  • dry mouth
  • drowsiness
  • warm flushing of the skin
  • slowed breathing
  • decreased heart rate
  • reduced blood pressure
  • nausea/vomiting
  • going “on the nod” (falling in and out of consciousness)
  • small pupil size (“pinpoint pupils”)
  • heavy feeling in the arms, legs, feet, and fingers
  • severe itching
  • heroin overdose

Long-Term Heroin Effects On The Body

Chronic heroin use, as well as excessive short-term heroin abuse, can have long-term consequences on physical health and carries various long-term health risks.

Long-term effects of heroin use include:

  • risk of bloodborne disease
  • pneumonia
  • tuberculosis
  • liver and kidney disease
  • insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
  • tooth decay and gum disease
  • chronic constipation
  • increased drug tolerance
  • dependence and withdrawal symptoms
  • addiction (i.e. heroin use disorder)
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • sexual dysfunction
  • altered brain function due to heroin use
  • strong cravings for heroin
  • heart problems

Factors That May Affect Heroin’s Physical Impacts

The effects of heroin on the body can vary depending on a range of personal factors related to how you use heroin, as well as concurrent drug use or co-occurring health conditions.

Below are some of the primary factors that can affect heroin’s physical impacts.

Method Of Use

Your method of heroin use — for example, whether you snort, inject, smoke, or plug heroin — can have an impact on the physical side effects that develop as a result of your substance use.

Injection drug use, for instance, the most common method of heroin use among those who use it chronically is associated with various physical health consequences, including:

  • heroin abscesses
  • damaged blood vessels
  • track marks (needle marks at the injection site)
  • bloodborne disease (e.g. HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, hepatitis C)
  • blood clots (from injecting heroin mixed with additives)
  • heroin teeth
  • collapsed veins

Snorting heroin, on the other hand, can increase the risk of loss or reduced sense of smell and damaged nasal tissue, while smoking heroin can cause lung complications and other associated health issues of heroin use.

Frequency Of Use

How often you use heroin, and the amount used, can play a role in heroin’s impact on the body.

Using heroin just once or infrequently, for instance, is unlikely to produce complications associated with chronic use, such as physical dependence, addiction, and heroin withdrawal.

Acute effects such as dry mouth, sedation, and heroin overdose, however, can still occur regardless of your frequency of use.

Purity Of Heroin

The purity of heroin that’s bought and sold in the United States can vary, largely because it is an illegal drug with ingredients that are not regulated by the federal government.

Because of this, much of the heroin sold by drug dealers contains ingredients other than heroin, including other drugs like fentanyl, and additives that can negatively affect the body.

Low-purity forms of heroin, including black tar heroin, can have variable effects on the body, depending on the fillers or additives added to the supply.

Treatment For Effects Of Heroin On The Body

Acute and chronic effects of heroin use on the body can best be treated through a holistic substance abuse treatment program that offers both medical and behavioral health components.

Generally, treatment for heroin dependence and addiction will begin with detoxification.

The type of rehab program recommended for you, a family member, or other loved one will depend on the severity of your heroin use, overall physical health, and other personal factors.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Options

Heroin addiction, and the effects of heroin on the body, can be treated at multiple levels of care.

Addiction treatment options include:

  • inpatient treatment — an intensive, live-in rehab program that can offer heroin detox assistance, behavioral health treatment (e.g. counseling), and medical care.
  • residential treatment — another intensive rehab program for drug addiction that may or may not include detox assistance.
  • intensive outpatient programs — an intensive treatment program that does not require residing within a treatment facility, but still offers a high level of structure and support
  • outpatient rehab programs — this may refer to a program involving counseling, medication-assisted treatment (e.g. methadone or buprenorphine-assisted treatment), support groups, and regular visits with a physician and/or psychiatrist

The offerings of a drug treatment program can vary by treatment center.

The best treatment program is one that can offer evidence-based treatments for heroin addiction, including treatment services such as behavioral therapy and medication for opioid use disorder.

Call To Find Heroin Addiction Treatment Today

In the United States alone, there are millions of teens, adults, and families affected by heroin addiction and the physical effects it can have on the body, particularly through chronic use.

Recovery from heroin addiction is possible. To find the best heroin addiction treatment options for yourself or a loved one, call our helpline to speak with an admissions specialist today.


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