Heroin Effects

Short- & Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Heroin is one of the most dangerous illicit drugs on the market, and the long-term effects of heroin have shown to have a significant negative impact on physical health, brain physiology, emotional regulation, and more.

This article will take a closer look at some of the dangerous effects that heroin can have on the brain and body, but first let’s get a better understanding of the drug.

Drug manufacturers create heroin in the laboratory from morphine, a natural substance extracted from poppy plants. This drug is available in different forms, such as a white or brown powder, or black tar, and users inject, snort, or smoke heroin. The soothing effect of the drug makes it one of the most frequently abused in the U.S. However, the long-term side effects of heroin on the mind and body make it a dangerous drug.

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Clinically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated:


The Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Like any other illicit drug, the chronic use of heroin is associated with many adverse long-term effects of heroin abuse, some of which can be fatal. 

Heroin addiction is a primary long-term effect of sustained heroin use. The pleasurable sensations induced by the drug compel users to escalate their dosage and frequency of use, leading to the development of physical dependence and psychological addiction.

In 2021, approximately 1.1 million U.S. adults reported past-year heroin use, with over 1 million individuals developing heroin addiction within the same year, according to SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).

Chronic substance use alters your physical structure and the brain’s physiology. Such changes result in long-term imbalances of the body’s neural and hormonal patterns, which are irreversible effects.

Other common long-term side effects of heroin abuse include cold sweats, respiratory complications, disrupted menstrual cycles in women, reduced sexual urge in men, memory loss, and insomnia.

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Long-Term Physical Effects of Heroin

Long-term heroin use can lead to a number of dangerous physical health symptoms. Some of the most common physical health effects of heroin include:

  • Heart infections
  • Collapsed veins
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung diseases
  • Higher chances of infections diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C

Along with these, one of the most common long-term physical effects due to heroin is the development of track marks and puffy hand syndrome. Track marks are marking near the site of injection, they appear like puncture marks that haven’t healed and can lead to collapsed veins.

Most estimates suggest up to 50% of your risk profile for any addiction is genetic. Beyond this, a variety of environmental and social factors also play a role in whether or not you become addicted to a substance like alcohol.

As addiction starts to build, you’ll find you require more alcohol to achieve the same effects as tolerance grows. By this point, you’ll also be liable to experience intense withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking alcohol.

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Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use on the Brain

Heroin is a highly addictive drug because of its euphoric effects. Heroin affects the brain by binding to the opioid receptors, causing a release of a large amount of dopamine, which is a chemical that creates happiness.

Repeated exposure to heroin use changes the structure and physiology of the brain. It can create major hormonal and emotional changes that are not easily reversed. Studies have even shown that there is a deterioration of white brain matter in long-term heroin users which affects decision-making abilities and ability to regulate behavior.

When a physical dependence begins, the brain adjusts to the presence of heroin in the body, and dangerous withdrawal symptoms will occur when heroin use is reduced.

It’s critical to seek medical intervention if you or your loved ones exhibit the warning symptoms of addiction, including:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Guilt, hopelessness, and depression
  • Disrupted sleeping patterns
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Strained relationships
  • Health conditions like pneumonia and tuberculosis

Along with these problems, heroin and opioid withdrawal syndrome can occur after a physical and psychological dependence on heroin develops. Heroin withdrawal can lead to a number of dangerous and life-threatening complications.

If you notice these signs in yourself or your loved one, get in contact with a treatment team today.

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Fight Back Against Heroin Addiction

Get evidence-based treatment to overcome heroin addiction at Renaissance Recovery. Call our team now to learn more about the process.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin

While the long-term effects of heroin can be detrimental, it is also important to learn about the short-term effects of heroin use that can occur. When heroin first enters the brain it quickly binds to opioid receptors. When this happens, people feel a “rush” or “high” as feel-good chemicals flood the brain.

Unfortunately, there are a number of problematic short-term effects as well. Some common heroin short-term effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Heavy feeling in extremities

Along with these, heroin can also cause clouded mental functioning and repressed breathing. The slowed breathing can lead to more dangerous problems like coma and permanent brain damage.

All of these are issues commonly occurring short-term heroin effects on the body and while they are dangerous, they don’t even touch on the most dangerous — overdose. 

Short-Term Heroin Effects on the Body

Heroin use can trigger immediate and noticeable physical effects on the body. These short-term effects of heroin on the body include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Itching
  • Heavy feeling in extremities
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Repressed breathing

Short-Term Heroin Effects on the Mind

When heroin enters the brain, it interacts with neurotransmitters, resulting in immediate effects on mood, cognition, and perception. The short-term effects of heroin on the mind include:

  • Rush of euphoria
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Altered perception of pain
  • Sedation and drowsiness
  • Decreased anxiety and stress
  • Potential for addiction and dependence

Heroin Overdose

In 2020, there were more than 13,000 heroin-related overdose deaths. Heroin use and heroin overdoses have been steadily rising since the beginning of the Opioid Crisis as many people turn from prescription opioids to a cheaper, illicit option.

Heroin overdose is the most dangerous short-term consequence of substance abuse, and it’s important to understand what the risks are for engaging in heroin use. The best overdose prevention is always abstinence, however if you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction and are concerned about heroin overdose, getting into a treatment facility or talking to an addiction counselor can be a life-saving decision. 

Heroin-Involved Overdose Deaths in 2020

Side Effects of Heroin

The side effects of heroin use range from moderate to extreme, and are in general difficult and uncomfortable to experience in addition to the extreme and rapid-onset cravings. 

Heroin abuse is associated with a range of heroin symptoms that can have detrimental effects on physical health, mental well-being, and overall quality of life. An awareness of heroin side effects will help inform individuals about the many dangers of heroin abuse, including addiction and fatal overdose.

Harmful effects of heroin include:

Physical Heroin Symptoms

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching and skin infections
  • Constipation
  • Respiratory issues, including suppressed breathing
  • Weakened immune system and increased risk of infections like HIV and hepatitis C
  • Track marks or scars from injection sites
  • Collapsed veins
  • Cardiovascular problems, including heart infections and diseases
  • Liver and kidney damage

Psychological & Emotional Heroin Side Effects

  • Euphoria and mood swings
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making abilities
  • Memory loss and cognitive difficulties
  • Insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns
  • Social isolation and strained relationships

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Long-Term Effects of Heroin-Addicted Babies

If a woman is pregnant and using heroin, it can lead to birth defects and complications with the birth of the child as a result of the effects of heroin in the body. 

Some of the health effects and can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Some of the health problems that can occur include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Irritability
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

In extreme cases, this problem can lead to the death of the child. For those who are struggling with heroin addiction while pregnant, it is vital to get addiction treatment.

Seek Professional Heroin Addiction Treatment at Rehab

Overcoming substance dependence and addiction is a challenging journey. Many people who are eager to overcome the habit embark on a recovery journey only to experience relapse because of the overwhelming withdrawal syndrome.

If you are experiencing the long-term heroin side effects, your recovery needs close monitoring from a healthcare provider. Attempting self-recovery techniques at home often leads to repeat relapse episodes, which can lead to overdose. It is essential to seek a drug-free environment that will help you achieve sobriety to get your healthy life back.

At rehab, the primary goal is to help you identify the root causes and triggers of your problem to overcome substance abuse. Rehabs and health care services can offer personalized addiction treatment services for men and women struggling to overcome heroin abuse. This way, you or a loved one can get the much-needed treatment for the symptoms of heroin abuse and other co-occurring disorders.

Learn More About the Effects of Heroin Abuse at Renaissance

A personalized addiction treatment program is effective in helping you quit heroin use permanently. At Renaissance Recovery Center, we combine several treatment strategies to create a customized plan for your unique situation. Some of these treatment modalities can include medication-assisted treatment to help people overcome withdrawal symptoms, like methadone or buprenorphine, and dual diagnosis treatment to help those who are struggling with co-occurring mental health problems.

Our rehab facility will help you overcome the long-term side effects of heroin abuse and dependence. Contact Renaissance Recovery today to learn more about heroin abuse and rehab treatment programs.

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