Physical Side Effects of Heroin Use – Understanding the Damage to the Body

Users of heroin run the risk of dying from an overdose as well as a variety of other short- and long-term health issues, such as issues with different organ systems, life-threatening infections, and declining mental health.

Consistent heroin use can also lead to a heroin use disorder, which is another label for an addiction.

Heroin affects all areas of the body’s and brain’s functioning which changes in how we look, behave and feel. 

Over 900,000 people in the US who are 12 or older reported using heroin in the preceding year in 2020. Although the number of heroin overdose deaths has decreased since 2017, there were still 13,165 fatalities in 2020.

Learn About Heroin

The opium poppy plant is used to make heroin, an opioid that is 2-3 times stronger than morphine and very addictive. Afghanistan is where around 75% of the world’s heroin is produced. It usually makes its way from South America to the US.

As a white powder, it can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Another sticky, dark substance that is smoked or snorted is black tar. What the medicine contains and how potent it actually is are unknown. It is frequently cut with fentanyl and carfentanyl, which enhances the risk of accidental overdose and fatality.

Increased tolerance to heroin consumption may result from repeated use. To get the intended result, you might need to take greater doses of this.

Drug dependence, which occurs when the body becomes dependent on repeated usage of the drug in order to function normally, can also be brought on through chronic use. Heroin dependence can develop in people who use other drugs heavily and often.

Biological, psychological and social elements all have an impact on the condition of drug addiction. It is distinguished by a compulsive want to continue using drugs in spite of risks to one’s health and overall wellbeing.

There are solutions and help out there:

  • Anyone who has struggled with chronic substance misuse is strongly advised to seek professional detox assistance.
  • Attempting to detox from heroin without medical assistance can be extremely risky because there is a considerable chance of dehydration, relapse, and overdose.
  • People who are addicted to heroin can obtain counselling services and drugs for heroin use disorder, like methadone or buprenorphine/naltrexone, through a rehab facility (Suboxone).


Within a few hours of the last dose, withdrawal symptoms manifest. Restlessness, aches in the muscles and bones, insomnia, nausea, chilly flashes with goosebumps and leg motions are all signs of withdrawal.

After the last dose of heroin, the most severe withdrawal symptoms peak between 24 and 48 hours later and then go away after roughly a week. Some individuals, however, have lasting withdrawal symptoms that date back several months.

A chronic relapsing condition that goes beyond physical dependency and is marked by uncontrollable drug-seeking, no matter the consequences, heroin use disorder is another outcome of repeated heroin use.

19 Although modes of administration that allow it to reach the brain the quickest (such as injection and smoking) enhance the risk of addiction, heroin is extremely addictive regardless of how it is consumed.

Physical Side Effects of Heroin Abuse – Overview

Heroin’s capacity to lessen anxiety and pain is attested to by many users. However, using heroin has severe risks. For instance, a heroin rush lowers a person’s blood pressure, slows their heart rate, and induces shallower breathing. A medical emergency can arise if the person suffers from heart failure or stops breathing. 

Heroin usage has been associated with the alarming side effect of people slipping in and out of consciousness, which could ultimately place them in a coma, in addition to cardiac and pulmonary issues.

It’s also important to understand that injecting heroin with needles may increase the risk of infections, particularly HIV and Hepatitis C. Every six to twelve hours, heroin can feel the overwhelming urge to use.

Important factors:

  • The speed at which heroin takes effect will depend on how you consume it.
  • A euphoric high is produced when heroin is injected into a vein because it swiftly reaches the brain. The effects can last anywhere from 45 seconds and several minutes.
  • Smoking or snorting has slower but less powerful effects.
  • When heroin is injected into a muscle or beneath the skin, the effects come on more gradually and typically within 20 minutes.
  • There is a period of calm after the momentary “rush” of joy. It might continue like this for an hour. The duration of other temporary effects ranged from 3 to 5 hours.
  • To avoid withdrawal symptoms, heroin users may feel the urge to use the drug every 6 to 12 hours.

Short-Term Physical Side Effects of Heroin Addiction

Heroin injection users get the symptoms right away. It typically takes 7-8 seconds for heroin users to feel euphoric after mainlining the drug. When smoked, its effects usually peak 10 to 15 minutes after ingestion.

Those who snort or smoke heroin will still have the same negative effects as injection users, albeit they may not feel the same tremendous thrill.

There are many short-term physical effects one experiences, including:

  • drowsiness, nodding off
  • stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache
  • heaviness in the legs and arms
  • constricted / pinpoint pupils 
  • itchy / flushed skin 
  • memory loss
  • mood swings, irritability
  • slowness of breathing
  • decreased heart rate
  • unconsciousness
  • coma

It’s really important to note that more than 70% of those struggling with addiction issues also have co-occurring mental health issues and diagnosis.

Long-Term Physical Side Effects of Heroin Use

Long-term impacts of heroin use on physical health include an elevated risk of addiction, infections and potential brain damage. Some of these long-term negative effects can be reversed or reduced through effective addiction treatment.

Heroin use has many long-term side effects including:

  • Damaged tissue in the brain / central nervous system
  • Kidney damage and kidney failure
  • Liver damage, including hepatitis C and other liver diseases
  • Damage to the cardiovascular system, including irregular heartbeat, heart attack and stroke
  • Weakened immune system
  • Seizures 
  • Sexual dysfunctions
  • Hormonal imbalances

Effects on Cognitive Abilities

Heroin is a drug that has the ability to impact on emotion, thought, and behavior. Chronic heroin users may eventually develop new or worsening mood problems such depression and antisocial personality disorder.

This is because long-term heroin use can impair the synthesis of “feel good” substances like dopamine.

The physical makeup of the brain and a decline in the white matter of the brain have both been related to long-term heroin use.

There have been tests that show the effects on one’s cognitive functioning which are quite concerning. These include:

  • losing one’s ability to speak clearly and process thoughts to words
  • losing one’s internal balance structure making it hard to walk straight 
  • losing one’s ability to sleep resulting in major sleep disturbances which lead to people using more of the drug to fall asleep

Social Consequences of Heroin Addiction

Heroin use tends to lead to addiction which has huge consequences on all aspects of one’s life. Priorities change and job loss is common. Addiction often leads to crime in order to pay for the drugs. 

  • Financial trouble often leading to criminal activity
  • Job loss which is often leads to ongoing unemployment
  • Deterioration of relationships with friends
  • Family breakdown, unable to care for your children
  • Isolation – not participating in routines
  • Overall lack of motivation leading to routines not being done
  • Higher rates of child and domestic abuse made possible by addiction

Get Help – Heroin Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one needs help with a heroin addiction, please reach out to Luxe Recovery. Our knowledgeable admissions staff can walk you through the many treatment options.

Luxe Recovery offers our clients a top-notch program for drug abuse and mental health therapy as they make the decision to beat their addiction and live fulfilling lives in recovery.

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