The Immediate and Long-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse


Heroin is a dangerous, even deadly, drug. Its addictive powers are well known, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Because heroin has such a powerful impact on the brain, it can cause a vast array of both short-term and long-term side effects. These side effects of this drug use have a wide-ranging ripple effect, touching on just about every aspect of a person’s life. Drug abuse can destroy a person’s life, and that is especially true when it comes to heroin use disorder or addiction.

Short-term drug abuse can begin the moment someone first takes heroin. The drug has an instantaneous impact on the brain because it converts to morphine. In this way, it triggers the reward center in the brain and creates a flood of dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that signals the brain that a pleasurable event is occurring. This rush is addictive, and if the drug use continues, it can create a cascade of long-term effects that are indicative of chronic drug abuse. These effects are the culmination of years of toll and stress the body and mind suffer from heroin use. 

These long-term effects are especially problematic because they are affecting so many people at a younger age. According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, roughly  948,000 people in the United States reported using heroin, a number that has been consistently rising since 2007. That increase has been attributed to more widespread use among young people ages 18 to 25.

To realize just how serious heroin use can be, it’s important to understand what the effects can be, in both the short and long term. In turn, it is also crucial to see how the results of drug abuse can wreak havoc in the life of a person.

The Short-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

The effect heroin can have on a person depends on how much was taken, how often a person has used it before, and whether it was smoked, snorted, or injected, among other factors. Here are the typical immediate effects of heroin drug use:

  • A rush of euphoria brought on by excessive dopamine in the brain. Again, the intensity of the rush depends on how much of the drug was taken.
  • A feeling of heat coursing through the body. The skin can also look flushed as a result of this intense warmth.
  • A dry, cottony feeling in the mouth.
  • Heaviness in the arms and legs.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • An almost-uncontrollable itchy sensation.
  • Overwhelming fatigue, which usually sets in once the high wears off and can last for hours.
  • Several areas of the body slow down, including cognitive function, heart rate, and breathing rate. This happens because heroin can affect the brain stem, which governs basic automatic body functions. When breathing slows down to an alarming rate, there is a greater risk of brain damage or falling into a coma.
  • The inability to feel pain, as those signals are blocked from moving out of the spinal cord to the rest of the body.
  • Potential overdose, especially if the heroin has been altered with another substance. Breathing problems and an alarmingly low heart rate are major signs of an overdose; others include delirium, a weak pulse, a blue tinge to the lips and fingernails, small pupils, and jerky and uncontrollable muscle twitches.

The Long-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

As heroin use builds up over time, so does the toll the drug takes on the body. Drug abuse brings with it plenty of problematic symptoms:

  • Physical changes to the brain’s structure, such as damage to the white matter. This can cause several kinds of issues, such as a hormonal imbalance. 
  • Insomnia.
  • Constipation.
  • Lung or breathing problems.
  • Sexual performance problems for men.
  • Irregular menstrual cycles.
  • Damage to the nasal passages if the drug is snorted.
  • Damage to the veins if the drug is injected, including infection or collapsed veins.
  • A higher risk of infectious diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis C, if needles are shared.
  • Depression or antisocial tendencies.
  • Increased tolerance to heroin. This means more of the drug needs to be taken to achieve a euphoric high. If this high rate of drug abuse continues, it can lead to dependence, which, in extreme cases, can lead to addiction. 
  • Intense withdrawal symptoms if drug use stops. These include diarrhea, insomnia, vomiting, pain in muscles and bones, leg tremors, and restlessness.

The Damage Caused By Heroin Drug Abuse

Both short-term and long-term heroin abuse is dangerous. The effects of drug use spill over into everyday life and change it for the worse. 

Physically, the body can weaken and be more susceptible to disease and illness. Chronic heroin use can cause those conditions to worsen, which means severe health care crises can flare-up. That can result in high healthcare costs, lost work hours and a heavy emotional toll.

Addiction can cause a person to lose interest in their normal hobbies or pastimes, while at the same time avoiding their daily responsibilities and obligations. That means someone could lose their job for poor performance or must drop out of school for missing too many classes. This is also impacted by the damage heroin use can inflict on brain function, which can lead to poor decisions or a lack of focus. The mind and body also can’t adapt well to stress, and that can make it more tempting to self-medicate with heroin, especially if the person is also experiencing depression.

The only motivation is to keep using heroin, at the expense of everything else. And that includes friends and family — drug abuse can create rifts in relationships that may not heal until the person can give up drug use and remain sober. If addiction kicks in, the risk of overdosing becomes a serious threat, and knowing how to stop using heroin becomes a matter of urgency.

At Clear Sky Recovery, we understand how serious substance abuse and addiction can be, which is why we specialize in heroin and opiate treatment that uses a cutting-edge ibogaine therapy to address drug addictions. Don’t wait any longer to reclaim your life, or help a loved one struggling with heroin use—contact us today.