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How Heroin Affects Your Body

by Landmark Recovery

January 20, 2021

In the United States, heroin is a huge problem.

Nearly 1 million people a year report that they’ve used heroin. The use of heroin is so prevalent in the United States, in fact, that it’s considered an epidemic. This has prompted dozens of detox and treatment centers to open up over the past few years.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that overdose deaths linked to heroin reached nearly 15,000. That’s 41 people dying from heroin use every day.

Heroin is a dangerous drug, and today we’ll give you an in-depth look at what it does to your body.

What Is Heroin?

Morphine is a substance that occurs naturally in the seeds of opium poppy plants that grow throughout South America and Asia.

Heroin is derived from morphine, and it’s a highly addictive drug that is illegal to use. Heroin contributes greatly to the ongoing opioid epidemic throughout the US.

Typically found as a white powder, pure heroin is smoked or snorted by users. Often, it’s cut with starches, sugars, or other bulking agents.

Another type of heroin is black tar heroin. The crude processing of this heroin leaves behind a lot of impurities resulting in the sticky black appearance. Users of this impure heroin must dissolve and dilute the drug, and it’s injected by needle.

How Does Heroin Work?

When someone smokes, snorts, or injects heroin, the drug binds to certain receptors and neurotransmitters in the brain. These are the areas of the brain that regulate pain, release hormones, and tell us if something feels good.

Once the heroin activates these areas, the hormone dopamine is released and floods the body. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends messages of pleasure throughout the body, and it activates the reward circuit.

Your body and brain learn that using heroin brings feelings of pleasure, you might experience pain relief, euphoria, or a false sense of well-being. Unfortunately, the pleasure doesn’t last long. A heroin high can dissipate within minutes depending on method of use.

Once your dopamine levels begin to drop and the high subsides, you will likely want to feel like this again, which leads to intense cravings for heroin. This cycle of cravings and highs can easily result in addiction. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs there is.

The feelings of pleasure mask the damage that is being done to your body, though.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin on the Body

Heroin quickly takes hold inside the body, giving a rush of pleasure that’s often followed by hours of drowsiness.

There are many side effects to heroin use, including:

  • Decreased lung function
  • Dry mouth
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Flushed skin
  • Itchiness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Vomiting

Though these short-term symptoms can cause the user to feel miserable, the pull of the high is incredibly strong.

As someone gives in to these cravings, their tolerance for heroin will increase. This means they will need to use more of the drug to achieve the same high.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin on the Body

As the person continues to use heroin over longer periods of time, they will experience other physical and mental health problems.

Some of the physical long term effects of heroin include:

  • Brain damage
  • Collapsed veins
  • Coma
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Higher chance of overdosing
  • Higher risk of Hepatitis B and C
  • Increased risk of blood clots and strokes
  • Increased risk of contracting HIV
  • Liver disease
  • Respiratory/breathing problems
  • Skin abscesses
  • Weakened immune system

Effects of Heroin on the Brain

Over time, heroin use can destroy your brain’s gray matter. This is especially concerning because the gray matter is responsible for decision making, muscle control, and speech. Prolonged use of heroin can make it extremely difficult for a person to live a normal life.

The method of taking heroin can impact the effects of the drug, too. Those who inject heroin are more likely to develop blood infections and experience collapsed veins, and they are at higher risk for hepatitis and HIV due to the increased incidences of sharing needles.

Mental Effects of Heroin Use

Heroin can have an effect on a person’s mental state, as well. Those who abuse heroin can experience things like depression and anxiety as well as being overly agitated or easily confused. Heroin users also have a decrease in cognitive function.

What Comes Next for Heroin Abuse and Addiction

Heroin is a real problem in America, and it’s destroying many people’s lives. Addiction is a complicated disease, and overcoming it requires specialized care.

Here at Landmark Recovery, it’s our mission to help people heal from their addictions and live better lives.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to heroin, please reach out to us today! We are ready to help you through this so call our admissions team at 888-448-0302.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.