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The Effects of Heroin on the Body

Heroin is an incredibly dangerous and addictive drug with devastating consequences for individuals, families, and communities. The effects of heroin on the body can lead to serious health risks including addiction and long-term damage to vital organs. By learning more about these issues we can better understand the urgency for those struggling with heroin addiction to seek professional treatment.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a potent and illegal opioid that is made from morphine, which comes from the opium poppy plant. It has been banned in the U.S. since 1924. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies it as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act due to its high risk of abuse and no acceptable medical purpose.

Heroin is commonly sold as a white or brownish-colored powder or as a dark, tacky substance known as “dark tar heroin.” It can be consumed by injecting, smoking, or snorting, among other ways. When ingested, heroin quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier and becomes morphine. Then, it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain delivering an extreme high.

The temporary effects of heroin use are euphoric. However, it also decreases pain and other effects like relaxation, slowed respiration, and pulse. The drug’s properties can be risky, especially when taken in high dosages or combined with different substances, especially other depressants such as alcohol. Heroin is highly addictive, and continued use can quickly lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. People who become dependent on heroin frequently face serious health problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 13,000 heroin overdose deaths in 2020. The number of people abusing prescription medication, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, is increasing. Many individuals who abuse prescription opioids look for a stronger, cheaper drug if they cannot get more prescription medications.

Since oxycodone and hydrocodone are similar to heroin, many people resort to heroin use. Heroin is much more dangerous than prescription medications. Especially, if laced with other drugs such as fentanyl which increases the risk of overdose even more.

What are the Short-Term Effects of Heroin on the Body?

Whether the user smokes, snorts, or injects heroin the drug reaches the brain quickly, making it highly addictive. Heroin enters the body and binds to the opioid receptors. Opioid receptors are located in many areas of the body, but especially high concentrations are found in areas of the brain that manage feelings of pain, and pleasure, as well as the control centers for regulating heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

The high that is produced from heroin gives the user a powerful “rush of euphoria” and a period of alertness. Then, followed by a relaxed, pleasurable feeling that can also act as a pain reliever. For nearly 3-5 hours after use, a person can expect to feel pleasure, have a decreased appetite, and have slowed breathing and heart rate.

Other short-term effects of heroin on the body include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Slurring of speech or talking slower than normal
  • Warm flushed skin
  • Decreased attention span
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itching
  • Slowed respiration and heart rate
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Nodding off or alternating between being conscious and semi-conscious
  • Overdose

What are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin on the Body?

Due to its highly addictive nature and associated health risks, regular use of heroin and addiction have serious consequences for individuals. Treatment programs, along with education about the dangers of heroin use, are essential to addressing the heroin epidemic and helping people recover from addiction.

Long-term effects of heroin on the body include:

  • Severe addiction
  • Scarring or collapsed veins from needle use
  • Bacterial infections of blood vessels and heart valves
  • Abscesses and other soft tissue infections
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women
  • Damage to vital organs
  • Risk of HIV and AIDS exposure and other infectious diseases
  • Weight loss
  • Overdose and death

Long-term Psychological Effects of Heroin Abuse

Regular and long-term use of heroin affects every aspect of a person’s life including financial and legal problems. Moreover, heroin use can lead to developing mental health problems. However, pre-existing mental health disorders are common with substance abuse leading to a dual diagnosis. It is critical to treat co-occurring disorders to ensure long-term sobriety.

Heroin Overdose

Overdosing on heroin has unfortunately increased over the years. A heroin overdose occurs when a person uses enough heroin to produce a life-threatening reaction that can lead to death. Consequently, high doses of heroin lead to slowed respiration and heart rate. Therefore, hypoxia occurs if a person does not receive enough oxygen to the brain. Hypoxia has both short and long-term damaging effects on the brain such as coma and permanent brain damage. 

If a heroin overdose is suspected, use naloxone right away. This life-saving treatment binds to opioid receptors in the brain to block the effects of heroin and other opioids. After naloxone treatment, the individual still needs medical care and evaluation. Also, some states do not require a prescription to dispense naloxone. 

Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

The effects of heroin on the body can also occur when attempting to cut back or stop using it. This leads to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Some common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness or agitation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Emotional distress
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Fever, cold chills, sweating
  • Headache and body pain
  • Uncontrolled leg movements
  • Complications can lead to emergency situations

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises people who are considering stopping heroin to consult medical professionals for support and guidance before trying to detox alone. 

Find Compassionate Treatment for Substance Use Disorders

If you are worried that you or someone you care about has a problem with heroin, it may be helpful to seek professional help. At Detox Nashville, addiction treatment specialists work with you or your loved one to assess your situation and develop an individualized treatment plan that meets your needs.

Contact us today to learn more about our safe and effective treatment programs at Detox Nashville.

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