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Health Effects of Heroin Addiction

It’s no secret that heroin use is bad for your health, but just how bad is it? From mild symptoms to severe and permanent health problems, the health effects of heroin addiction run a spectrum that can become progressively worse the longer it is abused. Furthermore, depending on how it is used, some organs and systems are damaged worse than others. 

What is Heroin? 

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from the Opium Poppy plant. It can be found as a brown or white powder or as a black sticky substance known as Black Tar Heroin. It can be injected, snorted, or smoked. 

Because opioid receptors are located in the brain, brain stem, spinal cord, lungs and intestines the effects of heroin use can be far reaching within the body. It depresses the Central Nervous System, slowing the heart rate, lung and brain function. 

Heroin is extremely addictive and causes physical dependency. A heroin user will go into withdrawal within 6-12 hours of their last use so the constant chase of their next fix can become all consuming. For most heroin users, the drug is the only thing that matters in their life. 

Health Effects of Heroin Addiction

Heroin’s depressive function on the circulatory system puts users at greater risk of lung complications like pneumonia and tuberculosis. Even in the short term, there have been cases of respiratory failure following heroin use. 

Heroin affects all organ systems in the body and can cause liver and kidney diseases. Furthermore, many of the additives in street heroin do not readily dissolve and can clog the blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys or brain. This can cause infection or even death of small patches of cells in vital organs. Allergic or immune reactions to these or other contaminants can cause autoimmune issues such as arthritis or rheumatologic problems. 

Heroin can also cause long-term impotence in men, loss of sexual desire in women, and an inability to orgasm in all sexes. 

Injection (Intravenous Use) Risks

Further health effects can result from intravenous usage. For example: 

Vein Collapse

Heroin causes vein collapse which inhibits the body’s ability to circulate blood. Sometimes the veins can be repaired but other times the collapse is permanent. 

Blood, Tissue, Skin Infections

Bacterial infections, abscesses (boils) and other soft tissue infections at or around injection sites can be caused by intravenous use. Wound from intense itching, a common side effect of heroin use can also cause also increase risk of infections. 

Increased risk for HIV, Hepatitis, and other communicable diseases

Shared needles can increase the spread of communicable diseases. For example, drug injection accounts for 1 in 10 cases of HIV and is a major cause in the spread of Hepatitis C.

Overdoses from Heroin

Perhaps the most serious health complication and major cause of death among heroin users is overdosing. In 2018, nearly 15,000 people in America died from heroin overdose and cases have been rising sharply in the US over the past few years. There are multiple causes for overdose but a factor of major concern at present is the prevalence of Fentanyl in street heroin. Fentanyl is 100 times more potent than morphine and many times more potent than heroin. It is a major contributor to overdoses across the country because heroin users do not know it is there and take their normal amount, but the dose is far more potent than it would normally be. Often even dealers do not know that the heroin they are selling contains Fentanyl. The dangers associated with heroin are only increasing. 

Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin

Withdrawal symptoms from heroin can be particularly painful. The severity of symptoms depends on the average amount, frequency and potency of heroin a person uses. Avoidance of withdrawal symptoms often causes addicts to return to heroin use even when they’ve resolved to quit. 

These symptoms include: 

  • Muscle Aches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Cold Flashes
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Shakiness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Bone Pain

*Note: Quitting heroin cold turkey can be dangerous to your health and should be done with medical supervision wherein withdrawal symptoms can be properly managed.

Detoxing from Heroin in a Professional Treatment Environment

Professional addiction treatment centers, like Harmony Recovery Group, can help mitigate the health risks associated with heroin withdrawal and reduce symptoms and cravings through medication. At Harmony, we use prescription medication Suboxone which can help patients through the detox process or even be used in the long-term to prevent relapse. Learn more about Medication Assisted Treatment on our recent blog.

We hope this has helped to clarify the health effects of heroin addiction and the risks associated with its use. The sooner you seek help for your addiction, the more able to recover your body and mind will be.  If you or a loved one are struggling with Opioid or Heroin Addiction, contact us today. We are here to help. 


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