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Apex Recovery Blog

Side Effects of Heroin Abuse

A man putting his head into his hand as an indicator of stress.

A lingering danger during the country’s current opioid epidemic is heroin. Often, those who abuse opioid painkillers will eventually turn to heroin when they have run out of other options. The difference here is that heroin can only be acquired by illegal means, which adds another level of danger to this potent drug. Just like its other opioid counterparts, heroin is highly addictive and can lead to a number of physical, mental, and social issues if a person uses the drug continuously for a period of time. Let’s take a closer look at the many potential side effects of heroin abuse and why heroin addiction treatment is so important.

The Heroin High

Heroin is popular because of the intense, euphoric high it produces. The drug creates these feelings by binding to opioid receptors in the user’s body. This causes the affected nerve cells to release a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which regulates a person’s feelings of pleasure and reward.

When a person takes heroin, they get a rush of dopamine in their body, which is what gives them the intense feeling of euphoria. This is how addiction starts and grows because the user will want to repeat the behavior to achieve the same sensation. While the euphoric high is the first main effect of heroin use, there are some other short-term effects that often come with a dose of heroin.

Short-Term Side Effects of Heroin Abuse

Once the initial effects of euphoria wear off, the user will still feel drowsy for several hours. This period can come with some much less enjoyable side effects, from minor nuisances to more difficult to deal with, and even some serious health risks. These side effects occur when the body adapts to the heroin in its system, attempting to counterbalance its effects and restore the affected parts of the body to their normal functions.

These side effects may initially manifest as dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, and some severe itching. The person will feel groggy and be in a general haze, with slowed mental function putting them in a state of confusion. They are also likely to have constricted pupils that will make them extremely sensitive to light. Those are the easy/minor symptoms. However, the short-term side effects of heroin can be much more serious.

Heroin also causes the body to lose temperature and slows the user’s heart rate. Their breathing may slow enough to become life-threatening or lead to coma and permanent brain damage. And of course, there is the risk for overdose. While death might not seem like a short-term effect, it is actually both. A heroin dose is impossible to measure because of the vast differences in purity, meaning it is never safe to use heroin. Long-time and first-time users alike overdose. It is certainly a substance best avoided altogether.

Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin Abuse

Long-term abuse will cause the user’s muscles to weaken and keep them in a general sedated state. Because heroin can cause a user’s skin to itch, prolonged use can cause damaged skin due to excessive scratching. Pustules may also appear on the person’s skin, often on the face. Heroin abusers will often encounter insomnia as well as severe constipation, and will often experience sexual side effects, including impotence and the inability to achieve orgasm. The presence of heroin can also disrupt the female menstrual cycle.

Other physical side effects can be much more destructive to the body. A person who frequently injects the drug may cause their veins to collapse, which can then lead to infections in their blood vessels and heart valves. They may encounter arthritis and tuberculosis because of the poor condition of their body. Bacterial infections are also common, as well as skin disease and abscesses around injection sites. Pregnant women are at high risk for miscarriage, as well as placing their child at risk for a communicable disease, in addition to being addicted to heroin from birth.

Major-Risk Side Effects

The list of potential major-risk side effects is long but includes:

  • Liver disease
  • Infections of the valves and lining of the heart
  • HIV or Hepatitis B and C
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Blood clots, leading to stroke, pulmonary embolism, and heart attack
  • Kidney disease
  • Risks of contracting chronic illnesses
  • Risks for blood-borne pathogens
  • Septicemia
  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizures
  • Overdose
  • Death

Since heroin users often share needles, they put themselves at risk for developing AIDS and other infections, such as liver disease. Beyond health concerns, heroin abuse also causes side effects to the user’s personal life, including their finances, relationships with family and friends, trouble at school or their job, and of course, potential legal consequences from using the illegal drug.

Get the Help You Need Today From Apex Recovery

This list barely scratches the surface of the many potentially damaging side effects of heroin abuse. It is a drug that wreaks absolute havoc on a person’s system, creating a ripple effect from their appearance to their physical and mental health, all the way down to their personal and professional lives.

If you or a loved one is experiencing any side effects of heroin abuse or is suffering from heroin addiction, our heroin treatment center is here to help. Seek treatment today by calling (877) 881-2689 or reaching out online.

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