What Does Heroin Do To Your Body?

Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid drug that can cause serious harm to the body. Those who use heroin can suffer from aftereffects that include addiction, brain damage, chronic medical complications, or even overdose and death. Seeking treatment for heroin addiction is the best way to prevent the long-term and potentially fatal side effects of heroin abuse.


Using heroin can severely impact your body. Just one use can cause severe complications and make it difficult to stop taking the drug. Heroin can be smoked or snorted, but most users inject it directly for the quickest high.

Smoking or injecting this drug increases the potential for addiction and overdose. Those who are addicted will have a challenging time quitting. People suffering from heroin addiction often exhibit compulsive behaviors to obtain and use the drug.

The longer a person abuses heroin, the more damage to the body he or she will experience. However, many people who abuse heroin will experience the short-term effects of the drug after just a few uses. Both short-term and long-term damage can occur as a result of heroin abuse.

Effects Of Short-Term Heroin Use On The Body

Heroin is a very fast-acting drug. Once it enters the system, it quickly creates reactions in the brain and pulses throughout the body. When injecting the drug intravenously, the effects take roughly seven to eight seconds to be felt. People who use heroin report feeling an immediate surge of pleasurable sensations. This is referred to as a rush.

While the rush happens immediately, there is also a variety of aftereffects that occur from heroin. Heroin does not only provide the user with a euphoric rush. On the heels of this rush, the drug can present a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • alternating between drowsiness and wakefulness
  • respiratory depression
  • decreased heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dry mouth
  • intense itching
  • flushing of the skin
  • a heavy feeling in the extremities
  • clouded mental functions
  • slowed breathing
  • slurred speech
  • constricted pupils

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Effects Of Long-Term Heroin Use On The Body

Long-term heroin use can destroy the gray matter in the brain. Gray matter in the brain controls muscle movement, sight, hearing, emotions, speech, decision-making, and behavior.

All of these functions can be impaired through heroin use. The longer the use of the drug and the higher the dosage, the more stress is put on the body. Unfortunately, long-term use can create imbalances that are not easily reversed.

When the brain is impacted by heroin over an extended period of time, an individual may develop the inability to regulate behavior or fail to respond to stressful situations. Heroin also produces substantial degrees of tolerance and physical dependence that make quitting the drug extremely difficult.

In addition to the damage to the brain, other long-term effects of heroin use on the body include:

  • inflamed gums
  • chronic constipation
  • tooth decay and tooth loss
  • weakened immune system
  • respiratory problems
  • muscular weakness
  • memory loss
  • decreased sexual function

Tolerance And Dependence From Heroin Abuse

The rush from heroin use is so intense and pleasurable that the individual often experiences a desire to repeat the process. The cycle of consumption and desire becomes more frequent, and the amount of heroin a person uses increases.

Eventually, the feeling from that original high is difficult to obtain, and the person needs to use more of the drug for the desired results. This is called tolerance. Tolerance occurs when more of the drug is required to achieve the same effects. With physical heroin dependence, the body adapts to the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur quickly if the drug is stopped.

Heroin causes physical dependency in a short period of time. When addiction happens, the body and the brain become chemically imbalanced. If heroin is not consistently introduced into a person’s body, they have a strong reaction called withdrawal.

Withdrawal From Heroin Abuse

When a physical dependence on heroin exists and the drug is stopped, a person will begin to experience withdrawal. Typically, withdrawal symptoms start within six to 12 hours of the last dose, peak in two to three days, and last up to 10 days in total.

Withdrawal from heroin may include the following symptoms:

  • cold flashes with goosebumps
  • muscle and bone pain
  • nervousness
  • restlessness
  • strong cravings
  • trouble sleeping
  • uncontrollable leg movements
  • vomiting and diarrhea

These withdrawal symptoms range in severity based on the level of dependence and duration of abuse. Unfortunately, many people who attempt to stop using heroin relapse or overdose in an effort to reduce the symptoms of the withdrawal.

Heroin Overdose

When tolerance is achieved, a person will begin taking larger doses of the drug to meet the high. Unfortunately, the body may not be able to handle higher doses of the drug and an individual may experience an overdose.

Heroin overdose fatalities are mainly due to respiratory failure or asphyxiation. Large doses of heroin will slow the respiratory system and cause the person to appear very drowsy or sleepy.

Leaving someone to “sleep it off” can be a hazardous or life-threatening situation. A heroin overdose can cause long-term complications in the body and brain and can even lead to death.

The following are signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose:

  • low blood pressure
  • pinpoint pupils
  • sedation
  • blue or purple nails and lips
  • delirium
  • disorientation
  • dry mouth
  • shallow or slow breathing
  • stomach and intestinal spasms
  • uncontrolled muscle movements
  • weak pulse
  • coma
  • unresponsiveness

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Physical and emotional healing from heroin needs to begin in a safe detox center while undergoing a comprehensive heroin addiction treatment program. If you believe that your loved one is abusing heroin, contact Vertava Health of Massachusetts right away. Our treatment facility provides individualized programs for people struggling with heroin abuse and addiction.

At Vertava Health of Massachusetts, we offer you or your loved one a variety of treatment methods and techniques. All of our programs are based on medically proven methods that have been tested and approved for use in addiction treatment.

Our addiction treatment methods include:

  • medically supervised detox
  • physical health monitoring
  • dual diagnosis treatment
  • recreational treatment
  • group therapy
  • behavioral adjustment techniques
  • aftercare services

Addiction treatment is a serious commitment and requires ongoing maintenance. At Vertava Health of Massachusetts, we will promise to be with you or your loved one every step of the way. If you want to learn more about heroin addiction or talk to one of our specialists, call us today.


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