Something potentially easy to forget when interacting with drugs is the reality of their effects, and not just the short-term, “positive” effects, like the euphoria or high experienced post inhalation, injection, etc. Typically, illicit drugs are sought out with the intent to experience this short-term effect, but the long-term effects – the ones which stick with an individual for much longer than a temporary high – are both overlooked and serious. 

What is heroin?

Heroin is one such substance used for its short-term feeling of euphoria or pleasure. Heroin is classified as a Schedule I drug because of its high risk for abuse and the subsequent lack of acceptable medical use. An opioid crafted from morphine, it is obtained only from illegal distributors who frequently “cut” the heroin with other dangerous substances to make one batch last longer. Heroin is dangerous enough on its own, but when you get a dose that’s only 3% heroin, and 97% rat poison or laundry detergent, it can be extremely fatal.

Short-term effects of heroin

Heroin is one of the more fast-acting drugs, in that it is flushed out of the body approximately 30 minutes after being taken, but its effects last longer than other substances like meth and cocaine. How long heroin remains in the system (in blood, urine and hair) is additionally related to the individual. Factors such as age, height, and weight, genetics, the amount and quality of the drug and even the level of hydration in the body play a part in how long heroin affects the body.

It is used either by smoking, snorting or injecting the substance, which is followed almost immediately by intense pleasure or euphoria. In addition to the euphoria, the rush of heroin to the brain also may result in other short-term effects like: 

  • Flushed skin
  • Intense itchiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs  

After these initial effects have subsided, a feeling of intense relaxation and drowsiness settles in. Mental clarity becomes clouded, and heart rate and breathing slow to such a decreased rate that it can be life-threatening. The lack of blood and oxygen to the brain can be coma-inducing or permanently damaging to the brain and/or other vital organs.

Effects of heroin on the brain

While the body might flush heroin out of its system quickly, its long-term effects can be lasting.

Your brain naturally makes opioid chemicals as a response to pain in the body. While they don’t create enough pain relief to help with chronic pain, it is a natural way of easing some of the lesser aches within the body. Heroin use, however, confuses this natural process – as synthetically strong opioid chemicals, heroin binds to the opioid receptors in the brain and works to create an intense rush of dopamine and, ultimately, painlessness. 

This doesn’t occur without consequences. As the brain becomes accustomed to this synthetic opioid, it begins to change internally as well. According to NIDA, “Repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed. Studies have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which may affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.”

A repeated heroin user not only alters the physical makeup of their brain but suffers from the inability to make healthy changes in regards to their lifestyle and behavior. 

Long term effects of heroin

Heroin is one of the substances to which the body builds tolerance the longer it’s used, meaning more and more of the substance is needed to feel its effects. Not only does this affect the normal functioning of the brain and cause the individual to become completely dependent on the substance, but it also has a number of other physical effects: 

  • Insomnia
  • Damaged nose tissue from snorting
  • Collapsed veins from injection
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Lung problems like pneumonia
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Mental disorders like depression or antisocial personality disorder
  • High risk of HIV or hepatitis C
  • Clogged blood vessels from foreign substances in cut heroin

Not to mention the fact that heroin is highly addictive. Once an individual becomes addicted to heroin, it becomes a long and difficult process to detox an individual and eliminate the addiction.  

Seeking help from heroin addiction

Heroin addiction is not only extremely dangerous because of the high risk of overdose, but it’s equally difficult to overcome on one’s own. The way in which heroin overtakes the brain and the challenges of heroin withdrawal, the process of breaking a heroin addiction is best overseen by medical professionals and licensed counselors for optimal physical and mental care. 

To speak with someone about heroin addiction or to get the help you or a loved one needs, reach out to Silver Ridge Recovery today at 855-945-7788.