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The Effects Of Heroin On The Body

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Heroin is one of the most powerful illicit drugs found on the street today. Derived from morphine, heroin is sold as a powder or as a black, sticky or coal-like substance called “black tar” heroin. Both forms are equally addictive.

Heroin is used several ways, including by injection, smoking it, sniffing it or snorting it. Each of these ways subjects an individual’s body to a host of dangers, including addiction, withdrawal, transmissible diseases and organ damage.

Selecting an individualized inpatient drug rehabilitation program gives a person the greatest opportunity for healing from these effects. The goal of these treatments is to equip a person with versatile skills to build a drug-free life.

Short-Term Physical Effects Of Heroin Use

Heroin has one of the fastest effects of all illicit drugs. When injecting the drug intravenously, the peak effects hit in only seven to eight seconds. The sense of euphoria gained from this or any other method is referred to as a rush.

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In addition to this, a person will likely have:

  • a dry mouth
  • heaviness in their limbs
  • intense itching
  • pain suppression
  • nausea and vomiting
  • warm, flushed skin

A person may also go from wakeful to drowsy, a state called “going on the nod.”

During this time a person may have clouded thoughts and slowed thinking. Breathing rates can fall, placing a person in jeopardy of respiratory failure.

Long-Term Physical Effects Of Heroin Use

When a person takes heroin they’re putting a poison into their body. When used chronically, this causes numerous, adverse health effects, including:

  • holes in the nose from snorting the drug (perforated septum)
  • irregular menstrual cycles (women)
  • lung complications from smoking the drug
  • sexual dysfunction (men)

Heroin use can cause brain damage. Research has found that heroin depletes the brain’s white matter. These structural changes make it harder for a person to control their behaviors and make good decisions.

Heroin is frequently cut with other substances. When the body comes into contact with these contaminants it could develop an immune reaction. Certain rheumatologic conditions may develop from this response, including arthritis.

Physical Damage From Injection Drug Use

Heroin drug users inject the drug intravenously, intramuscularly and subcutaneously. Intravenous (IV) injection is the most invasive way of using heroin.

Dangers of injection drug use include serious inflammation and infection, including:

  • abscesses
  • cellulitis
  • cotton fever
  • necrotizing fasciitis (“flesh-eating disease”)
  • sepsis

IV drug use causes visible arm to the injection site, including bruises, scabs, scars and needle marks which won’t heal. Many individuals inject multiple times to the same site, which causes collapsed veins or vascular scarring (track marks).

Transmissible Diseases From Heroin Use

By injecting heroin directly into the vein, a person is exposing themselves to the risk of sometimes deadly bloodborne illnesses. These transmissible diseases include HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C and others. Sharing needles cause these diseases to spread.

Injection drug use isn’t the only way these diseases are transmitted. Heroin alters a person’s ability to make sound judgments. This increases risky behaviors like unsafe sexual practices which spread these diseases in other ways.

Heroin-Induced Organ Damage

Heroin is immensely toxic to the body. Chronic injection drug use can cause the heart’s lining and valves to become infected, a condition called endocarditis.

When a person injects heroin there’s a good chance they are also flooding their body with contaminants contained within the drug. These adulterants don’t easily dissolve, causing blood vessels to the organs to be blocked. From this, organ tissues may become infected or cells may die. The lungs, liver, kidneys, and brain all face potential damage this way.

Long-term heroin use causes prolonged respiratory depression. Combined with the general state of poor health heroin drug users face, this can cause lung complications. These risks include tuberculosis and various types of pneumonia.

Pregnancy Complications Caused By Heroin Use

When a pregnant woman uses heroin the drug passes through the placenta to the child. This can cause the baby to become dependent on the drug right along with the mother. This is called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS).

Heroin use can also cause:

  • birth defects
  • low birth weight
  • miscarriage
  • premature birth
  • stillbirth

Maternal heroin use has also been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Heroin Is Highly Addictive

Heroin’s ability to form such fast and strong addictions is due to the way the drug interacts with the brain’s makeup and chemistry. Once heroin enters the brain it is rapidly converted to morphine. This makes it more widely available and potent to the brain.

The brain contains opioid receptors which regulate the body’s pain-fighting abilities and sense of well-being. The morphine which results has unique properties which allow it to attach to these receptor sites. When this happens, the brain releases a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

Dopamine is responsible for creating feelings of pleasure. At the levels produced by heroin use, these sensations become intense. This effect creates the rush or euphoric state heroin users pursue. Once a person experiences this feel-good effect, they’re driven to use the drug again.

As an individual encounters tolerance and dependence to the drug, the risk of addiction climbs.

Tolerance And Dependence From Heroin Use

The rush from heroin is so intense that an individual often experiences a desire to use more of the drug quite quickly. As these feelings become more frequent, the amount of heroin a person uses increases.

Eventually, a person will not be able to create the high they originally experienced. This is called a tolerance. This leads a person to take more of the drug, increasing the odds of dependence and addiction.

Heroin can cause a physical dependency in a short period of time. When this happens, the body and brain become chemically imbalanced. Normally, the body produces certain opioid-like chemicals on its own, however, in the presence of heroin it’s tricked into believing it doesn’t have to.

Once these levels are reduced, the body relies on the heroin to fill their void. If a person doesn’t take heroin, the body has a strong reaction called withdrawal.

Withdrawal From Heroin Use

Withdrawal from heroin includes the following uncomfortable and painful symptoms:

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

The most severe withdrawal symptoms occur between 24 and 48 hours after a person quits using heroin. These symptoms typically go away after about a week. The exact duration and severity of withdrawal is unique to each person.

Overdose From Heroin Use

It’s estimated that one quarter of all overdose deaths in America are caused by heroin. The majority of individuals who overdose are addicted, however, a person may overdose the first time they try heroin.

Signs of a heroin overdose include:

  • blue-tinged fingernails and lips
  • constipation
  • delirium
  • discolored tongue
  • disorientation
  • drowsiness
  • dry mouth
  • labored, slow, stopped or shallow breathing
  • low blood pressure
  • pinpoint pupils
  • stomach spasms
  • uncontrollable muscle movements
  • weak pulse

An overdose can cause coma or death. Prompt medical attention may stop an overdose from progressing to these dangerous stages. Contact emergency medical help to seek this assistance.

In addition to these physical health effects, heroin can greatly imbalance a person’s mental health. Heroin use may cause mental health problems, such as depression and antisocial personality disorder.

Overcome A Heroin Addiction

Beating an addiction to heroin is hard work, but with the right heroin treatment program it is possible.

The best inpatient drug rehab programs utilize a combination of medications and behavioral therapies to treat heroin addiction. This ensures that both the physical and psychological effects of the addiction are addressed. With this assistance, healing and a stable, sober life are possible.

Reach out to to learn more about heroin addiction treatment options.