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Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

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Chronic, long-term heroin misuse can result in a range of medical complications. The long-term effects of heroin abuse can be fatal. If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin use, Vertava Health offers heroin addiction treatment that can help. Call us at 888.601.8693 to learn more about treatment options.Man struggling with long-term effects of heroin abuse

Long-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

The long-term effects of heroin misuse are nothing to scoff at. The following are some long-term effects of heroin abuse:

1. Chronic respiratory issues, including damage to the lungs and difficulty breathing.

2. Damage to the cardiovascular system, which can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and blood clots.

3. Weakened immune system and an increased risk of infections.

4. Other organ damage, including to the liver and kidneys.

5. Psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety, and mood swings.

6. Cravings for heroin that can be difficult to overcome, even after treatment.

Heroin use can lead to addiction and dependence, which can be extremely difficult to overcome without professional help. If you or someone you love is struggling with heroin addiction or abuse, seek immediate treatment to begin the recovery process.

Various medical complications due to long-term heroin use can include:

  • Snorting. Damage to the lining of the nose, damage to the nasal septum (cartilage between the nostrils), and possible damage to the roof of the mouth.
  • Injecting. Collapsed veins, infection of the lining or valves of the heart, skin abscesses (pus-filled infections).
  • Smoking. Lung infections (pneumonia), irreversible lung damage, increased risk of mouth, throat, and lung cancers.

Prolonged exposure to opioids, such as heroin, can significantly influence an individual’s testosterone levels. In men, this can cause erectile dysfunction, and in women, it can cause irregular menstrual cycles. Over time, heroin can cause irreversible damage to the liver and kidneys, resulting in future liver or kidney disease. Long-term heroin abuse can also cause uncomfortable constipation and stomach cramping.

In addition to the effects of heroin, the additives sometimes added to the drug usually do not dissolve entirely in blood. Additives such as talcum powder or cornstarch may clog the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, which can cause infection or small patches of cells in these vital organs to die.

When patches of cells die off in vital organs, the immune system can start attacking them, believing they are foreign contaminants, which can lead to arthritis or other rheumatological problems.

Individuals who inject heroin are also at a higher risk for contracting HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne diseases.

How Long-Term Heroin Use Affects the Brain

Repetitive heroin use changes the physical structure and chemical composition of the brain. These changes then create long-term imbalances in neurons (chemicals in the brain) and hormones that are not easily reversed. Some scientific studies have shown long-term heroin use can also cause white brain matter to deteriorate.

White brain matter is thought to affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations. Many people who chronically use heroin also experience mental disorders, such as depression and antisocial personality disorder.

Long-Term Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal

Severe heroin addiction has been shown to start rapidly after significant use due to its effects on the pleasure and reward center of the brain. The longer someone uses heroin, the more their physical dependence on the drug increases. When someone develops a physical dependence on heroin, they will need substantially larger and more frequent doses to experience the same effects a smaller dose once had.

If someone who has developed a physical dependence suddenly stops using heroin, they can experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal typically happens within hours after the last time the drug was taken.

Possible heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes
  • Goosebumps
  • Involuntary leg movements

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms typically peaks between 24 and 48 hours after the last dose and last about a week. In some cases, though, individuals may experience an extended withdrawal period that lasts for months.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for Long-Term Heroin Use

Medication-assisted treatments can help people stop heroin use. It is vital that the best treatment approach is used to meet the particular needs of every individual.

Medications, including FDA-approved lofexidine, are currently being developed to help with the withdrawal process. Lofexidine is a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Other medications used to treat heroin use include buprenorphine (Suboxone, Subutex) and methadone. These medications work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin, but they don’t interact as much as heroin, which in turn reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Treating Long-Term Heroin Use at Vertava Health

Long-term heroin use can result in a severe addiction to the drug. In most cases, it is best to seek help from a professional heroin addiction treatment program, not only due to the possibly fatal side effects when withdrawing from the heroin but also because of the intense psychological component involved in heroin addiction. Contact Vertava Health at 888.601.8693 to learn more about treatment options.