Heroin effects

Serious problems manifest in the brain and body of heroin users. The immune system is in danger, plus heart and respiratory complications are common. More on the effects of heroin here.

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The immediate effects after a dose of heroin include a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in your arms and legs. Other accompanying symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. However, using heroin has adverse side effects on the brain, central nervous system (CNS), and the entire body.

What are the specific effect of heroin? More on the physical and mental health consequences of heroin use here with a section at the end for your questions and comments.

Heroin effects on the brain

When administrated, heroin quickly reaches the brain where it binds to the opioid receptors. These receptors are involved in the perception of pleasure and pain. So, a person using heroin will soon show signs of euphoria, while also feeling a relief of physical pain.

What’s more, heroin can increase feelings of pleasure by altering activity in the limbic system, which controls emotions. By altering the brain in such a way, heroin is responsible for creating physical addiction which is typical for heroin addicts.

Heroin effects on the heart

Heroin use is associated with a decrease in heart function. In more serious cases, it can lead to infection of the heart lining and valves which can cause serious long term health consequences. Another risk arises from the fact that many heroin users also drink alcohol. Mixing heroin and alcohol can cause a considerable slowdown of the heart rate which can oftentimes be life-threatening.

Heroin effects on the immune system

The immune system of heroin users is seriously jeopardized as a result of poor nutrition and neglect. Heroin users can considerably alter their immune functioning, thus exposing themselves to a number of diseases and health complications.

Heroin effects on the pancreas

Acute inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) has been reported in heroin users.

Heroin effects on the lungs

Heroin depresses breathing by changing neurochemical activity in the brain stem, which is where automatic body functions such as breathing and heart rate are controlled. Slowed breathing can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage.

Besides the devastating effects of the drug itself, there are batches of heroin that contain toxic contaminants which can clog blood vessels that lead to the lungs and cause its permanent damage.

Heroin effects on the liver

Abnormal functioning and degenerative vesicular and fat changes of the liver have been reported in heroin users. It is believed that these changes are related to an increase in hemoglobin levels, commonly seen among the heroin population. However, more research is needed to justify this claim.

Heroin effects on personality and behavior

There is no particular correlation between heroin use and personality pattern changes. What’s commonly seen in heroin users though are behavioral changes including:

  • compulsion to use heroin
  • disorientation
  • euphoria
  • hyperactivity
  • loss of interest in other activities
  • lying
  • secrecy
  • unstable mood

Heroin effects on blood pressure

As mentioned above, when administrated, heroin binds to the opioid receptors in the brain which control the blood pressure among other vital processes. This process causes a significant drop in blood pressure and can even be fatal.

Heroin effects on heart rate

The opioid receptors to which heroin binds in the brain also control the heart rate and can cause a considerable slow down, especially if the drug is taken in conjunction with alcohol.

Heroin effects on the skin

The skin of a heroin user can suffer a great deal, and not only from abscesses which occur when heroin is injected into the blood stream, but also from bruising as a result of malnutrition. Poor nutrition and personal hygiene as well as dehydration can cause itchy and dry skin.

Heroin effects on sexuality and ability

A heroin user’s sexual life is also adversely affected by the drug, and may result in some long term consequences. Symptoms often experienced by heroin users include:

  • erection difficulties
  • decreased libido
  • abnormalities of the semen
  • reproductive issues
  • transmission of infections such as HIV, hepatitis B or C

Heroin effects on pregnancy

What are the effects of heroin on pregnancy? Heroin affects users’ ability to conceive. Irregular menstrual periods in women, in addition to sexual dysfunction and abnormal semen make getting pregnant difficult.

On the other hand, those who can and do get pregnant, are putting their pregnancy and their child in danger from:

  • premature delivery
  • spontaneous abortion
  • still born

Heroin effects on a fetus

Heroin crosses the placenta, so infections such as HIV, hepatitis B or C can be passed on to the fetus from the mother. Blood poisoning which is often seen in heroin users can also harm the developing fetus.

Moreover, children of heroin addicted mothers may have withdrawal symptoms when born. They may also experience neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), be sick in the first few weeks of life, develop seizures and even die.

Heroin effects on breast milk

Children of heroin addict mothers suffer from acute intoxication if they are breastfed with the milk from their mothers. Malnutrition as a result of the poor nutritional value of the breast milk is another highly probable consequence for sucklings.

Heroin effects on dopamine

Our bodies contain naturally occurring chemicals that are called neurotransmitters. They bind to receptors throughout the brain and body and regulate pain, hormone release, and feelings of well-being. Heroin, like other psychoactive drugs, alters the neurotransmittion by neurons in the reward pathway of the brain. In that way heroin alters the communication between neurons mediated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

By indirectly exciting the dopamine-containing neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) heroin increases the number of action potentials alongside the amount of dopamine released which results in a rush of euphoria.

Heroin effects on the mind

Heroin leads to addiction, which is a serious mental disease that is characterized by a compulsion to use the drug and loss of control over use. Once heroin enters the brain it has long term effects on psychological functioning, behavior and personality.

Good news is that addiction to heroin can treated. But first it is crucial to identify psychological, medical and social support for recovery.

Heroin effects on the nervous system

Heroin depresses the central nervous system (CNS) causing a slowdown of the heart rate and breathing. Some other effects of heroin on the CNS include:

  • delirium
  • disorientation
  • drowsiness
  • mental clouding

Heroin effects on eyes and pupils

Heroin use is accompanied with the appearance of bloodshot watery eyes and dilated or pin-point pupils which oftentimes give away if someone has been using the drug.

Heroin effects on blood sugar

While high resting insulin levels and a delayed peak response to an oral glucose load have been seen in heroin users, no evidence suggests a correlation between heroin use and abnormal blood sugar levels.

Heroin effects questions

In this article we tried to cover the majority of the serious effect that manifest in the body and mind of heroin users. If you have additional questions, please do not hesitate to post them in the comments section below. We try to answer all legitimate inquarries personally and promptly.

Reference: NCBI: Acute pancreatitis: induced by heroin intoxication?
NCBI: Abnormal liver function and elevated hemoglobins in heroin addicts
NCBI: Ultrastructural changes in the liver of intravenous heroin addicts
NCBI: Oral Glucose Tolerance and Hormonal Response in Heroin-dependent Males
NIDA: Heroin
NIDA: Commonly Abused Drugs Charts
NIDA: What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?
NIDA: Module 5 – Drugs on the Street: Heroin
The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene: Heroin
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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