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Heroin effects

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

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8 Responses to “Heroin effects
6:44 pm March 27th, 2017

Stop the drug war with objective of shutting down the black market. The drug war has failed. The drug war is driving the problems, not fixing them. Decriminalization/legalization is necessary, it needs to be backed up with public health announcements explaining exactly why it is needed. Its not in any way condoning the abuse of addictors, it is done bc the alternative, the drug war, has made things infinitely worse on almost every level, to include making drugs abundantly available to any & all that wants them.
We need to pull LE out of the drug biz – that will free up a lot of resources currently chasing their collective tails. When the laws create more harm and cause more damage than they prevent, its time to change the laws. The $1 TRILLION so-called war on drugs is a massive big government failure – on nearly every single level. Its way past time to put the cartels & black market drug dealers out of business. Mass incarceration has failed. We cant even keep drugs out of a contained & controlled environment like prison.
We need the science of addiction causation to guide prevention, treatment, recovery & public policies. Otherwise, things will inexorably just continue to worsen & no progress will be made. Addiction causation research has continued to show that some people (suffering with addiction) have a “hypo-active endogenous opioid/reward system.” This is the (real) brain disease, making addiction a symptom, not a disease itself. One disease, one pathology. Policy must be made reflecting addiction(s) as the health issue it is.
The war on drugs is an apotheosis of the largest & longest war failure in history. It actually exposes our children to more harm & risk and does not protect them whatsoever. In all actuality, the war on drugs is nothing more than an international projection of a domestic psychosis. It is not the “great child protection act,” its actually the complete opposite. Let’s remember, opioids (drug) prohibition is a historical and cultural aberration, just 100 years old. We had fewer drug problems in my own grandparents’ time when opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine and cannabis could all still be bought legally over the counter. (Re)legalizing drugs would not be a “risky social experiment,” as some think. On the contrary, drugs prohibition was the reckless social experiment. And its a massive failure. Alcohol prohibition didn’t work, and opioid prohibition is failing even more miserably. The longer we’ve had drug prohibition laws in place, the worse have the social and health problems they cause gotten.
The lesson is clear: Drug laws do not stop people from harming themselves, but they do cause addicts to commit crimes and harm others. We need a new approach that decriminalizes the disease. We must protect society from the collateral damage of addiction and stop waging war on ourselves. We need common sense harm reduction approaches desperately. MAT (medication assisted treatment) and HAT (heroin assisted treatment) must be available options. Of course, MJ should not be a sched drug at all. Every human being is precious, worthy of love and belonging, and deserves opportunities to fulfill his or her potential regardless of past trauma, mental and emotional anguish, addictive behaviors or mistakes made.

6:26 am May 6th, 2017

I don’t want to die. Please help. I can’t take this anymore . im dying slow and my life is ruining because of heroin

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:07 pm May 8th, 2017

Hi Chris. Call a toll-free Heroin Helpline on 1-888-988-7934 to get in touch with trusted and confidential helpline professionals available 24/7. You will speak to a sympathetic, well-trained individual who can help you find a reliable recovery program that will meet your treatment needs.

10:02 am June 26th, 2017

My 32 year old son died on 4/21/17 from a heroin overdose. It has been a true nightmare since his death. It has broken our hearts forever. I am asking all those who are using to seek help. My son didn’t have to die from this disease. Please seek help !

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
1:19 pm June 28th, 2017

Hi Eileen. I’m really sorry for your loss…

Babygirl Smurf
5:19 pm July 19th, 2017

I’m very confused about something & have been reading up on it & still can’t figure it out. I’m a recovering iv heroin addict so I definitely have 1st hand experience with the physical withdrawal. I have done lots of research on the physical dependence from the drug. And 1 of the main things is because of dopamine levels.
Apparently meth (ice) also affects dopamine levels. However, tho people do experience withdrawal from that as well, it doesn’t seem to be anything like being dopesick from heroin. So I’m thoroughly confused as to why. I’ve never done meth so I’ve never gone thru it, but why is the withdrawal so different when both drugs affect dopamine? This question has really stumped me. I’ve read alot about both drugs but still don’t understand.

6:01 pm January 30th, 2018

So last night pretty sure I saw this “nod” thing! She can’t walk talk hang on to anything, drooling… No coordination, No strength, drinking Alot fluids WTH is going on she’s pregnant too!!!???

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
1:28 pm January 31st, 2018

Hi Susan. She needs to go to treatment since she is pregnant. Call a toll-free Heroin Helpline on 1-888-988-7934 to get in touch with trusted and confidential helpline professionals available 24/7.

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