Heroin Side Effects
Heroin creates a rush of euphoria as well as a number of uncomfortable side effects, such as dry mouth and shallow breathing. Heroin abuse can impact every part of a person’s life, including their physical and mental health.
Heroin is an opioid drug that comes from the opium poppy plant. It’s often a white or brown powder. However, black tar heroin may look like a rock or a piece of roofing tar.
This addictive drug creates a powerful rush. When using heroin, a person may feel euphoric and relaxed.
However abusing heroin can also create several negative side effects. One of the most important implications of use is the risk of heroin addiction.
What Are The Short-Term Side Effects Of Heroin?
Some of the side effects of heroin may appear right away.
For example, a person may notice clouded thinking. They may struggle to stay mentally present, form coherent thoughts, and follow a conversation.
However, most of the immediate side effects of heroin are physical.
Some of those physical side effects of heroin include:
- warm, flushed skin
- dry mouth
- shallow breathing
- heavy-feeling limbs
Heroin can also cause extreme drowsiness, even in the short term. After using heroin, a person may go “on the nod,” or drift in and out of consciousness.
Find more information on the short-term effects of using heroin.
What Are The Long-Term Side Effects Of Heroin?
Heroin can cause long-term complications such as insomnia, lung issues, and an increased susceptibility to pneumonia.
Because heroin slows breathing, it can keep the lungs from working effectively in the long term.
Heroin use can also cause organ and tissue infections. People have reported infections of the kidneys, soft tissues, heart valves, and more.
Other long-term effects depend on the method of heroin use. For example, injecting heroin may cause vein scarring, abscesses, and an increased risk of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Snorting heroin can cause nasal tissue damage, and ingesting heroin can cause harm to the stomach and intestines, causing side effects such as cramping and constipation.
Learn more about the long-term effects of heroin.
What Are The Physical Side Effects Of Heroin?
In addition to many of the short-term physical side effects mentioned above (such as dry mouth, itching, and flushed skin), heroin can impact the central nervous system (CNS), teeth, and eyes.
Changes To The Central Nervous System
Like other opioid and opiate drugs, heroin slows the central nervous system.
The CNS controls many physical responses, which is why repeated opioid substance use can create physical health problems.
For example, heroin creates shallow breathing and slowed heart rate by slowing the CNS.
Heroin use can also cause tooth damage, or “heroin teeth.” Heroin teeth can happen for several reasons.
Some people experience oral health problems because heroin causes dry mouth. Saliva helps keep teeth clean, and without enough saliva, plaque can build up and harm teeth.
Likewise, heroin can cause gum damage because gums are soft tissues, and soft tissue damage is common with heroin use.
Heroin may also cause oral health problems because it numbs pain. Oral pain is a signal that something is wrong, like a cavity or a broken tooth.
If a person can’t feel the pain signal, they may not realize they have tooth damage until the problem gets out of hand.
“Heroin eyes” are another physical side effect of heroin use.
Many drugs cause dilated pupils, but heroin and other opioids have the opposite effect: The pupils may become very small.
Constricted pupils may also be a sign of heroin overdose.
If you’re worried that a friend or family member is at risk of overdose, ask a doctor or pharmacist about naloxone, which can restore normal breathing patterns in an emergency.
Learn more about heroin eyes.
What Are The Mental Side Effects Of Heroin?
Mental health conditions can often lead to drug addiction. Similarly, drug addiction can make mental health and behavioral health worse. For example, heroin can worsen depression.
Heroin impacts dopamine, which is one of the brain’s reward chemicals. Dopamine affects pleasure and happiness, so any disruption to this system can cause a change in mental state.
Heroin dependence can also worsen anxiety. After repeated use, the body eventually starts relying on heroin to achieve that sense of calm.
Without the drug, that anxiety will increase. This is one reason why people experience cravings and other symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
Find everything you need to know about the mental side effects of heroin here.
How Heroin Affects The Brain
In the short term, heroin binds to certain opioid receptors in the brain. Then, the opioid receptors stimulate the release of dopamine.
Dopamine binds to the brain’s dopamine receptors, which creates a pleasure response.
That pleasure response encourages the person to use heroin again, which is how people develop addictions.
Heroin use can also create long-term changes in the brain, as it can impact both white matter and gray matter.
Gray matter is in charge of motor function, sensory processing, decision making, and self-control. White matter impacts learning and communication functions in the brain and body.
A person may experience issues such as:
- learning difficulties
- poor impulse control
- trouble making decisions
- trouble processing information
- communication struggles
- memory issues
Learn more about how heroin affects the brain.
Get Heroin Addiction Treatment At Spring Hill Recovery Center
Heroin causes a range of difficult and uncomfortable side effects.
However, heroin addiction is a treatable disorder, and help is available.
Spring Hill Recovery Center offers several evidence-based treatment options for heroin addiction and other substance use disorders.
If you or a loved one might have an addiction to heroin, contact our treatment center today.
Written by Spring Hill Editorial Team
©2022 Spring Hill Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved
This page does not provide medical advice.
- National Center For Biotechnology Information — Neuroanatomy, Gray Matter https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK553239/
- National Institute On Drug Abuse – What Are The Immediate (Short-Term) Effects Of Heroin Use? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use
- National Institute On Drug Abuse — What Are The Medical Complications Of Chronic Heroin Use? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-medical-complications-chronic-heroin-use
- National Institute On Drug Abuse — What Effects Does Heroin Have On The Body? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/effects-of-heroin-on-body