What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Heroin?

Heroin has many long-term side effects that damage the brain and body. Some of the health problems associated with long-term heroin abuse are infectious diseases, body changes, and mental health disorders. Heroin affects the aging process by damaging the matter and cells in the brain and skin.

The immediate side effects of heroin use are a rush of euphoria and relaxation, followed by hours of nodding out (extreme drowsiness).

The pleasure felt from heroin’s short-term effects and its subsequent uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are what can cause heroin abuse.

Continued heroin abuse can lead to many long-term effects, such as:

  • mental health problems
  • body deformations
  • life-threatening infectious diseases
  • lifestyle changes

Heroin can also speed up one’s aging process by affecting cells and white matter in the brain.

There are many treatment options available for heroin addiction, including detox and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Long-Term Effects Of Heroin

Heroin is an opiate that attaches itself to receptors in the central nervous system and fills the body and brain with an intense rush of dopamine.

A heroin high lasts anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours, but the long-term effects can stay with someone for a lifetime.

These effects impact physical and mental health. The longer drug use continues, the longer the heroin withdrawal timeline and recovery process can become.

There is also a higher risk of a heroin overdose with prolonged abuse.

Changes In Brain Structure

Habitual heroin abuse changes the brain’s physical and physiological structure.

This creates long-term imbalances in neural and hormonal systems. Heroin also deteriorates the brain’s white matter. These changes are not easily reversed.

Damaged white matter can affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.

Tolerance And Physical Dependence

As with other opioids, tolerance to heroin grows fairly quickly. As heroin use continues, a person will need more and more of the drug to achieve the same effects.

It’s only a matter of time before the body becomes physically dependent on heroin to function normally.

Prioritizing physical dependence before family, friends, and work is one of the signs of heroin use. This can damage relationships and cause financial strain.

Body Changes And Defects

Body changes and defects are some of the physical signs of heroin use that come from continuously injecting, smoking, or snorting the drug.

These changes and defects can turn into more serious infections and health problems.

Body changes and defects from long-term heroin use:

  • Damaged tissue inside the nose from snorting heroin
  • Abscesses on the skin (swollen tissue filled with pus), otherwise known as “heroin sores” from injection
  • Track marks
  • Weight loss

Mental Disorders

The structural changes in the brain from long-term heroin abuse can cause the development of certain mental disorders.

Heroin will affect gray matter in the brain, which is found in parts of the brain that control emotions and behaviors.

The constant rush of dopamine heroin supplies takes over all of the body’s reward and pleasure areas. For someone who constantly ingests heroin, nothing is as good as the drug.

Mental disorders from long-term heroin use are:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • antisocial behavior
  • sleep disorders

Collapsed Veins

For those who inject heroin, collapsed veins are a common issue. The constant pricking and stabbing of a vein will cause it to close and shut down.

Venous sclerosis is a condition that results in the narrowing and hardening of the vein, which can make it very hard to inject heroin into the same vein.

Veins can also become scarred and infected from injection, causing long-term issues.

Kidney And Liver Damage

The liver and kidneys work together to process toxins and pass them through the body.

When these parts of the body have to continuously process a toxin such as heroin, it can culminate in liver and kidney disease.

Clogged Blood Vessels

Heroin is cut with many different additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk.

Additives can clog blood vessels that lead to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage.

HIV And Hepatitis

Heroin paraphernalia, such as needles and syringes, are often shared between people who use heroin.

Many times these tools for injection are not cleaned properly and can be carrying infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

​​These diseases are transmitted through contact with blood or other bodily fluids, which can occur when sharing needles or other substance use equipment.

Sexual Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction and decreased sexual desire are common in people who use heroin.

Heroin disrupts the brain’s pleasure areas. Instead of finding pleasure in normal situations, such as sex, the brain only finds pleasure in drug use.

Long-Term Heroin Use And Aging

New studies have found that long-term heroin use can cause people to look older.

This is partially because heroin speeds up the aging process of cells in the skin and destroys white matter in the prefrontal cortex.

In addition, drug addiction can trigger the early onset of diseases that are usually experienced later on in life that can make a person appear older or worn out.

The high levels of toxins in drugs affect:

  • pathophysiological processes (processes associated with disease or injury)
  • brain volume and function, causing a decline in brain function and inflammation
  • early onset of heart, kidney, and liver diseases

Heroin Addiction Treatment In Massachusetts

There are many drug and alcohol detox programs in Massachusetts that can help you or a loved one find recovery from substance abuse.

Becoming drug-free is possible through the many different levels of addiction care in our treatment programs at Spring Hill Recovery Center.

Reach out to a specialist today to learn more.

  1. Better Health Channel — Heroin https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/heroin#damage-caused-by-long-term-heroin-use
  2. National Institute On Drug Abuse — Heroin https://nida.nih.gov/sites/default/files/drugfacts-heroin.pdf
  3. National Institute On Drug Abuse — What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Heroin Use? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use

Written by Spring Hill Recovery Editorial Team

© 2024 Spring Hill Recovery | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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