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The Side Effects Of Heroin Use

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

March 29, 2019

Heroin produces multiple side effects that place the user in danger of long-term health effects or even an accidental overdose. Side effects vary by how much of the substance is taken and for how long it is used. Learn more about the side effects of heroin and how you can save your life or the life of a loved one.

Heroin is an addictive opioid drug, synthesized from morphine. Heroin is usually found in the form of a white or brown powder, or as a sticky black material called “black tar.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), 4.3 million Americans aged 12 or older (1.6 percent) had used heroin at least once in their lives. It is found that nearly 24 percent of people who try heroin become addicted. The dangers of heroin use are widely known, but side effects can lead to bigger problems for your health.

Short-Term Side Effects

The half-life of heroin is estimated to be 30 minutes long, which means that the concentration of heroin in the blood is reduced by half after 30 minutes of consumption. The immediate side effects of heroin typically present themselves within ten minutes and the effects can last as long as 5 hours. The short-term side effects of heroin use include:

  • Skin flushing
  • Shallow breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Overall feeling of heaviness in extremities
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Itchy skin
  • Confusion and mental fog
  • Emotional and physical numbness
  • Compulsive scratching

Side effects from heroin use can change as addiction progresses. Over time, complications from heroin abuse can become more evident and may lead to bigger problems. As the body becomes more resistant, more of the drug is needed to feel the effects as intended. As tolerance becomes greater, more life threatening complications can (and often do) result.

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Life-Threatening Side Effects

More serious side effects can surface as a result of heroin use. Complications can result in chronic conditions, hospitalization, coma, or even death. When snorted, smoked, or injected, heroin can affect vital organs and systems in the body. Common medical conditions that accompany heroin abuse include:

  • Infections in the heart, prominently in the lining and valves
  • HIV, hepatitis B and C, and blood infections from sharing needles
  • Respiratory infections and pulmonary diseases
  • Collapsed veins, blood clots, and destruction of tissues
  • Liver disease
  • Seizures
  • Overdose from unknown purity

Heroin impacts the overall health and well-being of individuals. As addiction progresses, the dangers become greater, as it may be more difficult to stop. When seeking recovery, some conditions can improve with treatment. Others are lifelong and far beyond treatment.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Severe complications from unmonitored withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous. While undergoing detoxification from heroin, patients are urged to utilize advancements in medical monitoring. Certain medications such as Suboxone and Methadone are used to ease the effects of withdrawal, and offer a more comfortable detoxification. Some side effects of opioid withdrawal include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bone pains
  • Chills
  • Anxiety, depression, and agitation

The effects of opiate withdrawal from heroin typically peak between 2-3 days of detox. While this experience is very uncomfortable, the process is necessary to clear the system of the physical drug. The side effects are significantly less uncomfortable through the use of medications and monitored care.

The Opiate Epidemic

Opioid medications such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet are easily misused, leading to opioid addictions that may lead to heroin use. 94 percent of surveyed individuals addicted to heroin reported using opioid prescription drugs before trying heroin. This is due in part to price and availability of the drug on the streets. The incline in prescription opioids have led to a national epidemic. Opioid medications carry similar side effects as heroin, such as drowsiness, confusion, constipation, and respiratory problems. In addition:

  • Opioid-induced hyperalgesia is characterized as a hypersensitivity to pain, and is a result of increased dosage of opioids.
  • Withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, fever, chills, depression, and agitation can result when the drug is discontinued.
  • Respiratory, coma, or death can result from overdose.
  • Neonatal abstinence syndrome can occur in babies exposed to opioids in-utero. The baby often experiences opioid withdrawals, leading to severe complications upon birth.

People from all walks of life are susceptible to opioid addiction. Heroin use is often a result of opioid prescription abuse. The very best method of preventing further complications from opioid abuse is to find help.

Time To Quit

If you’ve experienced the side effects that accompany heroin usage, you’re probably well aware of the speed in which heroin can impact your body. The effects of heroin can be deadly without warning, and cause a decline in health very quickly. Committing to recovery can make all of the difference in your personal, physical, and emotional well-being. Now is the time to reach out for a healthier you.

We Can Help

If you or someone you know struggles with the effects of heroin use, the caring staff at is here to help. We can guide you through the recovery process, offer solutions, and answer any questions you may have. Contact us today.

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