Understanding the Effects of Heroin

Understanding the Effects of Heroin

In 2019, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that an estimated 10.1 million people aged 12 and older misused opioid drugs the previous year. Of this population, 9.7 million people misused prescription painkillers, while nearly 745,000 people used heroin. Additionally, in 2021, the number of overdose deaths surpassed all annual statistics. An estimated 107,000 or more individuals lost their lives as a result of a drug overdose.

These statistics are devastating. Yet, these numbers only begin to highlight the destructive impact of opioid drugs. Substance use and addiction continue to wreak havoc on the lives of individuals everywhere. No one is safe from the effects of substance use.

Although society does a decent job highlighting the prevalence of substance-related issues, unfortunately, it does not do a great job of educating the public about substance use. For example, you may know heroin to be a dangerous drug, but what else do you know? Do you know why it is dangerous?

It is more important than ever to become educated on what opioid drugs are and how they are affecting the nation. Heroin use, in particular, must be addressed as it contributes to severe health consequences, including death.

What is Heroin Addiction?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug closely related to morphine. Morphine is derived from opium poppy plants grown in Asia, Mexico and Columbia. Heroin comes from the same plants and is most often seen as a white or brown powder or black tar-like substance. It is commonly used by injecting, snorting or smoking it.

The Effects of Heroin on the Brain and Body

There is a wide range of short-term and long-term effects that can result from heroin use. In addition to a dangerous “rush” of pleasure, common short-term effects include:

  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Depressed breathing
  • Dry mouth
  • Heaviness of the body
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Impaired brain function
  • Dysregulated emotions
  • Slipping in and out of consciousness

Additionally, chronic heroin use can lead to severe, lasting health complications. Common long-term effects of heroin use include:

  • Collapsed veins in those who use heroin through injection
  • Damaged tissues inside the nose in those who use heroin by snorting
  • Infection of the cardiovascular system
  • Constipation
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications
  • The development of co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
  • Permanent damage to various bodily organs
  • Increased risk of contracting infectious, bloodborne diseases as a result of sharing needles
  • The development of substance use disorder (SUD)

Why Do People Use Heroin?

Very few people who use heroin do so as their first experience with substances. Rather, people may be exposed to other drugs first, such as alcohol or marijuana. They may choose to engage in substance use to ease curiosity. However, more likely, they are attempting to self-medicate. Once a person experiences an increased tolerance to a gateway drug, they become more likely to use harder drugs in an attempt to achieve a more satisfying high.

Still, developing an addiction to heroin is often unintentional. Many people seek out heroin as a result of their bodies developing a tolerance to other opioid painkillers. Often, individuals obtain opioid prescription medications to treat a legitimate problem. Unfortunately, the recurrent use of prescription drugs can quickly lead to misuse, which can open the door to heroin use. Research shows that about 80% of those who use heroin first misused prescription opioids. 

Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder

Opioid use disorder (OUD), also referred to as opioid abuse or dependence, is a type of SUD. Specifically, OUD is a condition involving problematic patterns of opioid use that interfere with an individual’s ability to function normally in their daily life. Heroin addiction falls under the category of OUD. This is a devastating condition that can lead to permanent damage to both the mind and body. Professional treatment is required to overcome this deadly disease.

Detoxification and treatment for heroin addiction must be individualized and intimate. This is because individuals withdrawing from heroin will likely face uncomfortable symptoms, and their addiction is usually the result of deeper issues.

Before treatment, individuals must go through a detoxification program to rid their bodies of traces of heroin. Medication will likely be administered during detox to make the withdrawal process safer and more manageable for the patient. Detoxing from heroin can take anywhere between 10 and 14 days.

Following detox, patients are encouraged to begin treatment. Treatment generally consists of cognitive-behavioral groups, individual psychotherapy and complementary, holistic treatment techniques. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may also be used in combination with therapy to make treatment more effective.

Treatment for drug addiction is only the beginning of a lifelong commitment to sobriety and recovery. While treatment helps patients achieve initial sobriety, they must find motivation within themselves to stay committed to recovery even after treatment.

Casa Palmera is a mental health and addiction treatment center that understands the unique challenges patients experience as they work to recover from opioid use disorder. Our treatment plans are individualized to give you the best chance of recovery. To learn more, call us today at (855) 508-0473.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.