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The Long Term Effects of Heroin Use Explained

Are you or a family member struggling with heroin addiction? For anyone who finds themselves addicted to heroin, it’s important that they and their loved ones know how dangerous this substance is to the brain and body.

Heroin is a highly addictive substance that comes from morphine. Its use in the United States has nearly doubled over the past two decades. Experts have attributed the increase to heroin’s affordability and availability compared to prescription opioids.

As the number of users continues to rise, it’s important to become aware of the harmful effects of heroin use. We will break down the common side effects of short-term heroin use and the harmful long-lasting effects on the body.

The Short-Term  Health Effects of Heroin Use

In addition to very serious long-term effects, there are also some short-term effects that one may experience directly after using heroin. Some of the immediate effects include: 

  • Itchiness and flushed skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Heaviness in your arms and legs
  • Slowed heart rate and breathing

In very unfortunate cases, taking too much heroin in one sitting can lead to brain damage or coma. An overdose can even lead to rhabdomyolysis, a serious condition where the muscles break down and die. 

The Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Collapsed Veins

Since consumption doesn’t require injection, heroin has become one of the most appealing illegal substances around. However, some users still prefer injecting heroin into their bloodstream, and this can lead to collapsed veins. Regular heroin injections into the same vein cause its internal lining to swell. After that, it will collapse, causing blood flow through that particular vein to stop.

Once the veins collapse, you will notice discoloration on the injection site and feel a sharp pain in the area. Collapsed veins can recover once the swelling subsides, but there’s always a risk of permanent damage.


Drug abuse and depression are two different things but they often intertwine. Sometimes, people with depression find solace in taking heroin. However, long-term heroin abuse can also lead to depression.

Regular use of substances can trigger feelings of loneliness and hopelessness. These feelings may cause you to lose your interest in work, become more irritable, and have problems sleeping at night.

As your heroin addiction and depression escalates, you may fall into severe depression. It’s possible to even reach a point where you begin to have thoughts of suicide. 

By taking drugs because you are depressed, you begin a never-ending cycle of addiction and depression. 

Liver Disease

Chronic heroin use can lead to liver damage. The impact can become more devastating if the heroin user is also alcohol dependent. 

Heroin comes with many additives. These additives do not dissolve quickly and can clog up the blood vessels that lead to different organs like the liver.

When this happens, the liver is at risk of infection. When the liver is infected, its cells may eventually die, causing liver failure and death.

Heart Infections

Heroin can cause heart infections and cardiovascular diseases. As we mentioned earlier, it’s mainly because of the additives that come with the substance. These are toxins and contaminants that do all kinds of damage to the body.

These harmful ingredients can block the blood vessels leading to the heart. Since they affect blood flow in the veins, heroin users develop the risk of having a heart attack. 

Also, there is the possibility of developing a “heroin heart.” Heroin heart is a type of endocarditis, a bacterial infection that affects the heart valves. Specifically, this infection targets the heart’s inner lining. 

Some of the common symptoms of heroin heart include pale skin, night sweating, muscle pain, and swollen extremities. You may also experience heart murmurs, shortness of breath, and significant weight loss.

Pulmonary Infections

Because heroin clogs the blood vessels, your lungs cannot get the amount of oxygen it needs. As a result, you can experience breathing difficulties.

More importantly, you increase the risk of developing empyema, a lung condition causing pus to build up in the spaces between the chest and lungs. When you suffer from empyema, you will feel intense pain whenever you breathe.

  • You may develop other respiratory illnesses as well: Pulmonary edema: A disease that causes the lungs to collect fluid, leading to respiratory failure.
  • Hypoxia: A condition that causes low oxygen levels in your tissues. This can lead to a suppressed immune system and vulnerability to infections.

Kidney Disease

What does heroin do to the kidneys? For starters, taking heroin intravenously can result in kidney inflammation. When you take heroin via injections, you increase the chances of contracting bacterial and fungal infections. 

Such infections can lead to acute kidney inflammation. Also, you may develop a protein buildup in the tissues and organs where the inflammation is. If left untreated for too long, it will eventually lead to kidney failure. 

Increased Risk of Contracting HIV and Hepatitis

Intravenous drug use increases your risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis. This is due to the use of contaminated needles rather than using heroin itself. When heroin addicts use as a group, they often share and pass around the same set of syringes. The problem is when one of the users has HIV or hepatitis, they may pass the virus to their fellow addicts.

HIV can transfer from one person to another through syringes. The same goes for people with Hepatitis, reusing syringes can spread the illness in the same manner.

Recovering From the Long Term Effects of Heroin Use

By understanding the long-term effects of heroin, we hope that you will have more reasons to stay away from drug abuse. We hope that you will also develop a sense of urgency to save a family member from their substance addiction. However, knowing how to quit heroin is not enough. 

If you or a loved one is looking to recover from heroin addiction, we can lend a helping hand. Connect with us today and tell us more about your situation. We offer substance addiction treatment that will help your loved one get a fresh start in life.

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