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heroin side effects

Heroin Side Effects

Heroin Effect on the Brain and Body, Addiction Process, Usage Medical Detox & Rehab Treatment

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What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a drug that reaches the brain very fast once it’s consumed, for this reason, it is very easy for a person to develop heroin addiction even from one or a few uses. Before we get to the main topic, let’s learn about what heroin is. According to the scientific piece ‘Heroin’, published by The National Library of Medicine, “Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo. It’s an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance in the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant.

It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. Heroin can also be smoked or snorted up the nose. All of these ways of taking heroin send it to the brain very quickly. This makes it very addictive.

Regular use of heroin can lead to tolerance. This means users need more and more drugs to have the same effect. At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If dependent users stop heroin, they have withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps”. 

heroin side effects
The heroin side effects can become pretty severe if individuals use it for a long time.

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How Heroin Is Used?

Heroin is a fast-acting, highly addictive drug that is processed from morphine, a legal opioid narcotic. Unlike morphine, heroin is an illegal substance and the most commonly abused drug in the opioid class. Usage of heroin creates a state of relaxation and euphoria for the user that’s caused by the binding of the drug to the body’s endorphin sites. By binding to the body’s natural pain relievers, heroin blocks signal to the brain which in turn blocks an individual’s ability to feel pain.

Most commonly, heroin is used intravenously by injection with a needle. Other forms of use include smoking, inhalation with a pipe, snorting, or inhalation with the use of a straw.

Immediately after heroin is injected, it crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it is converted into morphine and binds to opioid receptors. Once consumed heroin is said to create a surge of pleasurable sensations, which is referred to as a “rush” or “high.” The intensity of the rush depends on how much of the drug is taken and how fast it enters the brain. The immediacy with which heroin enters the brain and the resulting “rush” is what makes this drug so addictive.

Heroin is most commonly found in white or brown powder form. Other forms of heroin may include a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” Acquiring heroin on the streets is dangerous because you cannot be sure what it is mixed with or the exact level of purity you are receiving. Often street heroin is mixed with sugar, starch, pesticides, or other poisons which puts heroin users at an increased level of risk for overdose and death. Other common street names for heroin include: “smack,” “thunder,” “poppy,” “white junk,” and “dead on arrival.”

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Why Are More People Using Heroin?

The number of people in the United States who use heroin has risen steadily since 2007. A factor that played a role in the rise of heroin is the growing abuse of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, which are also made from the poppy plant and are chemically related to heroin. People who become dependent on or misuse these drugs may start looking for a stronger, cheaper high. Heroin is both. But it’s also more dangerous. There’s no way to know what you’re taking or how strong it is.

The U.S. opioid overdose death rate rose nearly 400% between 2010 and 2017. Some of these deaths happen because heroin is laced with other drugs, such as the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Fentanyl has become one of the leading contributors to overdose deaths in the U.S.

What Are Heroin Side Effects?

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. 

Short-term heroin side effects:  

People report feeling a “rush” (a surge of pleasure, or euphoria) when using Heroin. Nevertheless, there are other short-term symptoms of this drug, which can include: 

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Going “on the nod,” a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious. 

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Heroin Effect on the Brain

Substances cause a three-pronged response in the brain, each of which helps to cement its continued use. These three aspects of the addiction process include 1) the heroin side effects on the brain (intoxication), 2) the anticipation of and preoccupation with re-experiencing these effects due to the takeover of the brain’s reward system, and 3) the withdrawal phase where negative conditioning takes place. In that final phase, seeking relief from the withdrawal symptoms is the chief motivator.

Heroin affects the brain by attaching to its opioid receptors. This causes a release of dopamine that the person experiences as a euphoric high, drowsiness, and relaxation due to a slowed respiratory rate. The brain registers the pleasant effects as something positive. A pattern commences, starting with intense intoxication, increased tolerance, escalation in heroin use, and withdrawal symptoms that trigger a repeat of the pattern. This culminates in dependency and/or addiction.

heroin side effects
The first aspect of the addiction process include the heroin side effects on the brain or intoxication.

Heroin Effects on the Body

It is impossible to know from appearance alone whether someone is using heroin. However, heroin use can sometimes cause changes in someone’s physical appearance. Someone who is addicted to heroin may experience weight loss. Their pupils may also present as smaller than normal, which is sometimes referred to as “pinpoint” pupils.

Additionally, this person may become less concerned with their physical appearance and hygiene, or appear more disheveled, but this is not always the case. Someone who injects heroin may have scars on their body to indicate the injection, such as on their arms or legs. In severe cases, these injection sites may become infected or cause abscesses to form.

Long-Term Heroin Side Effects

People who consume heroin may develop the following conditions over time, be careful of these signs:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women

Heroin often contains additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage. Also, sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Heroin Risks

No specific cause of heroin addiction has been identified, but research supports several possibilities. These possibilities include:

  • Genetic: Research has suggested genetics as a cause of heroin addiction. Individuals who have family members that are addicted to heroin or other substances appear to be more likely to develop a heroin addiction than those without a family history of the disorder.
  • Biological: Another theory suggests the possibility that some individuals may not produce enough natural endorphins in their brain which affects mood. This could lead to heroin abuse to cope with this chemical imbalance.
  • Environmental: It has been postulated that people who have been exposed to a parent or guardian abusing heroin or other drugs may be at a greater risk for developing substance abuse problems in later life. Seeing the drug abused can cause a child to “normalize” the drug, therefore making it more accessible later in life.
heroin side effects
Treatment for heroin addiction includes medical detox treatments and behavioral therapies for addiction.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Treatment for heroin addiction includes medical detox treatments and behavioral therapies for addiction. For a treatment to be effective, it’s important to match the best treatment approach to meet the particular needs of each patient. Medicines are being developed to help with the withdrawal process. The FDA approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Addiction is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from heroin addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.


[1] ‘Heroin’ – National Library of Medicine (
[2] ‘Heroin DrugFacts’ – The National Institute on Drug Abuse (
[3] ‘[Heroin Addiction]’, Sándor Hosztafi, National Library of Medicine (

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