Effects of Heroin Use

Heroin is a potent and highly addictive illicit opioid drug that is derived from morphine.1 It can be snorted, injected, or smoked, all of which present a risk of numerous short- and long-term effects of heroin.

This article will explain the effects of heroin misuse, including the specific heroin side effects associated with smoking, injecting, and snorting heroin and help you find treatment for yourself or a loved one living with heroin addiction.

Effects of Heroin

The short-term effects of heroin may include:2

  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Skin flushing.
  • Severe itching.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Heavy feelings in the extremities.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Clouded mental functioning.
  • Slowed heart function.
  • Slow and/or shallow breathing.

Heroin Overdose

The use of opioids like heroin can also lead to overdose, which may be fatal. Signs of heroin overdose include:3

  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Severely slowed or stopped breathing.
  • Constricted “pinpoint” pupils.
  • Discoloration of the lips and fingertips.

People who use heroin should be aware that it may be contaminated with illicit fentanyl, which has significantly impacted the rate of overdose associated with opioids.Nearly 88% of the overdose deaths related to opioids in 2021 involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl.5

Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Over time, a person may develop tolerance – a state where they need increasing amounts of heroin and/or to use more frequently to feel normal – and dependence. When a person is dependent on an opioid like heroin, they may experience severe withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut back or stop using it.6

Continued use of heroin can go beyond tolerance and dependence and lead to addiction. Addiction is characterized by the repeated compulsive use of heroin despite significant negative consequences.

The clinical term for heroin addiction is an opioid use disorder (OUD).7 Only a qualified healthcare professional can diagnose someone with an opioid use disorder, but understanding the criteria can help you get help for yourself or someone you love. Some of these criteria include:7

  • Using opioids in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  • A persistent desire or repeated efforts to control or cut down opioid use.
  • Spending a lot of time in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from opioids.
  • Continuing to use opioids despite persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of opioids.
  • Continuing opioid use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by opioids.

Effects of Smoking, Injecting, and Snorting Heroin

People can use heroin in different ways, and each method of use carries specific risks. However, routes of administration that allow the drug to reach the brain fastest (smoking and injecting) increases the risk of developing an OUD.6

Risks of Injecting Heroin:8

  • Scarred and/or collapsed veins.
  • Bacterial infections.
  • Soft tissue infections.
  • Abscesses (boils).
  • Clogged blood vessels that lead to the brain, lungs, liver, or kidneys due to contaminants.
  • Infectious diseases like HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other blood-borne viruses.

Risks of Snorting Heroin:8,9

  • Perforated nasal septum.
  • Damage to the mucosal tissue in the nose.
  • Nasal pain.
  • Purulent sputum (yellow or green phlegm).
  • Dysphagia (problems swallowing).

Risks of Smoking Heroin:10,11

  • Lung damage.
  • Increased risk of asthma and COPD.
  • Severe early onset emphysema.
  • Heroin-induced spongiform leukoencephalopathy. A rare but debilitating and potentially fatal neurological condition that affects white matter in the brain and causes impaired motor, speech, and cognitive function as well as reduced muscle strength.

Heroin Addiction Treatment in Las Vegas, NV

If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin use or addiction, we are here to help. Desert Hope, our inpatient rehab in Las Vegas, offers different types of rehab care and levels of addiction treatment to suit all needs. If you’re ready to regain control of your life, you can call us to learn more about your rehab options or to get admitted today.

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