What Does Heroin Do to You?

Heroin is a deadly drug that has become increasingly popular in recent years. It is one of the leading killers of illegal drug users in the country, due to its highly addictive nature and the susceptibility to overdose. Users put themselves at extreme risk after every period of use, causing extensive damage to the brain, organs and normal bodily functions.

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Heroin is a highly addictive opiate drug made from morphine. Opiate drugs are used to treat pain; they are derived from opium poppy plant. In the early 1900s, heroin was meant to be a non-addictive substitute for morphine and was marketed as a cough suppressant for children through the Bayer pharmaceutical company. Once the addictive qualities were realized in 1910, free distribution and import of heroin was banned. It was deemed illegal to manufacture and possess heroin in the United States in 1924.

Heroin can come in the form of an off-white to dark brown powder, or a nearly black matter than can be sticky like tar or hard like coal. It is often diluted with other substances and injected into the veins for immediate access to the bloodstream and a stronger high. Heroin can also be smoked, snorted and eaten.  

This opiate drug acts quickly, creating a sense of euphoria within seconds of reaching the bloodstream and the brain. The initial rush of a heroin high can last anywhere between 10 – 20 minutes long. Besides euphoria, some of the most common side effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Sensation of heaviness
The last phase of a heroin high is the most dangerous because it disrupts signals sent from the brain to the body, affecting normal bodily functions such as breathing and heart rate. These seemingly automatic bodily functions are part of the autonomic nervous system, and heroin abuse can cause autonomic neuropathy, or damage to these nerves.

Because of the extreme relaxing effects of heroin, the brain is dangerously affected. Once the initial euphoric rush wears off, users experience a period of drowsiness that can last for hours at a time. Confusion, a slowed and irregular heart rate and suppressed breathing — all signs of autonomic neuropathy — accompany the drowsiness.

In severe cases of heroin use, the respiratory drive can completely shut down. Users may fall asleep and never wake back up because autonomic neuropathy can cause a person to stop breathing. In addition, suppressed breathing can limit the amount of blood and oxygen traveling to the brain, resulting in permanent brain damage, coma or death.

Extensive heroin use and overdose can have deadly effects on the heart. Overdose can cause heart failure from reducing the body’s blood pressure. Heroin use can also cause a heart arrhythmia — irregular heart rate or rhythm. This disparity affects the amount of blood the heart can pump to the body, ultimately affecting brain and organ functions.

Another deadly risk of heroin use is pulmonary edema — the heart’s inability to pump blood to the body consistently. This condition can cause blood to back up into the veins and lungs, affecting the normal flow of oxygen through the lungs. Pulmonary edema can cause kidney failure, heart attack and death.

Drug abuse can have adverse effects on the teeth, some more extreme than others depending on the substance. Heroin use has a more indirect effect on the teeth, causing users to crave sugary drinks, candy and sweets. The cravings alone can be catalysts for cavities and fillings. Heroin users are more likely to develop gum disease, oral fungus and a variety of oral infections.

More severe dental effects include weak tooth enamel from teeth grinding and tooth decay from cotton mouth symptoms. Research shows heroin users experience symptoms similar to meth mouth, resulting in tooth decay and tooth extraction from extensive heroin use.

Recovery from any substance addiction can be a long road to travel. The silver lining is knowing that you don’t have to travel it alone. If you or someone you know are struggling with heroin addiction, don’t hesitate in reaching out for help. Our trained team of professionals at The Recovery Village are ready and willing to help you find the best treatment option to suit your needs. Let us help you beat your addiction for good.
AddictionsAndRecovery.org. (2017, March 15). Opioids (Narcotics): Addiction, Withdrawal and Recovery Facts. Retrieved from https://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/opiates-narcotics-recovery.htm

Campellone, M.D., J. V. (2014, November 5). Autonomic Neuropathy. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000776.htm

Christensen, J. (2014, August 29). How Heroin Kills You. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/04/health/how-heroin-kills/

Delta Dental. (2016, December). Under the Influence: Your Teeth on Drugs. Retrieved from https://www.deltadentalins.com/oral_health/drugs.html

Dental.net. (n.d.). Drug Abuse and What it Does to Our Teeth. Retrieved from https://www.dental.net/dental-nutrition/drug-abuse-on-teeth/

Martin, MD, L. J. (2016, May 1). Heroin Use, Addiction, Effects, Withdrawal, and More. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/heroin-use#1

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017, January). DrugFacts: Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

The Role of Chemistry in History. (2008, April 24). Heroin: Discovery. Retrieved from http://itech.dickinson.edu/chemistry/?p=486#more-486


What Does Heroin Do to You?
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What Does Heroin Do to You? was last modified: July 19th, 2017 by The Recovery Village