Heroin is a deadly drug that has the potential to drastically change everything from your emotions and the functionality of your brain to your physical appearance. There’s not any aspect of a person’s physical health and life that is untouchable to heroin.

The following highlights what heroin does to your body and how it affects you physically.

How Heroin Changes Your Body

Heroin is an opiate and it binds to the brain’s opioid receptors when it’s taken. This process creates a rush of dopamine that’s much more significant than could happen naturally. That dopamine flood is what creates the euphoric high someone feels when they take heroin. Your brain then starts to want to replicate that feeling, which is why you have the urge to use heroin again and again.

Over time, your body develops a tolerance to heroin. This means that, in a way, your brain has been rewired to feel “normal” when heroin is present. Your body has adjusted to the heroin and the dopamine that’s present so you don’t feel a high anymore, even right after taking heroin. You need to take larger doses to feel anything. One way to tell that your body has developed a tolerance to heroin is when you don’t take it, you feel abnormal.

When you’re a long-time user of heroin, it ultimately changes the structure and the physiology of your brain. The impacts on your hormone systems are difficult to reverse. There is also some research showing heroin use can cause a decline in the white matter of your brain, causing a range of cognitive, memory and decision-making problems.

Physical dependence on heroin can lead to withdrawal symptoms if you stop using it. These symptoms can range from flu-like symptoms to severe pain, insomnia and gastrointestinal issues.

The Immediate & Short-Term Effects of Heroin

Along with the impact heroin has on your brain over time, the immediate effects of heroin on your body include:

  • Pain and anxiety relief
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Feeling that your arms and legs are heavy
  • Increased body temperature
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme itching
  • Going in and out of consciousness
  • Slowed heart rate or irregular heart rate
  • Slowed breathing

Some of the ways heroin can damage your body include:

  • It can cause your brain to not receive enough blood
  • Your respiratory system can shut down so you can’t breathe
  • It can lead to something called infectious endocarditis on the surface of the heart, which is caused by injecting heroin and can result in heart failure
  • Kidney failure can occur

What heroin does to your body can ultimately be what leads to a deadly overdose. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose is key to seeking prompt and effective treatment. Related: Heroin Overdose Symptoms >

Long-Term Heroin Use & the

It’s not just what heroin does to your body in the short-term that can be deadly. What heroin does to your body in the long-term is also deadly and can include:

  • Oral health problems including damaged teeth and swelling of the gums
  • Skin problems from scratching
  • Extreme constipation
  • A weakened immune system
  • Malnutrition
  • Sleep problems
  • Problems with sexual functioning

Along with the ways heroin impacts your body in the long-term, there can be even more dangerous ways it can destroy your overall health. This includes organ damage to the liver and kidneys from infectious diseases (from needle sharing and injection) and brain damage from a lack of oxygen that occurs during overdoses.

People who inject heroin also report having health issues including infections of the heart valves, bacterial infections and abscesses. Chronic heroin users often have lung problems, including the development of tuberculosis and pneumonia; women have irregular menstrual cycles, or they stop altogether; and people who snort heroin have damage to their mucosal tissue.

If you inject heroin, it can lead to scarred and collapsed veins, blood infections and soft tissue infections. Tissue in your vital organs may be damaged or destroyed, and because of immune reactions to contaminants often found in heroin, it can lead to arthritis and other similar problems.

If you or a loved one live with addiction or are using drugs recreationally and want to stop, The Recovery Village can help. Reach out to one of our representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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