Effects Of Heroin On The Body | Short-Term & Long-Term Effects

Heroin is highly addictive. Frequent use increases the risk of developing dangerous health problems, including infections, collapsed veins, and abscesses.

Heroin is an illicit drug and potent opioid used for its pain-relieving and euphoric effects. Along with its pleasurable effects, heroin can cause constipation, nausea, drowsiness, and an itchy sensation.

Heroin is also highly addictive and long-term use can lead to substance use disorder (SUD). Frequent use increases the risk of developing dangerous health problems, including infections, collapsed veins, and abscesses.

Short-Term Effects Of Heroin

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, which is a natural opiate derived from opium poppy plants. Depending on where it is produced, heroin comes as either a white or brown powder or a sticky black substance (black tar heroin).

Heroin reaches the brain quickly and activates opioid receptors. Opioid receptors block pain signals and release a flood of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward.

Heroin may cause a temporary rush of euphoria along with several undesirable side effects.

Short-term effects of heroin use may include:

  • skin flushing
  • dry mouth
  • constipation
  • vomiting
  • itchiness
  • drowsiness
  • impaired thinking


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin is a depressant drug that slows heart and brain function. Taking too much can result in respiratory depression, one of the main causes of a heroin overdose.

Overdose signs include:

  • shallow breathing
  • slowed heart rate
  • low blood pressure
  • pale or bluish skin
  • pinpoint pupils

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that, since 2013, heroin laced with fentanyl has significantly increased overdose rates in the United States. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Long-Term Effects Of Heroin

After long-term use, heroin use can lead to brain damage, including the decay of white matter. A decrease in white matter can affect behavior, decision-making, and how you react to stress.

In addition, heroin use can lead to a wide range of medical and mental health issues, including:

  • constipation
  • insomnia
  • stomach cramping
  • sexual dysfunction
  • irregular menstrual cycle
  • depression

Long-term heroin use may also lead to the following health problems:

Nasal Damage

Snorting heroin powder can irritate nasal passages and eventually lead to chronic nose bleeds, runny nose, and sinus infections. Over time, snorting can damage tissues and may lead to tears in nasal cavities and septum.


Using contaminated needles or sharing equipment can make you more susceptible to developing skin infections. Abscesses are skin infection that causes a buildup of pus under the skin. An abscess may be painful to touch and can become life-threatening if the infection is left untreated.

Vein Damage

Injecting the drug directly into the bloodstream allows it to reach your brain the fastest. However, injecting heroin that contains additives (like cornstarch or powdered milk) can clog blood vessels and lead to infection, collapsed veins, and organ damage.

Viral Infections

Sharing syringes and other paraphernalia that may be contaminated with blood increases the risk of viruses like HIV and hepatitis.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is an infection that attacks the immune system and may cause flu-like symptoms. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are conditions that affect the liver and may cause fatigue, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes).

Dependence & Withdrawal

After frequent heroin use, your body may need increasingly higher amounts to feel the same effects. This is known as tolerance and can lead to physical dependence, which means your body depends on the drug to function.

If you or a loved one tries to stop using heroin too quickly, you will likely experience heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • restlessness
  • muscle aches
  • difficulty sleeping
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • goosebumps

Withdrawal symptoms may peak within the first two days after stopping heroin abuse. Although symptoms usually last about one week, some symptoms may persist for several months.

Heroin Addiction

Long-term substance abuse can lead to the development of heroin addiction. Heroin addiction is a chronic condition that causes uncontrollable cravings and drug use, regardless of the consequences.

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can be difficult to stop without a professional treatment program. Behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment (MAT), including methadone and buprenorphine, can improve well-being and help you remain drug-free.

To learn more about the heroin addiction treatment options available at Northeast Addictions Treatment Center, please reach out to us today.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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