Heroin is classified as an opioid/opiate and it comes in two forms: powder and black tar heroin. People abuse heroin by smoking, snorting, or injecting it.
When injecting heroin, someone shoots heroin right into their veins using a hypodermic needle. This allows the drugs to go directly into the bloodstream and brain, leading to intense side effects.
Heroin injection also includes a multitude of dangers like HIV, hepatitis, and infection.
Effects Of Injecting Heroin
Injecting heroin can lead to a variety of side effects. They differ based on the person, the dosage, and what other chemicals or illicit drugs may be mixed into the heroin (methamphetamine, crack cocaine, fentanyl, etc.).
Some of the effects occur immediately after the injection, some appear an hour or two later, and others only become an issue after long-term heroin use.
The short-term side effects of injecting heroin can include:
- dry mouth
- slowed heart rate
- slowed breathing
- impaired decision-making
- aggressive behavior
- weight loss/loss of appetite
- impaired coordination
- mental health issues
There are also several long-term effects that can come with injecting heroin, including:
- collapsed veins
- track marks
- blood clots
- heart attack
Dangers Of Injecting Heroin
There are also a number of dangers that come with injecting heroin and some of these issues can be deadly if left untreated.
HIV & Hepatitis
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), injection drug use is one of the most common ways people get hepatitis C. If you are sharing needles or using needles that aren’t brand new, you have an increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis.
Hepatitis B and C can also affect your liver and cause scarring which can ultimately lead to liver failure.
While injecting heroin is never recommended, using a clean needle (and sterile paraphernalia) can ensure you don’t develop a contagious disease.
If you need help finding clean needles, many harm reduction services all over the country offer needle exchanges as well as counseling and opioid therapy.
Infections of the blood vessels, veins, and heart valves are also a worry for anyone injecting or shooting heroin.
When a needle punctures the skin, the bacteria on the skin can enter the blood vessels. It can then move through the bloodstream and damage the heart valves. If it gets serious enough, it can turn into a heart murmur and, ultimately, be fatal.
Dependence & Addiction
Heroin is also highly addictive and can create a physical dependence in the body. This means the body has a hard time functioning properly without the use of heroin.
Physical dependence can lead to drug abuse and addiction/substance use disorder. Once you become addicted, the chances of an overdose increase significantly.
Overdosing is one of the biggest dangers you face if you’re injecting heroin.
With an injection, heroin skips over the body’s filtration and dilution mechanisms. This means that the full dose of heroin is going straight to your brain.
Additionally, it’s almost impossible to know how much you’re taking when you inject heroin into your veins. You can easily take too much and experience an overdose.
Some of the symptoms and side effects of a heroin overdose include:
- cold, clammy skin
- bluish coloring to the lips and fingernails
- pinpoint pupils
- weak pulse
- shallow breathing
Because of the prevalence of overdoses when injecting drugs, it’s recommended people who use heroin or their loved ones have a Narcan or naloxone kit at the ready. The medication can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose when given immediately as the time window between overdose and death is narrow.
While quitting heroin is a good decision, coming off of the drug can lead to side effects on its own. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include:
- muscle pain
- muscle spasms
These symptoms may seem manageable, but, it’s recommended you seek professional help and/or go through a detox program. The healthcare professionals in these programs ensure you’re comfortable and stable as you come off the drugs.
Once you finish detox, inpatient or outpatient drug addiction treatment can be your next step. This can include medication-assisted treatment, which uses methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone along with behavioral therapy and counseling.
If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction or another form of substance abuse, please contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — Hepatitis C
- JAMA — Wound Botulism Associated With Black Tar Heroin Among Injecting Drug Users
- Journal of Addictive Diseases — Comparing Injection and Non-Injection Routes of Administration for Heroin, Methamphetamine, and Cocaine Uses in the United States
- National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus — Heroin
Northeast Addition Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.