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Health effects of heroin use

Heroin is a dangerous and deadly drug. More and more people use the drug, with the usage rate nearly doubling from 2007 to 2012. The fact that heroin use and addiction are so widespread makes it imperative for everyone to know as much as possible about it. 

It is necessary to learn about the short- and long-term effects of heroin use. While it may give users an initial euphoria, the lasting health implications are devastating.

Short-term effects

Heroin causes a rush of pleasure and happiness and may block pain, but it can also result in the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Severe itching
  • Unconsciousness
  • Slow heart rate and breathing

Additionally, an overdose may occur, which involves the user becoming unable to breathe. 

Long-term effects

Heroin alters the physiology and physical structure of the brain. It drastically causes imbalances in hormonal and neuronal systems. Such changes are not easily reversible. The white matter in the brain also deteriorates, which can impair decision-making and behavior regulation. Long-term heroin users may experience:

  • Collapsing veins
  • Infection of the heart valves and lining
  • Insomnia
  • Constipation
  • Kidney and liver diseases
  • Pneumonia and other lung complications
  • Mental disorders
  • Sexual dysfunction for male users
  • Irregular periods for female users

Repetitive use of heroin also results in tolerance, dependence and addiction. 

Heroin use disorder

Some users of heroin may develop the chronic disease of heroin use disorder. This involves an uncontrollable desire for the drug despite any consequences. Someone with this disorder sees seeking and using the drug as his or her primary purpose.


Dependence occurs when the body adapts to heroin. When a user becomes dependent, he or she may experience severe withdrawal symptoms when stopping the drug. Withdrawal symptoms often include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Restlessness
  • Cold flashes
  • Leg movements

Sometimes, withdrawal symptoms can last for months after the last dose. 

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