& Medically Reviewed by Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
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Last Updated - 6/17/2022View our editorial policy
can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, income level or sexual orientation. One of the deadliest drugs used in the U.S. today is heroin. The increased popularity of heroin can partially be attributed to individuals who developed an addiction to prescription opiates. If prescription opioids are no longer available, many people discover that heroin is a relatively similar substance that is cheaper and more accessible. However, it can have devastating effects.
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Heroin Side Effects
Heroin is one of the deadliest illicit drugs in the world, and it is extremely addictive. Someone who is addicted to heroin may struggle to stop using it, even when they understand the negative effects associated with the drug. Heroin binds to receptors in the brain that release an artificially high amount of dopamine, also known as the “feel-good” chemical. The brain adjusts its normal function to depend on the presence of heroin, which is why people who develop a heroin use disorder feel an uncontrollable urge to use it. Many adverse health effects can be caused by heroin in the short term, including:
- Dry mouth
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe itching
- Dangerously slow breathing
Long-term impacts of heroin use can be far-reaching and sometimes even irreversible. They include:
- Heart infections
- Blood infections, like HIV
- Collapsed veins
- Nasal damage
- Sexual dysfunction
- Lung complications
- Liver and kidney damage
- Brain damage
Signs of Heroin Use
If you suspect that a loved one may be using heroin, we understand how difficult it can be. It’s important to understand the signs of heroin use so you know what to look for. These may include:
- Paraphernalia: You may find syringes, belts or rubber tubes, dirty spoons, metal or glass pipes or small baggies that contain a tarry substance or white powder.
- Clothing changes: To hide track marks, your loved one may wear long sleeves.
- Grooming changes: You may notice poor hygiene and lack of self-care.
- Appetite changes: Heroin can cause a decreased appetite, so your loved one may lose weight or eat less than usual. Heroin can also cause nausea and vomiting, which can also contribute to weight loss.
- Personality changes: Take note if your loved one has been stealing, lying or behaving abnormally. If your loved one’s actions are hurting you, you should remember that addiction is a medical condition that needs to be treated.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Quitting heroin can lead to such uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that many people choose to enter medically supervised detox programs. Heroin withdrawal can cause:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle spasms
Heroin Addiction Treatment
If you or a loved one live with a heroin use disorder, you should know that there is always hope for recovery. It’s easy to lose hope when you’re in the throes of attempting to overcome addiction, but seeking treatment will give you the tools you need to take control. Heroin addiction treatment generally involves three main pillars of care — detoxification, inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab:
- Medical Detox – Medically supervised detox is the first stage of care and involves 24-hour supervision and medications to keep people as comfortable and safe as possible as their body rids itself of the heroin in its system. Dealing with severe withdrawal symptoms alone can not only be dangerous, but can lead to relapse.
- Inpatient Rehab – Most patients who have completed their detox transition into inpatient rehab, where they live onsite at the facility while receiving medical treatment and therapy from addiction specialists. Inpatient rehab addresses the mental and psychological aspects of drug addiction to create a space for lifelong recovery.
- Outpatient Rehab – Patients with less severe addictions or those who have already completed an inpatient stay move on to outpatient care, where they attend treatment during the day while living at home or in a sober living community. Outpatient rehab can include counseling sessions, medication and support groups.
Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction?
Our Recovery Advocates are available 24/7 to help.
We offer expert, caring and holistic heroin addiction treatment at The Recovery Village Ridgefield. Convenient to the cities of Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon, The Recovery Village Ridgefield is located in the Cascade Mountains, giving our patients a beautiful and serene backdrop as they focus on the healing they need. If you are considering treatment for drug addiction, please reach out to us today. We are here to speak with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Heroin.” MedlinePlus, March 17, 2021. Accessed November 19, 2021.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What effects does heroin have on the body?” June 9, 2021. Accessed November 19, 2021.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?” April 13, 2021. Accessed November 19, 2021.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?” April 13, 2021. Accessed November 19, 2021.
- Sevarino, Kevin A. “Opioid withdrawal in adults: Clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis.” UpToDate, November 5, 2021. Accessed November 19, 2021.