The Effects of Heroin
Growing up, nearly every child is taught that “drugs are bad” and that they should “just say no.” So why do so many go on to try drugs like heroin in their teen years and adulthood, then continue to use them again and again and again? The truth is that using heroin feels good—at least at first.
The rush that you experience from your first encounter with heroin is extremely pleasurable and therefore addictive. Unfortunately, no matter how powerful or even “fun” that high may be, heroin is quietly wreaking havoc on your body, and it shows in both the short- and long-term effects and dangers of the drug.
The Short-Term Effects of Heroin
The intense rush associated with a heroin high has a scientific explanation. Your brain is wired with opioid receptors to help you naturally experience endorphins (pleasure hormones) in response to a bite of your favorite food, a big accomplishment at work, or a hug from a loved one.
When you smoke, snort, or inject heroin, the drug quickly binds to those opioid receptors, blocking the normal endorphin production and sparking a rush of pleasurable sensations, known as the “high.”
The immediate euphoric rush may last a minute or two, though you’ll continue to feel effects for the next several hours. Right away, you can experience side effects such as dry mouth, a heavy sensation in your extremities, and a reduced sensation of pain. You may feel warm or flushed.
Over the next few hours, side effects include feelings of drowsiness, decreased mental functioning, and slowed heart rate and breathing—which can be severe enough to be life-threatening.
As your body and brain adapt to heroin use over time, you may begin to experience an even longer list of negative short-term side effects, including nausea, vomiting, itchy skin, constricted pupils, light sensitivity, lower body temperature, and a bluish tint to your hands, feet, and lips.
The Long-Term Effects of Heroin
While the high you experience when taking heroin is short-lived, the effects are not. Heroin has a lasting effect on your body and mind and can result in a range of uncomfortable long-term side effects. For example, smoking heroin can cause serious damage to your teeth and gums.
As your immune system tires of fighting off this attack on your body, you become more susceptible to infectious diseases, which can cause irreversible damage to your liver, kidneys, and other organs.
Many heroin users also experience poor appetite, malnutrition, extreme constipation, sleeping problems, and a decrease in sexual functioning. That slowed heart rate and breathing you experienced as a short-term effect? That leads to a lack of oxygen to a brain which, as you can imagine, can cause lasting damage there as well.
In addition to the physical long-term effects, you can also experience serious consequences in your relationships, work, and personal life. Financial issues, conflict with friends and family, trouble at work or school, and legal consequences can all result from heroin use and have a lasting impact on you and those you love.
The Danger of Heroin Overdose
Anytime you use heroin, you not only subject your body to all of these short- and long-term effects—you also put yourself at risk of heroin overdose, which requires immediate medical attention and can be fatal.
Overdose occurs when heroin slows down the central nervous system and your breathing even to the point of death.
Signs of overdose include shallow or erratic breathing, bluish nails or lips, a weak or erratic pulse, pinpoint pupils, disorientation, severe drowsiness, loss of consciousness, and coma.
Other signs include being awake but unable to talk, a limp body, pale or clammy skin, dry mouth, stomach spasms, low blood pressure, vomiting, and choking sounds.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of heroin overdose, call 911 right away. Heroin overdose can be fatal and medical attention is necessary.
Breaking Free of Heroin Addiction
Despite all of these risks and side effects, the euphoric high heroin users experience is a powerful thing. Combine that with a long list of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and most heroin users find it extremely difficult or even impossible to quit heroin on their own.
Here at Hawaiian Island Recovery, we offer medically-supervised detox to help heroin addicts stay as safe and comfortable as possible as their body readjusts to the absence of heroin. We also provide a combination of evidence-based therapies, experiential therapies, and holistic health services to help you or your loved one make a full recovery and prepare for a life free of heroin addiction.