Long-Term Effects of Heroin
Throughout the country, the percentage of heroin users who become physically or psychologically dependent is on a disturbing upward trend.
and was involved in nearly 21% of drug-related emergency department visits in 2011. Because heroin dependence and addiction can cause such serious problems, it is important to recognize when to seek help.
Heroin dependence is characterized by the following:
Tolerance and physical dependence are two of the greatest dangers associated with heroin because they drive compulsive use and lay the groundwork for eventual addiction. They signify that the body and brain have become so accustomed to heroin being in the system that a person might not feel like he or she can function without it.
Heroin is a powerful drug, and when injected, it can produce quick, intense effects. Purity and potency vary from batch to batch, so an IV user may be especially at risk for overdose. Heroin overdose causes the user’s heart rate and breathing to drop drastically, potentially leading to death if they do not receive medical attention right away.
The dangers of heroin aren’t limited to slowed heart rates and respiratory arrest; there are many additional .
Users who share needles and other paraphernalia may also be injecting bacterial contaminants. , including the blood vessels and the heart itself.
If users share needles with people who have an infectious agent in their blood, such as HIV, hepatitis B, or hepatitis C, then they may contract these serious health problems and be affected for life.
In heavy heroin users, abscesses and subcutaneous tissue infections (cellulitis) may occur. , leaving users with track marks on their bodies.
Unlike the sterile solutions and pharmaceuticals that are injected into the veins in a clinical setting, the street heroin injected by the average user is rarely, if ever, pure.
Many heroin batches contain substances called “adulterants” or “diluents,” which are used to increase the bulk of the drug or enhance its effects. A review of clinical studies published in found that :
If you use heroin long enough, the drug can introduce you to a whole new world — the world of blood-borne diseases. Sharing needles and having unprotected sex while you’re under the influence can expose you to deadly viral infections such as
Often users may not even know that they have these blood-borne infections, and unwittingly spread the disease to others. A person who injects drugs and has hepatitis C, for which there is no vaccine, is estimated to infect 20 other people.
Hepatitis can cause , interfering with your body’s ability to metabolize nutrients and eliminate toxic wastes. Hepatitis C, which is becoming increasingly common among IV heroin users, can cause serious long-term complications such as:
At this point, there is no cure for hepatitis C. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that t.
Hepatitis C (HCV) has become the one of the most prevalent blood-borne illnesses, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.
Many heroin users don’t even realize that they have HCV, making this infection particularly dangerous. Most often, it is spread through sharing needles and unprotected sex.
Long-term heroin use can destroy every aspect of your life, from your physical health to your finances, career, and relationships. Yet the intense euphoria and heavy sedation of a heroin high are so addictive that users are willing to run these risks in order to continue their love affair with the drug.
When you take heroin, life seemingly switches to slow-motion. In fact, heroin slows down your central nervous system (CNS) and , such as respiration. Heroin also suppresses the impulse to cough, a healthy reflex that clears debris, mucus, and harmful organisms from your lungs.
Over the long term, heroin can make you . When you can’t clear your lungs effectively, bacterial or viral infections are likely to develop, which may eventually lead to pneumonia.
Smoking heroin can also . To make matters worse, long-term heroin users often neglect their general health, which weakens the entire body and worsens the consequences of lung disease.
Whether you’re experimenting with heroin for the first time or you’ve been using the drug for years, overdose is the ultimate side effect. Heroin suppresses your vital functions, slowing down your circulation and breathing. Even if you’ve developed a tolerance for heroin, .
Some signs of a heroin overdose include:
According to the World Health Organization, long-term heroin users may increase their risk of an overdose if they:
If a person has overdosed on heroin, . The primary concern during a heroin overdose is the sudden drop in breathing and blood pressure. Fortunately, doctors can stop the effects of the opioids with medication (e.g., the opioid antagonist naloxone), which can save the person’s life if they get to the hospital in time.
Keep in mind that if you’ve used heroin for a long time and decide to get clean, your tolerance to the drug will decline. Many long-term users who have been abstinent for several weeks or months have overdosed when they relapsed because their bodies could no longer tolerate large doses of the drug.
Recovering from heroin addiction is possible, but it may be the most challenging struggle you ever face. After you’ve used heroin for a while, the drug has become a big part of your life. Even if you know that you have to give up heroin to save your health, your loved ones, your career, or your life, this powerful drug can convince you that nothing matters but your next high.
Fortunately, behavioral therapies and medication-assisted treatment (e.g., methadone, buprenorphine, Suboxone, etc.) can help someone like you through heroin abuse recovery. Traditional treatment offers inpatient and outpatient services that incorporate both psychotherapy and medications to help users through recovery.
involve staying at a sober live-in facility for a predetermined amount of time to undergo therapy and education. Many former users find that this helps them with their recovery, and if your addiction is severe, this is often the recommended treatment setting.
, on the other hand, involve working through treatment from home, and attending daily groups at the treatment facility.
offer both inpatient and outpatient services, and they provide enhanced one-on-one care for recovering heroin abusers. Because heroin withdrawal can be so unpleasant, luxury treatment focuses on comfort to help former users feel better during treatment. Luxury programs also provide numerous amenities that may help refocus recovering heroin abusers during the cravings and discomfort of transitioning to an abstinent life.