Side Effects of Heroin Abuse

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Heroin abuse affects everything you do. Physically, it affects your brain and cardiovascular system in various ways. It can slow down your breathing and heart rate due to the neurochemical changes it causes. Negative side effects of heroin abuse often include: nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, severe itchiness, and dilated pupils. Heroin abuse may also lead to lack of motivation, paranoia, and depression. 

When injecting heroin, there is the additional risk of contracting a blood-borne disease, such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS. This type of administration can also lead to scarred or collapsed veins, abscesses, and bacterial infections. If snorted, heroin abuse can damage the tissue in the nose or cause a perforated septum. When abused continuously in any form, it eventually leads to the ultimate side effect: heroin addiction.

The more you use heroin, the greater tolerance your body builds up against its effects. Over time, it requires additional doses at a higher frequency to feel the same euphoric feeling as before. Chasing the cravings of heroin creates a dependency on the drug, which ultimately leads to addiction and possible overdose, if not treated. Once addicted, there are physical withdrawal symptoms that occur. 

These start within a few hours of the last dose of heroin, peak within 24-48 hours, and continue for approximately one week. These may include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue and insomnia, among others. Their intensity and pain contribute to the cycle of drug addiction. Eventually, people continue heroin abuse to feel the high, but also to prevent occurrence of withdrawal symptoms, which perpetuates the addiction cycle. 

Heroin use, abuse, and overdose has increased throughout the years due to the increase of highly addictive prescription pain relievers. When these are taken without a prescription or in amounts or ways not medically prescribed, it leads to drug addiction just like any other form of heroin. As a result, millions of people suffer from the side effects of heroin abuse every day. 

Long-Term Physical and Emotional Side Effects of Heroin

The severity and length of time you’ll experience heroin side effects depends on how much and how frequently you’ve been abusing the drug. The physical symptoms are indicative of greater damage to your body for the long-term. Heroin addiction changes the makeup of your brain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it can cause long-term hormonal and neuronal imbalances that aren’t easily reversed. Chronic heroin use has been linked to: 

  • Lung complications, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Sexual dysfunction in men
  • Disrupted menstrual cycles
  • Clogging of blood vessels
  • Immune reactions that may cause arthritis 

Additionally, studies have shown heroin abuse can deteriorate the brain’s white matter, which affects decision-making abilities and the ability to respond to stressful situations and regulate behavior. Rather than rejecting continuous use, the brain adapts to it and builds a tolerance instead. Over time, these reactions make you believe you need heroin in order to function normally. The more you use, the more it takes for you to receive the same high as before. This increased level of use is what commonly results in heroin overdose.

Since heroin abuse affects how you think, act, and feel, it often leads to emotional repercussions as well. It causes you to lose control over your previous self, which can be hard to admit or see firsthand. Addiction damages relationships on all levels. It can make you less dependable, depressed, and change your appearance drastically. Problems at work and with relationships may increase, especially if you become withdrawn and secretive. Heroin addiction can lead to permanent severance of important relationships in your life. 

The way your heroin abuse looks from the outside is likely more extreme than what it feels like for you. Addiction makes it feel “normal” to function with heroin in your system. To add to the emotional effects of heroin addiction, heroin abuse can lead to legal and financial trouble as well. It limits your ability to make positive choices and reduces your ability to communicate with others in a way that’s effective. Coupled with the physical toll it takes on your body, it may seem like you’ll never be able to escape the cycle of these side effects. 

Though it may be difficult to look  past heroin addiction to see what’s available on the other side, an addiction treatment program can help you reach sobriety and rebuild your health, relationships, and life for a fulfilling future.

Experiencing The Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The first step in any treatment is detox. Detoxing from heroin abuse takes approximately a week, depending on your situation. If you’ve been struggling with heroin addiction for years, you’ll likely feel residual side effects for weeks or months after, and in some cases, permanently. The timeline serves as the starting point of your long-term recovery, but how long it takes shouldn’t be used as a comparison to well you’re healing. It’s all based on how much your body has been affected by addiction and how it responds to detox and treatment. 

During this time of withdrawal from heroin, the body works hard to rid itself of the drug and resume back to a stabilized state. There are severe physical symptoms of heroin abuse that occur which often causes people to relapse. These may include nausea and vomiting, tremors, depression, and other painful side effects. The intensity level will be at its strongest in the beginning as the body tries to adjust to functioning without heroin in the system. After the first few days, the withdrawal symptoms should begin to subside and decrease in severity. 

Due to the unpredictability of the person’s body during the detox process, it’s best to go through heroin withdrawal with the help of a treatment facility. You’ll have a safe, secure place to detox through a medically managed program. A team of medical professionals can supervise your symptoms and provide ways to minimize them to make you as comfortable as possible. They also provide the emotional support required to go through this event. 

Handling heroin withdrawal is not as simple as stopping use. Many people attempt to detox from heroin on their own only to relapse. Battling addiction requires putting up a fight against cravings, temptations, and other negative influences that contributed to where you are. The physical, mental, and emotional toll it takes on your body requires the assistance of a trained team of medical specialists in order to reach the next level of your recovery. 

Heroin affects people on various levels, some of the side effects are immediately visible, while others take time to manifest. The sooner you’re able to seek heroin addiction treatment and start a sober path, the better it is for your long-term health and well-being. Addiction must be treated on every level to achieve long-term sobriety.

Participating in an addiction program allows you to learn about the root of your addiction rather than only attending to the presence of physical signs and symptoms. It also gives you the support and guidance to help you feel confident in managing triggers and temptations that will occur down the road.

Treatment For Heroin Abuse

Fortunately, there is available support to overcome substance abuse and addiction. It starts with the detox process and continues into a rehabilitation program, which requires a temporary stay at a residential treatment facility. This offers you a safe space where you can begin your healing. Part of the benefit is that it separates you from your current environment of distractions and chaos. The focus of residential rehab is fully on your sobriety and implementing the necessary steps to get there. 

The program includes a set schedule of individual and group therapy, educational courses, and recreational activity. It entails support from a community of care providers and those in the heroin addiction treatment program with you to walk with you through your journey. The recommended timeline is 90 days, but the progression is individually based. Following residential rehab, the next step is outpatient care, which continues the path of your current treatment plan and provides flexibility in your schedule as you begin to adjust back to regular life. 

Intensive outpatient treatment gives you the tools, resources, and support necessary to continue sobriety on your own and have a place to turn to if you feel tempted or need additional support at any time during your long-term recovery period. There are also specific programs focused on managing real-life situations to better prepare you once you’ve completed residential rehab. 

These include Collegebound®, Careerbound®, and Musiscbound®. These programs provide mentorship for school enrollment, job placement, and other therapeutic and tangible parts of your care beyond residential treatment and outpatient services. There is also the availability of a Family Program, which brings family members together over the course of four days each month to reconnect with you in treatment. This is beneficial in working to repair damaged relationships due to addiction. It also provides an educational opportunity for all to learn about the roots of addiction and the impact it has on everyone.

A full continuum of care gives you the resources and foundation needed to begin your sober journey with confidence and clarity. Each treatment program is specially customized based on your unique goals and what you want to focus on for your future.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Immediate (Short-Term) Effects of Heroin Use?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 May 2020,
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Medical Complications of Chronic Heroin Use?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 May 2020,
  3. Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs (ASPA). “What Is the U.S. Opioid Epidemic?”, 4 Sept. 2019,

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