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Heroin Side Effects: The Dangers of this Highly Addictive Drug

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Heroin Side Effects

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug derived from the poppy plant. It has been used for decades as a recreational drug, but its use carries serious risks and has resulted in widespread addiction and health problems.

Knowing about the side effects of heroin can help people make informed decisions about using it and provide valuable insight into the dangers associated with heroin abuse. Understanding these side effects can also help those struggling with addiction seek the right treatment to get their lives back on track.
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What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug derived from the poppy plant. It’s an opioid that acts similarly to other narcotics such as morphine and codeine. Most people use heroin in one of three ways: injecting it intravenously, smoking it, or snorting it. Injecting heroin produces a more intense high with effects lasting up to five hours. It also poses an increased risk of overdose.

Heroin produces a range of short-term effects, including euphoria, drowsiness, dry mouth, and impaired mental functioning. It is either found as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.”

What are the Effects of Heroin? 

Heroin has serious side effects that later become a problem when trying to detox from the drug. It affects the central nervous system, slowing your breathing and heart rate. This drug can lead to coma or even death if taken in large doses or mixed with other drugs. It is a central nervous system depressant that essentially shuts down the body’s essential life-preserving functions.
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The opioid receptors in the body also develop a tolerance for the drug, which could lead to chronic pain and other medical issues if a person quits heroin after using it for an extended period of time. The longer someone uses heroin, the greater their risk of developing physical and psychological dependency and addiction.

Short Term Effects 

Short-term effects of heroin may include:

  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Clouded thinking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression of the central nervous system, including slowed breathing and heart rate
  • Drowsiness, confusion, and coma
  • Constricted pupils
  • Loss of coordination

Long Term Effects

Long-term effects of heroin may include:

  • Poor decision-making and judgment due to brain damage caused by the drug
  • Increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C from sharing contaminated needles
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Pulmonary complications, including pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Severe tooth decay
  • Damage to mucous membranes of the nose from snorting heroin in powder form
  • Physical dependence and addiction
  • Risk of overdose due to decreased tolerance levels
  • Impairment of short-term and delayed verbal memory

How Long Does it Take for the Heroin to Take Effect? 

The effects of heroin usually take place within minutes, depending on the method of administration. Smoking or snorting heroin will produce a faster effect than injecting it intravenously.

How Long Does the Effect of Heroin Last?

Heroin’s effects usually last for four to five hours. However, the drug can linger in your system for up to 24 hours. This means that even after the initial effect has worn off, you may still feel some of its effects.

The side effects of heroin use are serious and can have long-term consequences. It is important to understand these risks before experimenting with the drug and seek help if necessary. Heroin addiction is a serious and often deadly problem, but it can be treated with the right kind of support, guidance, and care.

What are the Risks of Using Heroin?

There are a lot of risk factors involved in heroin use. Using heroin carries a high risk of overdose, addiction, and death. It is highly addictive and can cause serious health problems such as a weakened immune system, respiratory depression, kidney disease, heart failure, infections from contaminated needles or other drug-related paraphernalia, and even brain damage by thinning the blood-brain barrier.

According to the Heroin Research Report, heroin use can also lead to risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, violence, and crime. Additionally, people who use heroin can develop a tolerance to the drug, increasing the risk of an overdose, especially during a relapse.

What are the Effects of Heroin Addiction? 

Heroin addiction has serious and long-lasting effects, both physically and mentally. It can cause sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and irritability. Chronic heroin use can also lead to physical changes in the brain and other organs, leading to permanent damage if not treated in time.

Additionally, it can increase a person’s risk of developing HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and other infectious diseases. People addicted to heroin often experience a drastic decrease in their quality of life and are at greater risk for social problems such as homelessness, legal issues, and unemployment.

What are the Effects of Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal can be difficult, and it is important to seek medical help if you are experiencing any symptoms. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Intense craving for the drug.
Withdrawal can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the severity of an individual’s addiction and their level of physical dependence.

What are the Effects of Heroin Overdose? 

A heroin overdose is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated quickly. Signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose include:

  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Bluish tint to the skin
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • Shock
  • Coma

What are the Effects of Heroin-laced Drugs?

Other illegal drugs are often laced with heroin, which can be incredibly dangerous. Heroin-laced drugs can have unpredictable effects, and it is difficult to know the strength or purity of the drug without testing it. Heroin-laced drugs are more likely to cause an overdose due to their increased potency, so it is important to be aware of this risk if you come into contact with them.
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It is important to remember that heroin and other drugs can have serious short-term and long-term effects on your body, mind, and life. Some common heroin-laced drugs are:

  • Cocaine
  • Marijuana
  • Ecstasy
  • Methamphetamines

Frequently Asked Questions 

What are the effects of heroin on your body?

The effects of heroin on the body range from physical to psychological. Physically, heroin is a depressant drug, which means it slows down your bodily functions and can cause respiratory depression, drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and reduced heart rate. Psychologically, heroin use can lead to euphoria and relaxation as well as anxiety or agitation.

How long will it take for heroin to kick in?

It usually takes about 5-10 minutes for heroin to kick in when it is injected, smoked, or snorted. The effects of the drug can last anywhere from three to five hours, depending on the dose and method of administration.

How long does the heroin high last? 

The effects of heroin high typically last between three to five hours, but they can extend up to seven hours. The intensity of the experience will depend on the amount taken and how quickly it’s absorbed.

How do people take heroin? 

Heroin can be taken by injection, smoking, or snorting. Each method carries its own risks and should not be attempted without medical supervision. Injecting heroin is the most dangerous way to take it as it increases the risk of overdose, blood-borne diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, and vein damage. Smoking or snorting heroin is less dangerous than injecting, but it still carries a risk of overdose and other health complications. Inhaling it can be especially risky as it increases the chance of developing lung diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

How does the first dose of heroin make you feel?

The first dose of heroin is often described as intensely pleasurable and euphoric. The effects can last for several hours, but the intensity will vary depending on how much is taken and the method of administration. However, regardless of the euphoria, drug abuse is bad for health and is likely to lead to addiction.

How can I get help for heroin addiction? 

If you or someone you know is struggling with a heroin addiction or substance abuse, many treatment options are available. It’s important to seek professional help from an addiction specialist who can provide personalized care and support. Treatment typically involves a combination of behavioral therapy and medication-assisted treatment (MAT), such as methadone or buprenorphine. Treatment can also involve support groups, medical detoxification, and inpatient treatment.

What are the most severe side effects of heroin use?

The most severe side effects of street heroin use are heroin overdoses, organ damage, and death. Overdose can lead to fatal respiratory depression or cardiac arrest. Long-term use of heroin can also cause permanent organ damage, such as kidney or liver failure. Chronic users may also experience mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

What are the physical side effects of heroin use?

Physical side effects of heroin use include dry mouth, constipation, decreased heart rate, and blood pressure, drowsiness, and impaired coordination. Long-term use of heroin can also cause skin infections from injecting the drug, abscesses, and collapsed veins. It can also lead to lung infections from smoking or inhaling it.

What are the mental side effects of heroin use?

Mental side effects of heroin use include changes in mood, impaired judgment, confusion, and depression. Long-term use can lead to cognitive decline and psychosis. It can also increase the risk of developing anxiety or suicidal thoughts. Rehabilitation facilities ensure proper mental health services administration so that people in recovery can heal.

What are the cognitive side effects of heroin use?

Cognitive side effects of heroin use include impaired memory, concentration, and decision-making. Long-term use can lead to permanent cognitive deficits, including difficulty learning new information or problem-solving. Heroin use can also increase the risk of developing dementia in older users.

What are the behavioral side effects of heroin use?

Behavioral side effects of heroin use include decreased motivation and energy, an inability to regulate emotions, and a strong craving for the drug. Long-term use can also lead to changes in social behavior, such as withdrawal from friends and family or increased aggression. It can also increase the risk of developing compulsive behaviors such as gambling or shoplifting.

How does heroin use affect the brain?

Heroin use affects the brain by reducing its ability to produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and motivation. This can lead to feelings of depression and apathy, which in turn can lead to users taking more of the drug to feel better. Long-term use of the drug can cause permanent damage to parts of the brain responsible for emotional stimulation.

What are heroin withdrawal symptoms?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms, signs, and indicators can include cravings, sweating, insomnia, agitation, and anxiety. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Physical symptoms such as tremors or muscle aches may also occur. Withdrawal usually peaks within a few days and dissipates within a week or two.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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