Heroin Effects: Short And Long-Term

Heroin is an illicit drug sold and used in a variety of forms. The short-term and long-term effects of heroin will vary based on the amount of heroin used and the frequency of use.

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Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


Heroin is a highly addictive, modified version of morphine that originates from opium poppy plants. The substance can be found in multiple forms and cut with different drugs to increase potency.

Regardless of the method of heroin use, the powerful physical and psychological effects will be felt almost immediately.

The impact of heroin on a person’s health will depend on factors such as weight, length of use, and other substances used alongside heroin.

Short-Term Effects Of Heroin Use

In the moments after using heroin, the drug enters the brain and binds to the opioid receptors that are responsible for feelings of happiness and pain sensation.

Short-Term Physical Effects

The chemical dopamine is quickly released when someone uses heroin, which results in a rush of warmth throughout the body and pleasurable feelings.

A person using heroin may experience the following immediate physical effects:

  • warm, flushed skin
  • heavy sensation in the limbs
  • slowed breathing and heart rate
  • small pupils
  • dry mouth
  • severe itching
  • appetite loss

Learn more about the physical side effects of heroin use.

Short-Term Mental Effects

People high on heroin will typically drift in and out of consciousness for hours due to the way that heroin affects the central nervous system.

There is also a range of mental effects that heroin will cause in the short term:

  • a euphoric rush that lasts 3 to 5 hours
  • a trance-like state for up to 6 hours
  • mental fog
  • drowsiness
  • relaxation

Short-Term Side Effects By Method Of Heroin Use

In addition to the mental and physical sensations of heroin, there are also side effects that occur depending on how the drug is taken.

These include:

  • track marks on the arm or bruising around the injection site
  • nosebleeds, red nose, distorted sense of smell
  • intense cough, cracked or burned lips, other respiratory distress

Not everybody will react to heroin in the same way. Experiences using the drug will vary based on their mental health, tolerance level, and the additional ingredients in the heroin.

Long-Term Effects Of Heroin Use

Long-term use of heroin may lead to an array of side effects, including physical dependence, permanent brain damage, liver or kidney disease, mental health disorders, and more.

Long-Term Physical Effects

Over time, chronic use of heroin will contribute to several physical effects and ailments on the body.

Some long-term effects of heroin drug addiction include:

  • insomnia
  • hormonal imbalances
  • constant severe itching
  • cravings
  • withdrawal symptoms (nausea and vomiting)
  • constipation

Long-Term Sexual Effects

People may also experience long-term sexual dysfunction due to heroin use. This is because of the way heroin affects blood vessels and hormone levels.

Read more about the sexual side effects of heroin abuse.

Long-Term Mental Effects

Heroin will alter a person’s behavior, mood, and memory over time. Chronic heroin abuse may lead to conditions including antisocial personality disorder, depression, and more.

These changes are due to how heroin affects dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Cognitive skills such as behavior regulation, coping with stress, and decision-making skills may also deteriorate with chronic heroin use.

Increased tolerance to heroin will require taking higher doses of the drug to feel the same euphoric effects.

Oftentimes, the body will become more reliant on heroin in order to function properly which leads to drug dependence and addiction.

Learn more about how heroin affects the brain.

Dangers Of Long-Term Heroin Abuse

In addition to the long-term and short-term effects of heroin use, there are several dangers associated with chronic abuse of the drug.

Mental and physical dangers of heroin use include:

  • increased risk of diseases such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B
  • bloody stools and irregular bowels
  • lung damage and worsened asthma
  • permanent nasal tissue damage
  • mental illness
  • damaged blood vessels or abscesses at the site of injection

The dangers of heroin use will be intensified if the drug is mixed or cut with other substances such as methamphetamine, cocaine, benzodiazepines, or the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

Treatment Programs For Heroin Addiction

If you or a loved one has an addiction to heroin, help is available in the form of substance abuse rehab.

Treatment options for heroin addiction may include:

An evidence-based behavioral health care center will provide the best chance at avoiding the worst effects of heroin withdrawal achieving long-term sobriety.

Find Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

Call the helpline at Bedrock Recovery Center for more information on drug addiction, heroin overdose, and more.

Our inpatient treatment providers can help you get on track to long-term recovery from addiction.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Heroin https://nida.nih.gov/drug-topics/heroin
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH) — What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use? https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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