Sexual Side Effects Of Heroin Abuse

Heroin substance abuse and opioid dependence can result in sexual dysfunction in both men and women. People addicted to heroin can experience decreased sexual function resulting from the effect of the drug on the brain.

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Dr. Langdon M.D.

Medically Reviewed By: Kimberly Langdon M.D.


Sexual dysfunction is among many negative side effects resulting from heroin use. People with a heroin addiction often experience a decrease in sexual function as a result of using the opiate.

These side effects can include a lack of sexual desire but may also extend to erectile dysfunction in men and irregular menstrual cycles in women affecting their quality of life.

Find out about other effects of heroin addiction.

Sexual Dysfunction Due To Heroin Drug Use

Sexual dysfunction can result from heroin substance abuse even though high-risk sexual behavior, like multiple sexual partners, often goes hand in hand with substance use disorders.

Other risk factors can result in the transmission of hepatitis B or C and HIV. Nevertheless, as heroin drug addiction changes different aspects of the brain, sexual function becomes more problematic for heroin users resulting in poor quality of life.

They may experience a decrease in sexual desire as their rewards centers become more heroin-dependent.

Heroin use can also lead to psychiatric disorders or comorbidity involving alcohol abuse that negatively affect certain body functions, like erectile function.

Why Heroin Affects Sexual Function

As with other illicit drugs, heroin affects sexual function through the different changes that it makes to the brain over the course of long-term heroin use.

One of those changes happens to the dopamine centers of the brain. Often called the reward center, dopamine is an agonist that is released when you experience something pleasurable.

People become addicted to the drug because by attaching to the brain’s opioid receptors, it gives the user a rush of pleasure which floods your reward center with dopamine.

To compensate, your dopamine receptors shrink. This results in a decrease in other pleasurable desires, including sexual desire.

Effects On Hormones

Hormones, generally speaking, are “supervised” by the pituitary gland, which is called the master gland of the endocrine system. These include sex hormones and testosterone levels.

Located deep in the brain tissue, the pituitary gland is dependent on nerve connections to send messages to the rest of the body.

Those nerve connections in turn are dependent on healthy white matter in the brain to function quickly and efficiently.

However, heroin can damage white matter in the brain of people who use heroin long-term. This can result in your endocrine system slowing down and not functioning properly. Sexual problems like poor erectile function can result.

Effects Of Heroin-Related Depression On Sexual Function

Depression can affect mental health by, among other things, lowering sexual desire. But how is depression related to heroin substance abuse?

One of the ways is that heroin use may flatten the desire for normal pleasures. But another way is through the link to prescription opioids and chronic pain.

Four out of five heroin users came to the drug through the gateway of prescription opioid use. People who have chronic pain can also experience depression.

This means the mental health disease can already exist and then be aggravated by heroin use resulting in effects like poor erectile function in men.

Learn about other ways heroin affects mental health.

How Heroin Use Affects Sexual Function In Men

The prevalence of heroin use in men can cause a decrease in sexual function through erectile dysfunction.

The inability of a man to have proper erectile function can result from a variety of factors:

  • clogged blood vessels
  • hormones
  • sleep disorders
  • depression

All these sources can result from heroin addiction. Heroin, especially when it is injected, can cause the hardening and clogging of blood vessels. Heroin can also be the source of insomnia.

Also, when the endocrine system cannot function properly, sexual response can be slower, which can result in a lack of erectile function.

How Heroin Use Affects Sexual Function In Women

When heroin damages the endocrine system, it can cause irregular menstrual cycles in women who use heroin.

It can also affect the production of prolactin, which signals the production of breast milk in women who are pregnant.

Sexual function can decrease as a result of the body not being able to regulate the periods when sexual desire tends to increase and those when sexual desire tends to decrease.

Women can also experience sexual dysfunction from similar sources as men. For example, depression and sleep disorders can lower sexual desire in women. These conditions commonly result from heavy heroin use.

Does Herion Cause Long-Term Sexual Side Effects?

Many side effects from heroin addiction can last long after the person with a heroin addiction has gotten addiction treatment.

Damage to the brain can take a long time to reverse and can even be irreversible. It may take some time for former heroin users to recover normal sexual desire.

Medical treatment for heroin addiction can also be problematic for sexual behavior in both men and women.

Methadone maintenance treatment is a common medical treatment for heroin addiction, but methadone can affect sexual desire negatively.

Buprenorphine maintenance treatment, on the other hand, is also used to treat heroin use and, a buprenorphine maintenance treatment program can have better results in how it affects sexual function.

Find Treatment At Bedrock Recovery Center

The sooner your stop using heroin, the sooner you have a chance of reducing the sexual side effects and the long-term side effects of the drug.

At Bedrock Recovery Center, we offer a variety of heroin treatment programs to help you enter recovery.

While maintenance therapy can sometimes result in continued sexual problems, psychiatry can help you cope, and you’ll find a number of these behavioral health treatments for heroin use at our Massachusetts treatment facility.

Call our helpline to find a drug treatment program near you today.

  1. Mayo Clinic — Erectile dysfunction - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
  2. Mayo Clinic — Erectile dysfunction - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
  3. Mayo Clinic — Erectile dysfunction - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse — Heroin
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse — What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?
  6. Plos One — Sexual Dysfunction in Heroin Dependents: A Comparison between Methadone and Buprenorphine Maintenance 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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