What do you know about the long-term havoc that heroin wreaks on your body?
Health Conditions Include
- Hepatitis C (94%)
- Hepatitis B (85%)
- High blood pressure (51%)
- Abnormal liver function (50%)
- Abnormal lung function (33%)
- Tuberculosis (27%)
- Hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol in the blood (22%)
- High blood glucose (13%)
Other studies show that heroin use increases the risk of developing health conditions like:
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) like Syphilis or HIV
What’s clear is that heroin has severe effects on your health and body. Some heroin-related health conditions can be lethal.
Here’s what you need to know about heroin-related health conditions:
Health Conditions from Smoking, Injecting, and Snorting Heroin
People use heroin by smoking, injecting, or snorting it—but every method of using heroin causes health conditions.
- Smoking heroin can cause respiratory diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Injecting heroin can cause blood clots, collapsed veins, skin abscesses, and blood infections
- Snorting heroin can cause deviated septum, sinus infections, loss of taste, and loss of smell
You’re at higher risk of these health complications if you’re a heavy or long-term heroin user. But you can develop problems after just a few uses, especially if you’re injecting heroin.
Heroin & Brain Damage
Many studies have shown a link between heroin and brain damage. Heroin causes all kinds of damaging changes to your brain, including:
- Changes in your brain chemistry
- Damage to your brain cells
- Less oxygen exchange in your brain tissue
These changes can seriously affect your executive function, which includes:
- Task performance
- Working memory
- Mental flexibility
The result is behavioral problems that can make it impossible to function, especially if you’re still actively using heroin. You may have trouble making decisions, following through on plans, or completing tasks.
One study found that young people who use heroin are 3 times more likely to have brain damage compared to people who have never used it.
The brains of these youth looked similar to brains from Alzheimer’s patients. Brain damage from heroin can be seriously debilitating and permanent.
Heroin & Cancer
It’s not common knowledge, but there is a link between heroin and cancer. One study found that people who use opiates have an increased risk of:
- Bladder cancer
- Mouth cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Larynx cancer
- Pharynx cancer
There doesn’t seem to be a link between heroin and breast cancer—all of these cancers take place along the digestive tract. Still, it’s possible that heroin could cause even more cancers than the ones listed here.
Heroin & Heart Disease
Did you know that there’s a connection between heroin and cardiovascular health?
Heroin is linked to a serious, life-threatening heart disease called endocarditis. One study saw that drug-related endocarditis cases rose by 435% over a 5-year period.
Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart tissue. The signs include:
- Heart Murmur
- Muscle & Joint Pain
- Night Sweats
- Shortness of Breath
- Chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply
- Swollen Limbs
This disease happens when bacteria make their way to the heart through the bloodstream. You’re more likely to develop endocarditis if you inject heroin.
Heroin & Liver Disease
Scientists published evidence of liver disease from heroin as early as 1973. It’s well-known that injecting heroin can increase your risk of viral diseases like hepatitis B and C.
But that’s not the only way heroin can cause death from liver disease. Heroin can cause liver lesions that cause problems with liver function.
Avoiding injection drug use doesn’t protect you from developing heroin-related liver disease. It’s true that if you don’t inject, you’re unlikely to get viral hepatitis. But you can still develop liver scarring that leads to cirrhosis and death no matter what consumption method you use.
The signs of heroin-induced liver disease include:
- Red Palms
- Tremors in the hands
- Jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and eyes
- Nausea & Vomiting
- Swollen Abdomen & Limbs
- Itchy Skin
Heroin & Vitamin Deficiency
Long-term heroin use can cause nutritional problems. You’re less likely to feel hunger when you’re under the influence of heroin.
Combine that with a focus on using heroin instead of self-care, and you have the perfect conditions for vitamin deficiency.
People who use heroin may be deficient in these vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin A
- Pantothenic Acid
Heroin & Osteoporosis
Heroin causes osteoporosis by reducing your body’s ability to keep calcium in your bones. This results in bone loss, or lower bone density.
It’s especially common for people who use heroin to lose bone in their spines or vertebrae. This can cause severe back pain and mobility problems.
One study found that 56% of people who use opioids have bone loss in their spines, as opposed to 26% of non-users.
The signs of heroin-related bone loss include:
- Back Pain
- Loss of height
- Hunched Posture
- Pain in your bones
- Frequent broken bones
Pancreatitis & Heroin
You can develop pancreatitis from heroin the very first time you use it. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, which can cause severe pain and nausea.
One case report features a man who developed pancreatitis within 60 minutes of using heroin.
Opioids can increase the production of body fluids, including saliva. Saliva contains an enzyme called isoamylase, and excess amounts of this enzyme can irritate the pancreas.
The result is heroin-induced pancreatitis, which causes symptoms like:
- Severe upper abdominal pain
- Oily stools
If you have chronic heroin-induced pancreatitis, you may also experience weight loss.
Pancreatitis increases the risk of pancreatic cancer, so it’s possible that heroin and pancreatic cancer could be linked indirectly. There’s no research yet on the relationship between heroin and pancreatic cancer.
Bleeding Ulcers from Heroin
Heroin can cause ulcers in multiple parts of the body. That’s due to its high acidity, which can damage body tissue. Often, heroin is mixed with other substances that can cause ulcers as well.
With heroin, gastrointestinal ulcers are the most common, but you may experience them elsewhere too.
If you inject heroin, you can experience ulcers at the injection sites. The ulcer might affect your skin, the vein you injected into, or both.
An ulcerated injection site may be painful, red, and swollen. There may be pus or another fluid present.
These ulcers aren’t often life-threatening, but if they become infected, the bacteria could make its way into your bloodstream. This increases your risk of sepsis and endocarditis.
Heroin can cause gastrointestinal ulcers, too. You can develop ulcers anywhere along your gastrointestinal tract, including your:
- Small intestine
You might have GI ulcers if you experience blood in your stool. The blood may look bright red if the bleeding is lower in your GI tract. If it’s higher in your GI tract, the blood might look dark brown or black. Sometimes black blood in your stool takes on the appearance of coffee grounds.
Throat Ulcers from Heroin
Heroin can be caustic, or acidic enough to cause damage to your body. If you smoke heroin, you’re exposing your throat to that acidity, which can cause throat ulcers.
You might have ulcers from heroin if you experience:
- Sore throat
- Pain when swallowing
- Changes to your voice, including hoarseness
- Coughing up blood
Heroin use can make your immune system weaker and increase your likelihood of getting sick.
Many types of illicit drug use affect the immune system because drug use leads to less self-care. However, heroin’s different because it works directly on the immune system.
That’s because heroin is an opioid. Opioids make it harder for immune cells to do their job, which leads to a suppressed immune system.
The signs of heroin-related immune suppression include:
- Getting sick often, including illnesses like ear infections, skin infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis
- Internal organ inflammation, like ulcerative colitis or endocarditis
- Digestive disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, wasting, and chronic diarrhea
- Autoimmune illnesses, such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, vasculitis, or lupus
If you use heroin while underage, you may also experience delayed growth or delayed physical and mental development as a result of a weak immune system.
Get Help for Heroin Addiction
If you’re experiencing any of the health conditions associated with heroin use, it’s time to get help. Heroin can have long-term effects on your health and wellbeing.
Bedrock Recovery Center can provide you with the treatment you need to recover. That may include:
- Detox: With heroin withdrawal, gastrointestinal upset, headaches, sweating, and pain are all common. Our detox program manages your symptoms to keep you comfortable until withdrawal is over.
- Heroin Addiction Inpatient residential treatment: 24/7 care lets you focus on getting better without the distractions of the outside world. Our inpatient residential program provides the best live-in care.
- Behavioral treatment: Evidence-based treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy or counseling can help you recover from heroin addiction. You’ll learn recovery skills, begin managing your emotions, and learn how to move on from heroin.
- Medication-assisted treatment: MAT uses medications to control withdrawal and cravings. For many people, MAT lets them achieve long-term recovery after a history of relapse.
Call us today to learn how we can kickstart your recovery. Our compassionate team of addiction care professionals is ready to help!
Bedrock Recovery Editorial Team
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This page does not provide medical advice.