Physical Effects of Heroin On the Body (Short & Long-Term Effects) (2023)

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Heroin Use & Statistics

Heroin, an illicit opioid, is experiencing a resurgence in use in America, in part due to the prescription opioid abuse epidemic.

(Video) What Does Heroin Do To Your Body?

As authorities have clamped down on the distribution of pain-relieving medications, such as hydrocodone and Opana, individuals who are addicted to these medications have sought out heroin as an alternative.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provides accurate and thorough data on the different patterns of drug abuse in America. The 2013 NSDUH surveyed heroin use and made the following findings:1

  • In the year prior to the survey, an estimated 681,000 Americans used heroin.
  • Compared to survey years 2002-2005 (314,000-455,000), the number of prior year heroin users rose.
  • As far as new heroin users, an estimated 169,000 Americans aged 12 or older used heroin for the first time within the year prior to the survey.
  • The number of new initiates into heroin use in 2013 was similar to 2002-2005 and 2007-2012.

Physical Effects of Heroin On the Body (Short & Long-Term Effects) (1)It may seem alarming that a drug as potent and potentially ruinous as heroin has been making a comeback.According to authorities and news reports, relatively easy access to street heroin and its low cost (at least compared to prescription painkillers sold on the street) make it an attractive option, despite the fact that it can lead to a host of dangerous health conditions.

Physical Appearance Changes from Heroin

It is impossible to know from appearance alone whether someone is using heroin. However, heroin use can sometimes cause changes in someone’s physical appearance. Someone who is addicted to heroin may experience weight loss. Their pupils may also present as smaller than normal, which is sometimes referred to as “pinpoint” pupils.4

Additionally, this person may become less concerned with their physical appearance and hygiene, or appear more disheveled, but this is not always the case.5 Someone who injects heroin may have scars on their body to indicate injection, such as on their arms or legs. In severe cases, these injection sites may become infected or cause abscesses to form.6

(Video) Long term and short term effects of heroin drug - Signs, Symptoms, Withdrawal, Detox & Overdose

Severe Effects of Heroin Use

The health hazards associated with heroin stem from the drug itself and the circumstances around its use. Chronic heroin users who share unsterilized heroin paraphernalia can develop a host of long-term health consequences, such as:7,8,9

In addition to chronic conditions and infectious diseases, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, ongoing heroin use can cause changes to the brain.5

Research further shows that heroin abuse can lead to a deterioration of the white matter in the brain, which can directly affect decision-making capabilities, the ability to control behavior, and methods of responding to stress. Changes to the brain can also predispose it to a greater likelihood of relapse. Research shows that even after achieving sobriety, a person with a history of heroin abuse may be more likely to take up heroin again than those who do not have a history of such abuse.

Heroin abuse among women has been linked to infertility and disruptions to menstrual cycles. In some cases, pregnant women who use heroin have experienced spontaneous miscarriages.6 Women who continue their pregnancies may give birth prematurely, and infants may have a low birth weight and/or be born addicted to heroin. Regarding sexual function, women and men may experience diminished sexual drives. Men may experience erectile dysfunction and the inability to regain sexual interest on a long-term basis.

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(Video) What does Heroin do to your brain and body? | Earth Lab

Heroin Overdose

According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of fatal heroin overdoses has gone up over the years:10

  • 2009: More than 3,000
  • 2010: Approximately 3,000
  • 2011: Nearly 5,000
  • 2012: Approximately 6,000
  • 2013: More than 8,000

The CDC found a fivefold increase in the total number of heroin overdose fatalities from 2001-2013. Men are more likely than women to experience an overdose, but heroin overdose fatalities showed an increase from 2010-2013 for both sexes. Compared to 2001-2009, each year from 2010-2013 showed a sharp jump in the number of deaths associated with heroin use.

In the 1960s and 1970s heroin use in America reached epidemic heights. As a result, there was considerable public education about the many hazards associated with this potent opiate. Still today, there is a general public awareness about the harrowing effects of heroin. However, the number of 2013 heroin overdose fatalities was at an all-time high for the decade.

A heroin overdose does not always lead to fatality. In order to prevent fatality, it is critical to know the symptoms of a heroin overdose, which include:

  • Shallow breathing and difficulty breathing
  • Bluish nails and/or lips
  • Low blood pressure and weak pulse
  • Delirium
  • Mental disorientation
  • Spastic muscles
  • Discolored tongue
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Drowsiness
  • Coma

Signs of a heroin overdose and any severely adverse reactions to this opioid require emergency medical services. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2009, there were an estimated 213,118 reported emergency department visits related to heroin use. Fortunately, when compared to the heroin overdose rate for 2009 (more than 3,000 people), it is clear that only a fraction of the individuals who seek emergency treatment will suffer a fatal overdose. There does not appear to be data available on the number of people who fatally overdose on heroin without seeking emergency care.

(Video) 2016 Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin - Physical Effects on the Body & Brain - Drug-Free World

Additional Risks & Dangers

All heroin use is illicit. Heroin use, therefore, always involves a criminal element.

Exposure to drug dealers and other addicted individuals renders a person vulnerable to arrest, fights, and other legal trouble. As heroin is illegal under both federal and state laws, apprehended individuals involved with heroin (manufacturing, sale, and possession) may face criminal sanctions. There are many ways in which heroin use can lead to prison.

Heroin use can also result in driving under the influence (DUI) or “drugged driving.” According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), individuals who drive while under the influence of heroin exhibit slow driving, diminished vehicle control, weaving in the road, delayed reaction times, an inability to follow road signs, and may even fall asleep at the wheel.

According to one NHTSA study, in 2009, 18 percent of drivers who died in an accident were found to have at least one drug in their system.11

As aggression can be a side effect of heroin, a person who abuses this drug may become violent toward strangers and intimate partners alike. In some cases, the assault may be sexual in nature. Children are also vulnerable to heroin-involved domestic abuse. The victims of heroin assaults are not limited to the individuals on the receiving end. When people who use heroin attain sobriety, they will invariably recognize how heroin abuse caused them to damage relationships with people important to them, such as intimate partners and children. These losses can lead to stress and depression.

(Video) Heroin Addicts Speak | Explorer

A dedication to recovery and the attainment of sobriety can heal personal relationships as well as provide authorities (such as child protective services) with a reason to review a prior decision (such as the removal of children). There is always hope.


  1. SAHMSA. (2014). Results from the 2013 Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings.
  2. NIDA. (2018). What are the Immediate (Short-Term) Effects of Heroin Use?
  3. World Health Organization. (2009). Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Withdrawal Management.
  4. Dhingra, D., Kaur, S., & Ram, J. (2019). Illicit drugs: Effects on eye. The Indian journal of medical research,150(3), 228–238.
  5. NIDA. (2018). What are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use?
  6. NIDA. (2021). Heroin.
  7. NIDA. (2018). What are the medical complications of chronic heroin use?
  8. NIDA. (2018). Heroin Drugfacts.
  9. NIDA. (2018). Why does heroin use create special risk for contracting HIV/Aids and hepatitis B and C?
  10. NIDA. (2018). Overdose Death Rates.
  11. NIDA. (2018). Drugged Driving Drugfacts.


What are some of the short term effects of heroin quizlet? ›

People who use heroin report feeling a "rush" (or euphoria. Other common short term effects include dry mouth, heavy feelings in the arms and legs and clouded mental functioning (confusion).

How does heroin affect the body quizlet? ›

-The most significant effects of taking heroin are pleasure, pain relief and the suppression of breathing. -When heroin is taken, it converted into morphine in the body. The effects of heroin derive from the fact that morphine mimics endorphins, the natural neurotransmitters.

What is the physiological effect of the drug heroin? ›

Summary. Heroin is a depressant drug – it slows down certain functions of a person's brain and nervous system. Some of the immediate effects of heroin include feelings of wellbeing and relief from physical pain.

What are the subjective effects of heroin? ›

Subjective effects following injection are known as 'the rush' and are associated with feelings of warmth and pleasure, followed by a longer period of sedation. Diamorphine is 2–3 times more potent than morphine. The estimated minimum lethal dose is 200 mg, but addicts may be able to tolerate ten times as much.

How is heroin made quizlet? ›

How is heroin made? Heroin is made from the resin of poppy plants. Milky, sap-like opium is first removed from the pod of the poppy flower. Then, the opium is refined into morphine, then into different kinds of heroin.

What can happen if sedatives or tranquilizers are taken with alcohol quizlet? ›

What can happen if sedatives or tranquilizers are taken with alcohol? It can slow breathing and the heart, and even lead to death.

What are opioids known as? ›

Opioids, sometimes called narcotics, are a type of drug. They include strong prescription pain relievers, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl, and tramadol. The illegal drug heroin is also an opioid. Some opioids are made from the opium plant, and others are synthetic (man-made).

Which of the following is an example of a process addiction quizlet? ›

What are some examples of process addictions? Disordered gambling, compulsive buying, compulsive exercise, and compulsive internet or technology use.

What neurotransmitters affect opioids? ›

Opioids, as stated above, trigger excess flow of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which leads to the relief of pain.

Which characteristic is associated with drug abuse? ›

Generally, those who use drugs or alcohol are characterized by having high Neuroticism, high Openness to Experience, low Agreeableness, and low Conscientiousness.

Which is a benefit related to abstaining from alcohol? ›

Abstaining from alcohol can lead to several mental health benefits, including improved focus, energy, memory and sleep. It can also reduce your risk for heart problems, liver problems and several types of cancer. Excessive drinking does a lot of long-term damage to the body.

What are subjective effects? ›

Drugs have both objective and subjective effects Objective effects -- can be perceived and measured by an outside observer. Subjective effects -- are experienced internally by the user and can be known too outsiders only through verbal reports.

What is morphine used for? ›

Morphine tablet is used to relieve short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) moderate to severe pain.

How is morphine made? ›

Morphine is produced commercially from either opium or concentrated poppy straw. Opium is a sticky brown resin obtained by collecting and drying the latex that exudes from the lanced poppy pods, whereas concentrated poppy straw is extracted from the pods after the plants have been harvested.

When can you take other drugs with alcohol? ›

When you take alcohol with another drug, there is interaction in your body where one drug alters the other drug's effects. Mixing alcohol with other drugs can be unpredictable and dangerous. If you take alcohol with other drugs, the effects could be nausea, illness or death.

What is the most commonly used illicit drug quizlet? ›

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States.

What is a side effect of a sedative while driving? ›

Effects of Sedatives on Driving

Effects include slowed reaction time, sleepiness, poor psychomotor performance, impaired coordination, reduced ability to divide attention, inattentiveness, increased errors and difficulty following instructions.

What health problems can opioids cause? ›

You may get them if you have severe pain from health conditions like cancer. Some doctors prescribe them for chronic pain. Opioids can cause side effects such as drowsiness, mental fog, nausea, and constipation. They may also cause slowed breathing, which can lead to overdose deaths.

What are common warning signs and symptoms of opioid or IV drug addiction? ›

The most common physical and behavioral signs of Opiate abuse and addiction are:
  • Needle marks on arms and legs from intravenous (injected) use.
  • Constricted, “pinpoint” pupils.
  • Having trouble staying awake, or falling asleep at inappropriate times.
  • Flushed, itchy skin.

What is the primary reason for opioid abuse? ›

Results indicated that the most common reason for initiating opioid use among participants with and without chronic pain was pain relief; over 80% of those with chronic pain and 49% of those without chronic pain reported that pain relief was their primary reason for initiating opioid use.

What is considered a process addiction? ›

Common process addictions include shopping, gambling, sexual activity, pornography, eating disorders, internet use, exercise, and work. Process addictions harm the individual's physical and emotional health, damage interpersonal relationships, and may cause legal or financial problems.

Which type of drug has the potential to alter a person's mood? ›

Hallucinogens are a diverse group of drugs that alter perception, thoughts, and feelings. They cause hallucinations, or sensations and images that seem real, but they are not.

What does psychoactive drugs do to the body? ›

Psychoactive drugs are substances that affect the brain. They cause changes in awareness, thoughts, mood, and behavior. Depending on the substance, psychoactive drugs can cause euphoria, increased energy, sleepiness, hallucinations, and more.

What are the six major characteristics of addictive behavior? ›

Take a closer look at these characteristics to see if you may be at risk for addiction.
  • #1: Inability to Stop. ...
  • #2: They Continue to Use with Negative Consequences. ...
  • #3: They Are Preoccupied with Substance Use. ...
  • #4: Changes in Behavior. ...
  • #5: Increasing Use of Substances. ...
  • #6: Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms.
20 May 2022

How do drugs affect personality? ›

Addiction often leads to risky or unethical behavior. As noted above, studies have found that prolonged substance use impairs your prefrontal cortex, which is involved with planning, attention, emotional regulation, and self-control. It's also involved with foresight.

What are the Nine lifestyle diseases caused by substance abuse? ›

The Impact of Addiction Can Be Far-Reaching
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Stroke.
  • Cancer.
  • Hepatitis B and C.
  • Lung disease.
  • Mental disorders.
10 Jul 2020

Which alcohol is good for health? ›

Red wine, whiskey, tequila, and hard kombucha are healthier options than beer and sugary drinks. The CDC recommends you limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day if you're male and 1 if you're female.

Can your body heal if you stop drinking? ›

When you stop drinking, your body has the chance to recover from the harms of alcohol, but it can take time to feel like yourself again. If you are thinking about not drinking anymore, you should consult with a doctor, since the unwanted alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be powerful and lead to dangerous outcomes.

What happens when you stop drinking for a year? ›

Here is what you can expect during alcohol withdrawal:

Mental health effects like depression, anxiety, irritability and mood swings. Sleep problems, nightmares and fatigue. Headache. Sweating and tremors.

What is subjective effects of drugs? ›

Positive subjective experiences often include euphoria, relaxation, and feeling less inhibition. Negative subjective experiences include nausea, difficulty inhaling, dizziness and sadness.

What is the injection given at end of life? ›

Morphine and other medications in the morphine family, such as hydromorphone, codeine and fentanyl, are called opioids. These medications may be used to control pain or shortness of breath throughout an illness or at the end of life.

How end of life symptoms can cause pain? ›

Pain. Pain is the most common EOL symptom—and the most feared. Pain can stem from many causes, including chronic conditions, such treatments as chemotherapy-related neuropathies, and disease progression. Approximately 75% of patients with advanced cancer experience pain.

What is the oldest drug? ›

Some of the earliest evidence of Cannabis use dates back to around 8000 BCE, making it the oldest drug ever discovered. Cannabis is also considered one of humanity's oldest cultivated crops. Like the other drugs on this list, Cannabis was initially used for medicinal purposes, such as an anesthetic during surgery.

Which is stronger hydrocodone or oxycodone? ›

Both oxycodone and hydrocodone are powerful, but oxycodone is approximately 50% stronger than hydrocodone. Even so, this may not translate to better pain control. Some studies have shown that a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen is just as effective at treating pain as oxycodone with acetaminophen.

Does metabolism affect alcohol absorption? ›

Typically, alcohol is absorbed somewhat quickly in the blood, but the metabolism process is quite a bit slower. An example could be something like: a person weighing roughly 150 pounds can add 0.02 percent to their BAC per hour (per drink), while the metabolic rate is 0.01 percent per hour.

Which of the following is considered to be a standard drink? ›

In the United States, one "standard" drink (or one alcoholic drink equivalent) contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in: 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5% alcohol. 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12% alcohol. 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40% alcohol.


1. The Impact of Alcohol and Drugs on Your Health
(Florida PASS Program)
2. Science Behind Addiction: Heroin
(American Addiction Centers)
3. This Is What Happens to Your Brain on Opioids | Short Film Showcase
(National Geographic)
4. Descent into opioid addiction captured on video
5. Predictors and patterns of long-term mental health and heroin dependence
(The Matilda Centre)
6. Overdose survivors face challenges of brain injury
(NJ Spotlight News)
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