Skip to content

Effects of Heroin Abuse – Physical, Behavioral, Psychological, & Social

The psychological effects of heroin addiction may result from the efforts of the brain to rewire itself. A person with a heroin addiction will become more tolerant as the problem progresses because their brain is forced to create more opiate receptors to manage the influx of heroin.

What are the Effects of Heroin?

Heroin is one of most addictive drugs that can be abused, and the effects of heroin abuse are incredibly destructive, both physical and psychological. Many Individuals who are addicted to heroin may not be aware of the damage that heroin is doing to their life. Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted to morphine and binds rapidly to opioid receptors.

People who use heroin typically report feeling a surge of pleasurable sensation—a “rush.” The intensity of the rush is a function of how much drug is taken and how rapidly the drug enters the brain and binds to the opioid receptors. With heroin, the rush is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, dry mouth, and a heavy feeling in the extremities. Nausea, vomiting, and severe itching may also occur. Continue reading to learn more of the effects of heroin.

What is Heroin?

Heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a drug made from morphine; a psychoactive (mind-altering) drug taken from the resin of the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. In just a single dose of heroin, the body adjusts to the drug and craves more. Users can experience heroin withdrawal symptoms in just after seventy-two hours of use. After the initial effects of heroin, users usually will be drowsy for several hours; mental function is clouded; heart function slows; and breathing is also severely slowed, sometimes enough to be life-threatening. Slowed breathing can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage.

What Does a Heroin High Feels Like?

Curiosity about the effects of heroin use can lead someone to try the drug. People who misuse prescription opioids sometimes transition to heroin because it could be cheaper, more available, or more potent. When someone first uses heroin, the high is often pleasurable. A rush of euphoria and a false sense of well-being can also come with a relief of pain,hero anxiety, and depression. Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a release of endorphins that causes the high. This sensation leads to changes in feelings, thoughts, and sensations. While most people feel the initial heroin high is pleasant, some may have negative experiences, depending on the individual.

Heroin Effects on the Body

What are the heroin effects on the body” 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 be smaller than usual, sometimes called “pinpoint” pupils.

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

Heroin Effect on the Brain

What does heroin do to the brain? 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. Women who continue their pregnancies may give birth prematurely, and infants may have a low birth weight 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.

How Does Heroin Affect the Brain?

Heroin releases excessive amounts of dopamine in the brain. This depletes neurotransmitters of brain chemicals and teaches the brain that it needs heroin to function. This causes withdrawal in the absence of heroin and can lead to mental disorder symptoms of anxiety and depression. Heroin can also cause frontal lobe damage, which impacts attention, memory, and spatial awareness.

Excessive use of heroin can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain leading to overdose and long-term effects on movement, vision, mood, and other vital functions. In addition, more severe heroin overdoses may cause a person to stop breathing entirely, triggering even more severe brain damage. In this case, the effects are similar to a stroke. Depending on the area of the brain deprived of oxygen, a person may have a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Trouble with reading and writing
  • Memory loss
  • Vision and hearing loss
  • Trouble with reading and writing
  • Memory loss
  • Vision and hearing loss

Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.

Searching for Accredited Drug & Alcohol Rehab Centers Near You? Or Mental Health Support?

Even if you have failed previously, relapsed, or are in a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. Call us when you feel ready or want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.

FREE Addiction Hotline – Call 24/7


In 2020, heroin-involved overdose death rates decreased by nearly 7% 2019 to 2020. However, more than 13,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States, a rate of more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans. The number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was nearly seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999. Almost 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin.


More than 13,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States.

Source: CDC


Almost 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin.

Source: CDC

Heroin Drug Facts


Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

How do people use heroin?

People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing.

What are the effects of heroin?

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Short-Term Effects

People who use heroin report feeling a “rush” (a surge of pleasure or euphoria). However, there are other common effects, including:

  • dry mouth
  • warm flushing of the skin
  • heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • nausea and vomiting

Long-Term Effects

People who use heroin over the long term may develop the following:

  • insomnia
  • collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • infection of the heart lining and valves
  • abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • constipation and stomach cramping
  • liver and kidney disease

The Dangers of Heroin

Most people know that Heroin is one of the most dangerous drugs because of its addictive potential. There are also short and long-term effects of the drug, as well as indirect risks that can be life-threatening. The side effects of heroin use get worse over time. The longer someone uses the drug, the more destruction heroin can wreak on the immune system and internal organs. The risk for getting both communicable and noncommunicable diseases increases. Prolonged heroin abuse can also lead to lung, heart, and liver disease.

The most common effects of heroin abuse include:

  • Respiratory problems, including pneumonia, depressed breathing, and other pulmonary diseases
  • Infection by bloodborne pathogens, leading to chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis
  • Infection at the injection site
  • Necrotizing fasciitis, a fast-moving, fatal infection that kills tissue it encounters
  • Decreased ability to care for oneself as obtaining, using, and recovering from heroin use takes over life
  • Cardiac complications: pericarditis, endocarditis, atherosclerosis
  • Complications from additives to the heroin, which can cause blood clots to form in the arteries or veins and allow it to travel to heart, causing heart attack, stroke, or pulmonary embolism
  • Coma
  • Overdose and death

What are the Side Effects of Heroin Addiction?

The psychological effects of heroin addiction may result from the efforts of the brain to rewire itself. A person with a heroin addiction will become more tolerant as the problem progresses because their brain is forced to create more opiate receptors to manage the influx of opium. This is the main reason repeated doses of heroin can never mimic the user’s first experience. As a result, the person will continue to use more and more heroin, disturbing the way their brain processes pleasure and dopamine production. This can lead to anxiety, depression, and other forms of substance-induced psychosis.

Alternate Between Drowsy and Wakeful States of Consciousness

After the initial rush ends, individuals who consume heroin experience a trance-like state that shifts between wakefulness and drowsiness. During this period of time, which is commonly known as “nodding out,” the user’s minds become cloudy. Generally, “nodding out” look like people who are trying to stay awake. Their heads “nod” and simultaneously drop as they get sleepy, and then suddenly, they jerk awake. The process usually continues for a couple of hours.

Nodding out” occurs because heroin is an opioid sedative that causes people to feel alert one moment and sleepy the next. This may seem harmless, but the reality is nodding out is totally dangerous. Heroin users can easily lose consciousness, slip into a coma, or nod off and never wake up again. People using heroin may try to disguise “nodding out” as everyday fatigue but alternating between wakefulness and drowsiness for hours after a euphoric high is most often a symptom of heroin addiction.

Learn about the effects of heroin by reading this article.
What are the effects of heroin abuse? Once the brain becomes chemically dependent on heroin, the person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug. 

Experience Unexplained Physical Changes

Since this drug often causes nausea and vomiting, many people using heroin lose their appetite. Because of this, the majority of people who abuse this drug lose weight. Weight loss is often one of the first physical signs and symptoms of heroin use that family members notice. Moreover, many heroin users appear tired and look older than their real age. They may have dark circles around their eyes and a pale complexion. Some might even have a bluish tint to their skin because of the way heroin affects heart rate and blood pressure.

Other unexplained physical changes commonly linked with heroin include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Scabs and bruises
  • Constant runny nose
  • Heavy-feeling limbs

Experience Excessive Itching and Skin Picking Disorder

Other common symptoms of heroin use

are itching skin and skin picking disorder. When used, heroin triggers the immune system to release histamine, a chemical that’s normally released when someone has an allergic reaction. When released inside the body, histamine activates the skin’s itch receptors, which commands the brain to scratch an itch.

In addition, heroin can:

  • Irritate nerve fibers in the body, making itching worse
  • Bind to specific receptors in the body that send itch signals to the brain
  • Lead to injection injuries that cause abscesses and skin infections that may itch as they attempt to heal

Many heroin users pick their skin as well. Generally, the picking is a result of the intense itching heroin causes. However, the anxiety and restlessness associated with heroin withdrawal can also lead to skin picking.

Ryan Zofay forming a circle and hugging friends.

Get Your Life Back

Find Hope & Recovery. Get Safe Comfortable Detox, Addiction Rehab & Mental Health Dual Diagnosis High-Quality Care at the We Level Up Treatment Centers Network.

Hotline (877) 378-4154

What are the Long Term Side Effects of Heroin?

Repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed. Studies have shown some deterioration of the brain’s white matter due to heroin use, which may affect decision-making abilities, the ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.

Heroin also produces profound degrees of tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance occurs when more and more of the drug is required to achieve the same effects. With physical dependence, the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly.

Withdrawal may occur within a few hours after the last time the drug is taken. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”), and leg movements. Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 24–48 hours after the last dose of heroin and subside after about a week.

Some people have shown persistent withdrawal signs for many months. Finally, repeated heroin use often results in heroin use disorder—a chronic relapsing disease that goes beyond physical dependence and is characterized by uncontrollable drug-seeking, no matter the consequences.

First-class Facilities & Amenities

World-class High-Quality Addiction & Mental Health Rehabilitation Treatment

Rehab Centers Tour

Renowned Addiction Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient rehab programs vary.

Addiction Helpline (877) 378-4154

Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:

  • 15+ Years Experience
  • 100s of 5-Star Reviews
  • 10K+ Recovery Successes
  • Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
  • Onsite Medical Detox Center
  • Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
  • Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
  • Coaching, Recovery & Personal Development Events
Learn about the effects of heroin by reading this article.
What are the effects of heroin abuse? Because heroin is a street drug, you can never trust that it’s entirely pure. 

Heart Attack

Chronic heroin injectors may develop collapsed veins, infection of the valves and heart linings. Other cardiovascular effects include heart failure, blood vessel damage, low blood pressure, collapsed veins, and heart attack. Heroin users were at higher risk for acute myocardial injury (the medical name for heart attack), after heroin inhalation and binge drinking. The cause might be a heroin-induced cardiotoxic effect or vasospasm compounded by the presence of binge drinking.

Lung Disease

Lung problems, including various types of pneumonia, may result from the poor health of the user as well as from heroin’s depressing effects on respiration. In addition to the effects of the drug itself, street heroin often contains toxic contaminants or additives that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage to these vital organs. 


Heroin can decrease and suppress T and B immune cells. It can lower someone’s ability to fight infections, viruses, and bacteria. The way someone uses heroin and other forms of the drug can also put them at risk for infection. People who use heroin as an injection drug and share needles are at risk for hepatitis C and HIV.

World-class, Accredited, 5-Star Reviewed, Effective Addiction & Mental Health Programs. Complete Behavioral Health Inpatient Rehab, Detox plus Co-occuring Disorders Therapy.

CALL (877) 378-4154

End the Addiction Pain. End the Emotional Rollercoaster. Get Your Life Back. Start Drug, Alcohol & Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Treatment Now. Get Free No-obligation Guidance by Substance Abuse Specialists Who Understand Addiction & Mental Health Recovery & Know How to Help.

Heroin Overdose

Heroin overdose is a dangerous and deadly consequence of heroin use. A large dose of this illicit drug depresses heart rate and breathing to such an extent that a user cannot survive without medical help. Naloxone (such as Narcan, Kloxxado) is an opioid receptor antagonist medication that can eliminate all signs of opioid intoxication to reverse a heroin overdose. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and preventing heroin from activating them.

Because of the huge increase in overdose deaths from prescription opioid misuse and abuse, there has been a greater demand for opioid overdose prevention services. Naloxone that can be used by nonmedical personnel has been shown to be cost-effective and save lives. In April 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a Narcan nasal spray that is sprayed directly into one nostril. In 2021, the FDA approved a higher dose naloxone nasal spray (KLOXXADO). Since Narcan and Kloxxado can be used by family members or caregivers, it greatly expands access to naloxone.

Can you overdose or die if you use heroin? Yes, because heroin can slow and even stop a person’s breathing. This is called a fatal heroin overdose. Deaths from drug overdoses increased from the early 1990s through 2017, fueled by increases in misuse of prescription opioids and, more recently, by a surge in heroin use. 

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [4], In 2019, heroin overdose death rates decreased by over 6% (2018 to 2019). However, more than 14,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States, a rate of more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans. The number of heroin overdose deaths was more than seven times higher in 2019 than in 1999. Nearly a third of all opioid deaths involved heroin.

Heroin Withdrawal

Withdrawing from any kind of opioid can be lethal. That is why the safest way to get rid of this drug from your body (detox) is under medical care. As uncomfortable as heroin withdrawal symptoms are, they aren’t usually life-threatening. However, they are painful and uncomfortable enough to make at-home detox dangerous. Can you die from heroin withdrawals? It is during an at-home detox that a person starts to crave heroin while also experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Home remedies for heroin withdrawal may not be enough.

To ease their pain, they use heroin. However, now that they are clean, their body is no longer accustomed to the drug. They may return to using the same amount as they previously did, but it can be overwhelming for their body, causing an overdose and death.

Another reason why people die from heroin withdrawal is due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea. Untreated, these symptoms can rapidly dehydrate the body and cause dangerously high levels of sodium to accumulate in the blood (hypernatremia), and the heart can fail. Such incidents happen when people withdraw from heroin on their own. Such deaths can be averted by medical supervision in a professional detox facility.

Learn about the effects of heroin by reading this article.
What are the effects of heroin abuse? Many heroin users struggle with multiple disorders and are more likely to be using various substances than other illegal substances.

Experience Transformative Recovery at the We Level Up Treatment Center.

See our authentic success stories. Get inspired. Get the help you deserve.

We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy We Level Up Treatment Centers for Drug Alcohol Rehab Detox Behavioral Mental Health Dual Diagnosis Therapy
Hotline (877) 378-4154
Voluntarily testimonials from the We Level Up Treatment Center network vary. Not intended as a guaranteed treatment or outcome as each person's journey is unique.

Start a New Life

Begin with a free call to an addiction & behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers various recovery programs at each treatment facility. Call to learn more.

  • Personalized Care
  • Caring Accountable Staff
  • World-class Amenities
  • Licensed & Accredited
  • Renowned w/ 5-Star Reviews

We’ll Call You

Heroin Addiction Treatment Near Me

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease and should be treated like other chronic diseases. Like those, it should constantly be monitored and managed. Heroin is a type of opioid. Opioid addiction treatment is different for each individual. The main purpose of opioid addiction treatment is to help the person stop using the drug. Opioid addiction treatment can also help the person avoid using it again.

The body goes through specific symptom stages known as the opiate withdrawal. The opiate withdrawal timeline varies from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of opioid used, how long it was used, and any other substances that may have been used in conjunction with opioids. Medically managed withdrawal opiate detox ensures the individual remains safe and stays as comfortable as possible.

Heroin Detox Treatment

The first step in treatment is medical detox. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior contributing to heroin addiction. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can give necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Heroin Withdrawal Treatment Inpatient 

There isn’t one treatment approach or style that will suit everyone. Treatment should speak to the needs of the individual. Inpatient drug rehab and addiction treatment aren’t just about drug or alcohol use. the goal is to help the person stop using drugs like heroin. Drug and alcohol rehab should also focus on the whole person’s needs.

Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior. When someone or their family is considering different treatment facilities, they should account for the complexity of addiction and the needs of the individual. The objective of attending an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab center for addiction treatment is to stop using the drug and re-learn how to live a productive life without it.

Most people benefit from inpatient rehab after a full medical detox from drugs and alcohol. Inpatient drug rehab can last anywhere from 28 days to several months. Patients stay overnight in the rehab facility and participate in intensive treatment programs and therapy. Once someone completes rehab, their addiction treatment team will create an aftercare program, including continuing therapy and participation in a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.


Many rehab programs will also have early morning classes or programs. Group sessions occur during inpatient rehab, as do individual therapy sessions. Family therapy may be part of inpatient rehab when it’s feasible. Alternative forms of therapy may be introduced during inpatient rehab, like a holistic therapy programyoga for addiction recovery, or addiction treatment massage therapy.

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Solution-focused therapy is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. This strategy treats both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend mainly on the treatment for both diseases done by the same team or provider.

Medication Assisted Treatments (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

Please, do not try to detox on your own. The detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up provide proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to assist your recovery through our opioid addiction treatment program medically. So, reclaim your life, and call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Learn about the effects of heroin by reading this article.
Heroin detox programs are broken down and differentiated by the client’s needs. In many cases, individuals who need the most help start with detoxification and transition directly into inpatient rehabilitation,

Heroin Addiction Treatment Recovery Story To Sobriety

Lorraine shares her personal Heroin Addiction Treatment Recovery Testimonial Video.

In this video, Lorraine is candid and upfront about her journey to recovery as well as her experience receiving treatment for Heroin.

“If I didn’t change, I was just going to keep going back to jail. I’m Lorraine and I’ve been sober for six years. I’m a recovering alcoholic, heroin addict, and crack cocaine addict.

I was homeless for several years. I called the one person that never gave up on me and that was my mom and within an hour she was at the motel that I was staying at. And I said yes because I didn’t know what I was doing with my life and it was the best phone call I ever made.

After getting out of treatment I did everything that they told me to do. I got a sponsor. She’s still my sponsor. She’s taken me through the steps several times. I went back to school and now I’m one semester away from finishing my Bachelor’s in social work. And then I will start my Master’s in hopes to be a therapist so I can be there for other people.

Being sober is the only reason that I can work towards that.”

Does Heroin Addiction Treatment Work?

The good news is that, despite how severe their addiction may be, the majority of persons with a substance use disorder can gain something from receiving competent therapy. Approximately 80% of people who complete drug and alcohol rehab say their health and quality of life have improved.

YouTube video
Search We Level Up “Effects of Heroin” Topics & Resources