What Are the Dangers of Continued Heroin Abuse?

drug user sitting on stairsThe sustained use of heroin can trigger devastating effects on your physical and mental health. Continued heroin use is liable to trigger adverse social and legal ramifications for the person abusing this potent illicit narcotic.

This guide highlights the many short-term and long-term consequences of heroin abuse, including addiction and overdose. You can also learn how to initiate your recovery from heroin abuse.


Schedule I controlled substance. Like all drugs in this schedule, heroin has no accepted medical utility partnered with a high potential for abuse.

There are many forms of heroin available on the black market, including:

  • White powder
  • Off-white powder
  • Brown powder
  • Sticky black tar

Increasingly, drug traffickers are adulterating batches of heroin with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Those who abuse heroin smoke, snort, or inject the drug. Regardless of the route of administration, ingesting heroin brings about dramatic and near-instantaneous effects. The intensity of its effects and the speed of their onset contribute to the highly addictive nature of this deadly semi-synthetic opioid.



A man struggling with severe side effects, showing the dangers of heroin use When you take heroin, the substance binds to opioid receptors in the brain and body. This chemical interaction prompts nerve cells to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger. Dopamine is associated with mediating pleasurable feelings that feel rewarding.

The euphoric effects of heroin are so pleasurable that many people who use the drug feel a strong desire to repeat the behavior that provokes these effects. Regrettably, this can initiate a vicious cycle of heroin abuse that will almost inevitably spiral out of control.

Smoking or snorting heroin will deliver effects less rapidly than injecting the drug intravenously. Injecting heroin is the most dangerous form of abuse.

Heroin induces pain-relieving or analgesic affects. At the same time, heroin also depresses the CNS (central nervous system). These are the most common short-term effects of heroin abuse:

Powerful euphoric rush.

  • Feeling warm and flushed
  • Heavy sensation in the limbs
  • Reduced sensitivity to pain
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy
  • Sedation

The initial euphoric high may be intense, but it is also very short-lived. Euphoria will subside after a few minutes, with longer-lasting sedation persisting for several hours. The duration and intensity of heroin’s effects are contingent on:

  • Purity of heroin
  • Amount of heroin taken
  • Route of administration

After ingesting heroin in any form, you may experience fluctuating intervals of being awake and asleep. This is referred to as nodding or nodding out.

The continued use of heroin will diminish the intensity of the high. This occurs when tolerance to heroin forms. Many abusing heroin try to mitigate tolerance but taking more heroin or more frequent doses of heroin. Not only will this accelerate the onset of physical dependence, but it will also heighten the risk of heroin overdose – more on that below.



There are many variables that influence the effects of heroin abuse on your health. These include:

  • Weight
  • Stature
  • Sex
  • Overall health status
  • Volume of heroin abuse
  • Frequency of heroin abuse
  • Duration of heroin abuse
  • Route of administration
  • Use of other addictive substances
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions

Even the short-term abuse of this drug can cause adverse health outcomes.

After using heroin, expect to encounter the following short-term health effects:

  • Euphoria lasting for 15 to 30 minutes
  • Trance-like state lasting for 4 to 6 hours
  • Flushed skin
  • Severe itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Extreme relaxation
  • Slow breathing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Drowsiness
  • Pinprick pupils
  • Muddled thoughts

If you continue to use heroin, the ongoing presence of the drug will lead to the development of dependence. Physical dependence on an addictive substance like heroin is characterized by:

  1. Tolerance to the drug
  2. Withdrawal symptoms in the drug’s absence

Physical dependence on heroin routinely triggers even more abusive patterns of consumption, with people using more heroin or taking the drug more frequently to overcome the issue of tolerance and dependence. As the volume of heroin being abused increases, so will does the margin of risk to your health.

Once dependence on heroin sets in, addiction typically follows. Central to heroin addiction is the compulsive use of the drug regardless of negative consequences.

Continued heroin use will also increase the chance of experiencing a heroin overdose and can also bring on a variety of short-term and long-term health complications.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Abuse

Injecting, smoking, or snorting heroin induces the following short-term effects:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Euphoria
  • Flushed skin
  • Appetite loss
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Reduced lung function
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchiness
  • Flu-like symptoms


If you continue to use heroin long-term, you are likely to experience a range of physical and mental health problems.

These are some of the most serious negative physical outcomes associated with long-term heroin use:

These physical effects can be damaging and even deadly, but heroin abuse also causes emotional and psychological problems.

The sustained abuse of heroin can damage gray matter in the brain. The repeated use of the substance can also change the physical structure of the brain. It is not easy and not always possible to reverse these changes.

Heroin abuse can also cause emotional and mental turmoil. Frequently, heroin abuse leads to impaired cognitive function.

Like all addictions, heroin addiction often co-occurs with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Heroin addiction (opioid use disorder) is diagnosed per the criteria in DSM-5-TR, the updated version of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), heroin addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain condition. As with all substance use disorders, central to heroin addiction is a compulsive use of the drug regardless of negative outcomes.


If you take too much heroin, there are many indicators of overdose. The primary concern is that breathing slows or stops. The following signs all suggest depressed breathing caused by heroin overdose:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Gasping for air
  • Pale blue skin
  • Blue tinge to lips or fingertips

The following symptoms are also associated with heroin overdose:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Spasms
  • Seizures
  • Constipation
  • Disorientation
  • Delirium
  • Altered mental state
  • Low blood pressure levels
  • Discolored tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Small pupils
  • Coma

Heroin overdose can be life-threatening and should be treated as a medical emergency.

The effects of heroin overdose can be reversed by the administration of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. Naloxone is available as an injectable or a nasal spray.



If you need assistance to tackle the psychological and physical components of heroin abuse and addiction, we can help you at Gratitude Lodge. Choose to engage with affordable heroin rehab in:

  1. San Diego
  2. Newport Beach
  3. Long Beach

You can withdraw from heroin as safely and comfortably as possible at one of our licensed medical detox centers. Your treatment team can administer medications approved by the FDA for reducing withdrawal symptoms and cravings during heroin detox.

After about a week, you can transition into ongoing inpatient or outpatient treatment programs designed to promote your sustained recovery from heroin addiction.

MAT (medication-assisted treatment) is effective both during detox and throughout ongoing therapy, minimizing the frequency of heroin cravings, and encouraging ongoing abstinence. MAT is best administered alongside behavioral interventions. The treatment team will personalize your treatment plan, drawing from the following therapies:

  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Group counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Daily meetings
  • 12-step immersion program

When you are ready to move beyond heroin addiction, take advantage of supervised clinical withdrawal Gratitude Lodge, before addressing the psychological aspect of heroin addiction in one of our ongoing treatment programs. Call admissions at 800-994-2184.