Medical Complications of Chronic Heroin Use

Medical Complications of Chronic Heroin Use

Chronic heroin users know that when they shoot, snort, or smoke the drug, they’ll immediately experience a rush of pleasurable feelings. Unfortunately, that experience is short-lived and is followed by flushed skin, dry mouth, and possible nausea. Their cognitive functioning will be impaired, their heart rate and breathing will slow down, and if they’ve developed a dependency on the drug, withdrawal symptoms may occur within four to six hours.

This cycle will repeat itself until the user seeks heroin addiction treatment. But it’s not only short-term health effects and the risk of overdose that affects heroin users. Chronic heroin use can also lead to long-term medical complications that can harm the body’s major organs.

Heroin’s Effect on the Brain

A person who repeatedly uses heroin will soon become tolerant to the drug,1 meaning that more and more of it is needed to achieve the same effect. But it’s also the desire to avoid agonizing withdrawal symptoms that motivates continued usage of the drug.Effects of Heroin on the brain

Additionally, chronic heroin use can cause the brain’s white matter to deteriorate. Medical researchers think white matter regulates behavior and decision-making. A study conducted within the last decade showed that chronic heroin use led to more severe damage to white matter.2 The extent of the deterioration was associated with the overall length of time the drug had been used.3

Heroin and Cardiovascular Disease

When heroin users inject the drug, they are risking adverse effects on their cardiovascular system. Intravenous use can cause veins to collapse or become scarred or may even lead to infections in blood vessels and heart valves.4heroin's effect on the heart and cardio health

People often think that dirty needles are the primary cause of injection harm and infection. But even those who are careful to use sterile techniques are at risk since the drug itself can harm the cardiovascular system. And if the heroin isn’t pure, substances laced with the drug can clog blood vessels, further increasing the risk of blood vessel blockage to the heart and other major organs of the body.4

Heroin and Liver Disease

A chronic heroin user who injects the drug risks developing Hepatitis C (HCV), which can cause cirrhosis and liver cancer. HCV is spread through blood contact with an infected person,5 and if an infected heroin user passes an unsterile needle to other users, the virus can easily spread. One study suggested that a single person with HCV who injects drugs can infect up to 20 people within the first three years of contracting the virus.6heroin's impact on the liver

Most people who contract HCV do not experience any symptoms until the disease is in its advanced stage, but at that point, HCV has become a chronic infection.5 Researchers estimate that 2.4. million people in the U.S. live with the HCV Virus.7

Chronic Heroin Use Harms the Respiratory System

Smoking heroin is also linked with alarming respiratory problems. Studies including young chronic heroin smokers showed a higher incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than same-age participants who smoke tobacco.8

the effect of heroin on the lungs

Another study that followed young chronic heroin smokers diagnosed with COPD found that nearly half of them presented with moderate-to-severe emphysema. These chronic heroin smokers also showed a high mortality rate. Inhaling heroin can also lead to severe asthma.8

Snorting Heroin Can Damage the Nasal Cavity

Some heroin users will snort the drug because they recognize there’s a social stigma associated with injecting it. They may even believe that snorting heroin will not lead to a substance use disorder. But snorting heroin is just as addictive as other methods, even though it takes longer for the drug to reach the bloodstream. And those who snort heroin may cause severe damage to the nasal septum and tissues inside the nose.4

heroin's effect on the nose

Heroin Addiction Treatment for Chronic Heroin Use

A chronic heroin habit puts the user at risk for severe health complications in addition to the many negative outcomes associated with addiction. Fortunately, it’s not too late to turn your life around. Help is available at Clear Life Recovery. Our experienced and caring staff will guide your journey to recovery through a program that we customize for your needs. We’ll give you tools and instructions to help you manage your sobriety once after treatment, and we’ll support you every step of the way.

Contact us today to learn more about our treatment center and start to feel hopeful about your future.













About Benjamin Hogan

Over the years, Benjamin has held positions in many different areas of alcohol and drug addiction services all over the country. He made a name for himself as an interventionist and has held certification as a Certified National Drug and Alcohol Interventionist (CNDAI-II). Benjamin specializes in helping support families of people struggling with addiction by focusing on education and instilling healthy boundaries to ensure lasting changes. Addiction is a progressive disease, but using an evidence-based approach, an intervention, when done correctly, can help to increase the willingness of a loved one to seek sobriety faster.

"In my experience, by helping families make necessary changes, they not only get their lives back, but they also help change the mind of their loved one more quickly. In an intervention, family and other loved ones take a proactive approach, instead of waiting and being stuck between fear and (false) hope. I realized in my own recovery, that when my family changed, I had to change in response. That is where I found sobriety. This is why I believe in what I do!"