Injecting Heroin: The Long and Short-Term Effects?

opiate withdrawal symptoms

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Injecting heroin is both illegal and extremely addictive. Heroin is a drug processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. Heroin is a fast-acting opiate, and when injected, causes a surge of euphoria that arrives within seconds. The effects of heroin use can range from short term effects to long term and typically have devastating consequences that can last a lifetime.

Short Term Effects of Injecting Heroin

Once heroin enters the brain, it is converted to morphine and binds rapidly to opioid receptors. The intensity of the rush depends on how much of the drug is taken and how rapidly the drug enters the brain. With heroin, the rush is usually accompanied by dry mouth, a warm sensation on the skin and a heavy feeling in the extremities. Other short term effects are nausea, vomiting, pain in the upper abdomen, and severe itching. After the initial effects, users are usually extremely drowsy for several hours. It is not abnormal for a heroin user to abruptly fall asleep on the spot. Along with mental function becoming clouded, heart function and breathing can slow down. Slowed breathing can also lead to coma and permanent brain damage
Heroin Injection
Tolerating Heroin
Among the many problems of using heroin to get high is that the short term side effects lessen with every exposure to the drug. The more a person takes heroin, the more the body gets used to it – a process known as tolerance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that as the brain adapts to what heroin does to it, it responds less and less if the same amount of heroin is used. This usually motivates users to increase their doses, desperate to experience the same sensation that got them hooked in the first place. It may take a number of hits at a higher dose to feel that initial high, but by that point, the tolerance level has already increased so users take more and more heroin.

Mental Effects of Heroin

A few short term mental effects of heroin abuse include poor decision making and damage to critical thinking abilities.

However, from the early days of the habit, the seeds are planted for what can happen long term from a mental standpoint. One reason there is a high tolerance for heroin in habitual users is that the brain is forced to create additional opiate receptors to accommodate the continuous flood of the drug. This is primarily why repeated use of heroin can never duplicate the high that is created the first time the drug is taken. There is no way for the user’s brain to go back to the standard amount of opiate receptors. This is the reason the user is driven to take more and more heroin because there are always more new opiate receptors than there is heroin available.

Long term Effects of Heroin

The effects on the body from prolonged use of this drug are very destructive. Frequent injections can lead to infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Tuberculosis can result from the general poor condition of the body. Arthritis is another long-term result of heroin addiction. Over time, users withdraw from their normal lives, activities and obligations and life begins to revolve around seeking out and being in the haze of a heroin high.


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