Heroin use has increased dramatically in the US over the past decade. One unfortunate counterpart to the increasingly prevalent numbers of heroin users is an alarming surge in the number of heroin-related overdose deaths.1 Chronic heroin use can lead to serious problems, such as heart infections, miscarriages, contraction of infectious diseases (e.g. HIV and hepatitis), liver disease, kidney disease, addiction, and more.2,4 Additionally, long-term heroin abuse dangerously increases the risk of a potentially fatal overdose, particularly as tolerance increases. Heroin detox treatment is an effective way to stop using heroin and start on the road to recovery.
Heroin is a highly addictive opioid synthesized from morphine alkaloids first extracted from an opioid poppy plant supply hailing from various parts of the world, including Colombia, Mexico, and Southwest and Southwest Asia.4 The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies heroin as a Schedule I drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use.3
Much of the world’s supply of heroin is produced as a white or brown powder. When encountered in relatively less pure forms, it may more closely resemble a black sticky substance, often referred to as black tar heroin. Heroin is used via a number of methods and routes of administration. It is sometimes mixed with other substances prior to use, including cocaine (a practice called speed-balling).4
Heroin is a very dangerous drug because it can lead to addiction, overdose, and even death. Additionally, people who use heroin in certain ways have higher risks of developing specific health problems. For example, people who inject heroin have a higher chance of contracting infectious diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis.4
People abuse heroin in a number of ways. Each method of administration poses its own unique risks. Some of the common ways in which people use heroin include:2,5
Globally, an estimated 13.5 million people use opioids, including 9.2 million who use heroin.6 The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that in 2015, roughly 591,000 Americans suffered from heroin addiction.7 Further, heroin overdose death rates are also on the rise; in 2016, nearly 15,500 Americans were reported to have died due to a heroin overdose.8
These rising heroin abuse statistics may be, in part, fueled by the current prescription opioid crisis. Between 21 and 29% of people who are prescribed opioid painkillers (such as oxycodone and hydrocodone) misuse them, which means that they use them in a way other than prescribed; of these numbers, up to 12% develop an addiction to opioids. Approximately 4 to 6% of those who misuse or abuse prescription opioids transition to using heroin.7 People sometimes transition to heroin from painkillers because heroin produces similar effects, but is often cheaper and more easily obtainable.4 In fact, an estimated 80% of heroin users report that they began abusing prescription opioids first.7
Long-term heroin abuse can cause many negative consequences in a person’s life. The longer you continue using heroin, the harder it can be to stop. Quitting heroin allows you to take control of your life, improve your health and happiness, and prevent or minimize the consequences of chronic heroin use.
Long-term heroin use can significantly distress your interpersonal, financial, emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. One of the most debilitating consequences of heroin abuse is that of addiction, which is a condition characterized by cravings, drug-seeking behaviors, and continued drug use despite knowing the negative consequences.9 Heroin addiction develops in association with distinct structural and functional brain changes, some of which are not easily reversed.9
A number of physical health issues are associated with long-term, repeated heroin use. Some of these effects vary based on method of administration. Of the long-term physical effects of heroin use, some of the most significant include:
People who inject heroin may also suffer from:5,10
Snorting heroin can cause:10
Regardless of the method of administration, heroin users can suffer from other long-term physical developments, such as:5,9,10
People who abuse heroin also have a risk of overdose, which occurs if you take too much heroin, use impure heroin, if you resume using after a period of abstinence, or if you combine heroin with other drugs. All of the aforementioned factors can result in respiratory depression, coma, and death.
These physical consequences aren’t the only risks associated with long-term heroin use. Chronic heroin use can also increase one’s risk of serious and debilitating psychological symptoms.
Psychological effects of chronic heroin use can be just as distressing as the physical consequences. Some of the long-term psychological effects of heroin use include:10
While the physical and psychological long-term effects of heroin use can be serious and incapacitating, there are additional issues that can further complicate matters for someone who is addicted to heroin.
Chronic heroin use can wreak havoc on a person’s entire life. In addition to impaired psychological and physical health, long-term heroin use can also cause other general issues, such as:10
Seeking help before it’s too late is one of the best ways to prevent or minimize many of the effects of chronic heroin use. For most people with a long-term heroin addiction, professional detox treatment is the first step on the path to recovery.