Dangers of Long-Term Heroin Dependence

Heroin is an illicit opioid that has become increasingly popular in America due to the prescription opioid abuse epidemic. There are new regulations in the United States that make it hard to obtain prescription painkillers, so the easier and cheaper alternative is heroin. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world; using it just one time can cause tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Once an individual has become dependent or addicted to heroin, they will do anything to get the euphoria that it produces and to prevent the terrible withdrawals that come with dependence and stopping the substance. Long-term heroin abuse can have devastating physical and psychological effects.

Dangers of Long-Term Heroin Dependence

Long-Term Physical Effects of Heroin Dependence

Long-term heroin abuse can have some devastating effects on a person’s brain and body. The abuser is at increased risk of developing infections, HIV, hepatitis, and other bloodborne illnesses if they use the drug intravenously. There is also the risk of developing skin infections.

According to the National Institutes of Health:

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. (NIH)

As stated above, with long-term abuse comes tolerance, dependence, addiction, and severely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if the drug is stopped abruptly. Withdrawal symptoms can be felt within a few hours of when the last dose was taken. Some of the withdrawal symptoms of heroin include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Cold flashes
  • Goosebumps
  • Restless legs

The physical withdrawal symptoms of long-term heroin dependence will usually go away within a week or two, but the psychological withdrawal can last for months. Some of the other physical effects of long-term use include respiratory infections such as bronchitis, pneumonia, or even possibly tuberculosis. There is also a possibility of developing issues with joint mobility and/or arthritis as well.

What is Heroin Use Disorder?

What is heroin use disorder? The National Institutes of Health has a precise definition:

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. Heroin is extremely addictive no matter how it is administered, although routes of administration that allow it to reach the brain the fastest (i.e., injection and smoking) increase the risk of developing heroin use disorder. Once a person has heroin use disorder, seeking and using the drug becomes their primary purpose in life. (NIH)

More people are addicted to heroin today than ever before because it’s cheap, powerful, and extremely addictive. Getting off heroin is not easy and overdoses are common because the drug is often cut with even stronger opioids such as fentanyl.

The danger of a Heroin Overdose

Another effect of long-term heroin dependence is the possibility of overdose. Recently in the United States, there have been a lot of heroin overdoses and overdose fatalities due to the drug being mixed with another potent opioid called fentanyl. Users will get a substance they think is heroin, and it is fentanyl. Fentanyl in the smallest amounts is deadly. Also, a large dose of heroin will depress the heart rate and breathing to the extent that the user cannot survive without medical assistance.

Long-Term Psychological Effects of Heroin Dependence

Long-term heroin abuse not only has terrible physical effects, but it also has devastating psychological effects. Many people will experience mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and antisocial personality disorder. Men often experience sexual dysfunction. Also, once a person is over the physical withdrawal of heroin, the psychological withdrawal can last for months. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a cluster of withdrawal symptoms, which are mainly psychological and mood-related, that can last for weeks or even months after the acute withdrawal symptoms have passed. The withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and daunting.

Treatment for Heroin Dependence

The best way to recover from long-term heroin dependence is to enter a medically supervised treatment program where you can be monitored and given medications to help with the withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you love needs help with a heroin addiction or any other addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Recreate Life Counseling offers evidence-based addiction treatment. Call us today and get started on recreating your life!