Does Heroin Use Reduce Life Expectancy

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of death among the under-55 population. With all this mortality, it’s fair to wonder how experts regard heroin use and its impact on life expectancy. Does heroin abuse use shorten your life? If so, by how much?

Understanding Life Expectancy

Life expectancy in the United States currently sits at 78.69 years. US life expectancy has been on the decline for three years running, despite more spending on health care than any other nation. This is the most significant and consistent drop in life expectancy since World War I.

Life expectancy is not a hard and fast deadline. People don’t keel over and die at 78 just because “life expectancy” suggests it. That number is a statistical average. Many people live to be much older, many die much younger. The current average happens to fall at 78.69 years.

Say you study ten people, and all ten of them live to be 90. The average life expectancy of that closed group is 90.

If two of them die tragically at the age of 20, however, the average gets dragged way down. The other eight still live to be 90, but because of the two early deaths, the average among the full group of ten drops to 76.

How Does Life Expectancy Get Reduced?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses a metric called “years of potential life lost” (YPLL).
When assessing a risk factor, like heroin use or driving a car, they take into account all the ways this risk factor might contribute to an early death. They then assign that risk factor a YPLL number.

This number represents the years a person with that risk factor might expect to lose as a result of that risk factor.

It’s worth noting that YPLL only applies to years lost before the age of 65. The CDC weighs young death heavier than elderly death.

Does Heroin Use Have A YPLL Number?

Yes it does. The CDC spent 33 years studying early mortality among a group of heroin users admitted to the California Civil Addict Program.

From this study, the CDC settled on a YPLL of 18.3 years.

On the surface, this means that people who use heroin under the age of 65 can expect to have 18.3 years subtracted from their life.

However, this is just an average. Individuals struggling with heroin use may survive certain hazards of the habit and might still achieve recovery and live long and healthy lives. Some damage from heroin use, however, can be permanent.

One Day Lost Per Dose compiles data from the CDC, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and other sources to create a kind of “drug-use death clock.”

By their calculations, one dose of heroin subtracts 24 hours from your life, on average. This is one of the most severe numbers the data produces. Compare that to:

14.1 minutes lost per cigarette
6.5 hours lost per alcoholic drink
6.6 hours lost per hit of cocaine
9.2 hours per lost hit of methamphetamine

Why The Lost Life Span?

A number of factors contribute to early death caused by heroin addiction. The leading cause is overdose. Half of the reported overdose deaths in the CDC study occurred within 15 years of admission to the California Civil Addict Program, suggesting that people were dying young.

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Other dangers shortening the lives of those addicted to heroin include accidents and chronic liver disease, the latter produced by the toll the drug places on the liver to purge it from the system.

The “unintentional injury” category recognized by the CDC in all life-expectancy studies was broadened to include:

  • heroin overdose
  • overdose on other drugs.
  • accidents
  • poisoning

It’s Not Too Late

Despite the dire numbers, the reduction of life expectancy due to heroin use is not a death sentence. It’s a call to action, a warning of what could happen and too often does happen.

Heroin dependence is a medical condition that willpower alone often cannot shake. Heroin cravings can be overwhelming, withdrawal symptoms punishing.

If you or someone you love uses heroin, call Vertava Health Ohio immediately to discuss intervention options. Those “years of life lost” aren’t lost yet. Take steps now to reclaim them.


CNN—US life expectancy is still on the decline. Here’s why.
Drug Policy Alliance—Drug Overdose
National Institute on Drug Abuse—Opioid Overdose Crisis
National Institutes of Health—Years of Potential Life Lost among Heroin Addicts 33 Years after Treatment
Omni Calculator—Addiction Calculator
The New York Times—‘The Numbers Are So Staggering.’ Overdose Deaths Set a Record Last Year.

Call Vertava Health now!