9 Health Risks Of Heroin Addiction

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health risks of heroinThe number-one health risk of heroin addiction is a life-threatening overdose. Heroin is frequently cut with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, which increases the risk of fatal or disabling overdose.

Overdose, however, isn’t the only dangerous health risk of heroin addiction. Here are nine other health risks you should be concerned with:

1. Reduced Awareness And Drowsiness

Heroin inhibits the way your nervous system normally functions. It can cloud mental functioning. Drowsiness and wakefulness can alternate after heroin use.

Your ability to function after using heroin can be reduced to the point you’re unaware of potential dangers in your surroundings. Driving or operating machinery is unsafe while on heroin.

2. Slowed Breathing And Heart Rate

Heroin depresses your central nervous system and lowers your breathing and heart rate. Slowed breathing can lead to a coma and permanent brain damage.

A heroin overdose can cause breathing and heart functions to stop. This is how heroin or other opioid overdoses can be life-threatening.

3. Tolerance And Physical Dependency

Like other opioids, heroin binds to opioid receptors in your central and peripheral nervous system. The more frequently you use heroin, the more tolerance will develop.

Tolerance means you require more of a drug to achieve the same effect. Dependency means your body has adapted to the drug and you need to take it in order to function on a daily basis.

4. Heroin Use Disorder

Heroin use can cause dependency and tolerance in everyone who uses them for a significant period. Heroin use disorder develops when seeking and using heroin becomes the main activity in your life.

If you can’t control when you seek and use heroin, it’s a telltale sign of heroin use disorder, a chronic, relapsing disorder with major health risks including overdose and death.

5. Opioid Side Effects

Heroin is an illicit (illegal) opioid, but it shares physical side effects with prescription opioids, including insomnia, sexual dysfunction, and constipation.

These health side effects result from the way that heroin affects your central and peripheral nervous system. For example, heroin causes constipation because it slows down the signals your brain sends to your stomach and gut to digest food.

6. Skin And Soft Tissue Infections

If you inject heroin, you run the risk of needle-borne bacterial and viral infections. Skin and soft tissue infections are common among people who inject heroin into their skin. Abscesses from bacteria like staph and strep are common.

More serious infections include pyomyositis, an infection of skeletal muscle, along with necrotizing fasciitis, also known as “flesh eating bacteria.” Both conditions are potentially life-threatening.

7. Blood And Body Fluid-Borne Infections

Intravenous (IV) drug use, including heroin injection, raises the risk of being exposed to HIV and viral hepatitis. HIV/AIDS is a risk from sharing needles with an infected person.

Reduced inhibitions can also increase unprotected sexual activity, leading to HIV or hepatitis risk. People who use IV drugs have a high risk of developing Hepatitis C or Hepatitis B.

8. Circulatory System And Organ Damage

Street heroin contains contaminants that can block blood vessels and damage internal organs. Organ failure, including liver, lung, heart, and kidney failure, are all potential risks.

Scarred and collapsed veins can also lead to extensive skin and muscle damage, along with infections. Snorting heroin can cause similar tissue damage to snorting cocaine.

9. Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)

Pregnant women who use heroin are exposing their unborn baby to the same drug they’re taking. Heroin passes through the placenta to the baby’s bloodstream and nervous system. After the baby is born, it can experience withdrawal symptoms like seizures, tremors, diarrhea, and vomiting.

If the symptoms are severe, the baby’s life is at risk. Babies with NAS need medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and intensive monitoring until their body is free of heroin. If you’re pregnant and using heroin, help is available for both you and your unborn child at Vertava Health Ohio.

Treating Heroin Use Disorder At Vertava Health Ohio

The health risks of heroin use are serious and pose a severe threat to your welfare. At Vertava Health Ohio, we’ll start with a comprehensive assessment of your health and substance use. From there, we’ll develop an individualized treatment plan that meets you where you are in your recovery.

To get started with the best heroin treatment and learn about the admissions process, contact Vertava Health Ohio today.


CDC—Heroin Overdose Data
National Institute on Drug Abuse—Heroin—Skin and soft tissue infections in injection drug users
SAMHSA—Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health