Heroin is used as both a recreational drug and a painkiller. Regular administration leads to tolerance, physical dependence and psychological dependence. Like other illicit drugs, heroin has innumerable damaging and severe effects on the body. Such damages may cause prolong and irreparable results. Side effects of heroin use can result from self-induced destruction, neurological damage and administering damage (Holmes, 1999). While heroin use has withdrawal symptoms, chronic users may experience reoccurring symptoms even long after they have sustained the use of heroin. Heroin affects mind and body since it is a semi-synthetic opiate. Heroin addicts use it due to its transcendent relaxation and euphoria effects. Apart from the short-term and long-term effects, heroin has other primary and side effects because of the contaminants found in street heroin (Strang & Gossop, 2004). The usage of heroin should be restricted to medicinal purposes only. Heroin should not be taken for recreation or other non-medicinal purposes owing to the avalanche of its effects.
Short-Term Effects of Heroin
Immediately after injection, heroin crosses the brain-blood barrier. Heroin converts into morphine. It floods the brain’s sensory receptors causing a feeling of euphoria. The binding of the drug to opioid receptors causes brain damage and destroys the body’s capacity to produce natural chemicals, which balance moods. The initial impact of heroin is feeling a surge of sensation. Often, this rush is accompanied by mouth dryness and skin itch. At times, the first reaction can be either severe itching or vomiting (Sonder, 2002). After the initial effects, heroin users begin to feel drowsy. This can last for a number of hours. Basic functions of the body such as heartbeat and breathing slow down. These drug effects decrease with time. As a result, the body of an addict starts craving for more heroin. If this is not immediately fixed, he/she starts experiencing withdrawal. Withdrawal includes extreme mental and physical symptoms that are experienced when the body is not supplied with the next dose of heroin. Withdrawal symptoms include diarrhea, severe discomfort, vomiting, aches and restlessness. Clouded brain functioning, slowed breathing, vomiting, nausea, drowsiness, sedation or even coma, as a result of the overdose, are the other short-term effects of heroin. It also leads to hypothermia meaning that the body temperature is lower than usual. In case of overdose, death can occur (Holmes, 1999).
Heroin use also makes legs and arms heavy. The first transcendent relaxation and euphoria cause the rush. Heroin addicts also experience itch, anxiolytic effect, somnolence and confusion. They may also experience alternate drowsy and wakeful states. Temporary use of heroin for recreational purposes can lead to death or a permanent disability. A warm flushing of the skin, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and intense itching are some short-term effects of heroin. Moreover, the cardiac system functions slowly resulting in slow breathing that can eventually lead to death due to respiratory difficulties (Johnson, 2011). Overdose may result in convulsions, meaning that the user exhibits involuntary, intense, uncontrolled and paroxysmal muscular contractions. Heroin effects involving the respiratory and cardiac systems can be serious and even fatal. The severity of these short-term effects depends on a user’s age, mood, weight and medical condition. A heroin user experiences a feeling of intense pleasure. This is followed by physical relaxation and contentment. This lasts up to 3-4 hours. Bradycardia, shallow breathing, respiratory depression, also called hypoventilation, hypotension, ataxia, dyspepsia, analgesia and urinary retention are also short-term effects of heroin.
Long-term Effects of Heroin
Heroin has many destructive effects. Its long-term effects are devastating and lethal. Frequent injections can result in collapsed veins as well as infections of the blood vessels and heart valves. Poor body condition, in turn, can lead to tuberculosis. Additionally, heroin addiction leads to arthritis as a long-term effect. If an addict’s lifestyle involves sharing of needles, this may result in many contagious infections and AIDS (Sonder, 2002). Gum inflammation, bad teeth, cold sweats, introversion, insomnia, loss of appetite, constipation, itching, depression, coma and respiratory diseases are some of the long-term effects of heroin. Moreover, a continued use of heroin weakens one’s immune system. It can also lead to muscular weaknesses culminating to partial paralysis. It also reduces one’s sexual capacity and may lead to long-term impotence especially in men. Both men and women fail to reach orgasm. Prolonged usage of heroin leads to loss of job, friends, parents and confidence. Stealing and lying become one’s habit.
Long-term abuse of heroin leads to a strong psychological and physical addiction. Many heroin addicts are at risk from infections, diseases and health complications. Heroin is administered through smoking, injections, suppository or snorting. The injection may lead to blood-borne diseases such as Hepatitis C, Hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS. It can also cause liver disease, rheumatologic complications, kidney disease, skin infections, bacterial infections, unconsciousness, collapsed veins, abscesses or boils (Strang & Gossop, 2004). Chronic constipation, addiction, overdose and decreased heart rate are other long-term effects of heroin use. Additionally, due to physical dependence, a heroin addict experiences substantial withdrawal symptoms after cessation of use. Specific long-term effects of heroin are caused by the injection. Primarily, long-term users of heroin choose injection, which leads to skin infections, track marks as well as collapsed and scarred veins.
Repeated use of heroin changes the brain’s physiology and physical structure. This culminates to irreversible long-term imbalances in hormonal and neural systems. Heroin creates intense tolerance degrees as well as physical dependence. Tolerance occurs because more doses of the drug are required in order to get the same feeling (Strang & Gossop, 2004). Physical dependence occurs since the body has adapted to the drug. Upon addiction, an addict’s primary goals in life are searching for heroin and its consumption. Decreased libido may cause family breakups. Heroin also leads to impaired night vision because of constrained pupils. Women may also experience menstrual irregularities. Muscle and joint problems may lead to arthritis.
Factors why Heroin is Bad
There are many contraindications for heroin. However, alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, stimulants as well as other opioids, which depend heavily on tolerance, are the common contraindications for heroin (Strang & Gossop, 2004). Sacroiliitis in heroin users is a contra-indication to spinal anesthesia (Johnson, 2011). Pregnant heroin users with septic sacroillitis show joint injections amongst other heroin addicts. This leads to difficulties in diagnosing the illness. This poses huge potential extradural and spinal anaesthesia risks. Due to injections needle sites close. Patients who are heroin users and experiencing back pain should be wary of infectious sacroillitis.
Heroin is a very powerful and addictive drug. It creates a feeling of intense euphoria. In most parts of the globe, heroin is considered illegal. This is because the effects of heroin are destructive, dangerous, devastating and lethal. Apart from short- and long-term effects, heroin use has many side effects. It belongs to the opioid family of drugs and has innumerable short- and long-term effects. The psychological and physical effects of heroin are unpredictable and dangerous. The long-term effects of heroin include physical dependence, which is only treatable through long-term rehabilitation and detoxification. In order to address these short- and long-term effects of heroin, stricter government regulations are needed. More efforts should be directed to the reduction of heroin abuse to avert the innumerable effects of heroin on users. Repeated abuse of heroin culminates to psychological and physiological damage of the brain. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, barbiturates, stimulants and some other opioids are contra-indications for heroin as a drug.
- Holmes, A. (1999). The mental effects of heroin. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House Publishers.
- Johnson, B. A. (2011). Addiction medicine: Science and practice. New York, NY: Springer.
- Sonder, B. (2002). All about heroin. New York, NY: Franklin Watts.
- Strang, J., & Gossop, M. (2004). Heroin addiction and the British system. London, UK: Routledge.