Heroin’s Effects on the BodyHeroin works by attaching to and activating specific receptors in the brain known as mu-opioid receptors. Our brains have naturally occurring chemicals called neurotransmitters that attach to these receptors throughout the brain and body. These neurotransmitters control pain, regulate hormone release, and induce feelings of well-being, when appropriate. When opioid receptors are activated in the brain’s reward center, they initiate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasurable and rewarding feelings. This effect can result in a reinforcement of drug-using behavior. Consequences of heroin use then depend on a variety of factors, including how much was used and for how long, how the drug was administered and the speed at which it reaches receptors, among others.
Is Heroin a Stimulant?: Short-Term EffectsOnce heroin reaches the brain, it is then converted back to morphine and quickly binds to opioid receptors. People who use heroin usually report feeling a rush of pleasurable sensations, the intensity of which is influenced by the aforementioned factors. The rush of heroin is usually accompanied by a warm flushing of the skin, and a heavy feeling in the extremities. Adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. After the initial rush, users will probably be sedated and drowsy for several hours. During this time, mental function is clouded, heart rate is reduced, and respiration can slow down to the point of being life-threatening. Perilously slow breathing can also result in coma and irreversible brain damage.
Is Heroin a Stimulant?: Long-Term EffectsRepeated heroin use alters the physical structure of the brain, as well as the manner in which it functions. This alteration leads to chronic imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed. Research has shown that some deterioration of the brain’s white matter can result from heroin use, which can impair decision-making capabilities, affect a person’s ability to regulate behavior, and adversely alter responses to stress. Over time, heroin use also produces profound degrees of tolerance and dependence. Tolerance occurs when increasingly larger amounts of a drug are required to achieve the desired effects. With physical dependence, the body becomes accustomed to the presence of a drug, and withdrawal symptoms onset if use is suddenly reduced or discontinued.
Heroin WithdrawalWithdrawal symptoms can manifest within just a few hours after the last dose of heroin. Symptoms of withdrawal include the following:
Initial heroin withdrawal symptoms peak between 24–48 hours after the last dose and wane after about a week. However, some people have shown persistent psychoemotional withdrawal signs for several months after detox. Prolonged heroin use often leads to a heroin use disorder—a condition akin to an addiction, which is considered to be a chronic, relapsing disease. Addiction includes physical dependence but is additionally characterized by compulsive drug-seeking in spite of the incurrence of severe, adverse consequences. Heroin is profoundly addictive regardless of how it is administered. Still, methods of administration that allow the drug to enter the brain the fastest (e.g., injection) increase the risk of progressing to heroin use disorder. Once a person has developed heroin use disorder, seeking and using the drug becomes a top priority in their lives.
- Teary eyes
- Runny nose
- Muscle and bone pain
- Chills and goosebumps