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Long-Term Effects of Heroin

A woman injects heroin into her arm.

Heroin is a highly-addictive drug. People who regularly use heroin can quickly develop a tolerance and this puts them at increased risk for an overdose. They’re also likely to experience a variety of long-term side effects. These include:

  • Liver disease
  • Lung-related complications
  • Collapsed veins
  • Infection of heart lining
  • Infection of heart valves

But how does heroin affect the brain specifically? Let’s take a look.

Wondering if someone you love is using heroin? Know what signs to look for.

Heroin Addiction and Your Brain

It doesn’t take long for your brain to become dependent on heroin. The minute it enters your system, your body almost immediately converts the drug into morphine. This morphine binds to opioid receptors in the brain, and that’s when intense feelings of well-being, painlessness and extreme relaxation set in.

These euphoric feelings are unlike anything you experience naturally. Your body’s dopamine levels reach heights far beyond normal, and just like that your brain begins to change. You lose interest in things that traditionally brought you joy and begin to search for that next fix. Your primary goal is to recreate that same sense of pleasure and relief.

Side Effects of Heroin on Your Brain

Beyond addiction, there are many other long-term side effects that prolonged heroin use has on the brain. Consider the following:

  • Changes in the physical structure and physiology of the brain. This creates long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems (that are not easily reversed).
  • Deterioration of the brain’s white matter. This may affect a person’s decision-making abilities, their ability to regulate their behavior, and how they respond to stressful situations.
  • Clogging of blood vessels in the brain. Some heroin contains additives that do not easily dilute in the bloodstream.
  • Decrease in how much opium, dopamine and serotonin (among other neurotransmitters) the brain produces. Heroin releases these substances artificially, so the brain is less likely to create its own.
  • Depressed breathing. Individuals who abuse heroin will likely experience shallow or irregular breathing. As a result, the body (including the brain) receives less oxygen which can lead to organ damage. This can also lead to brain injuries that can cause coma, seizures and even brain death.

Meet Todd

“I’ve been sober for 17 months now. My drug of choice was heroin. Actually, when I first got to Cycles of Change…it was at the point in my life where everything was going downhill. Once I got there, I had the opportunity to embrace the family figures as far as the people who had true care and concern for an individual who was hopeless at that moment…They allowed me to see that I had the opportunity to change my life around.”

Hear Todd’s full story and watch his testimonial!

You Can Succeed (And We Can Help)

Heroin is an incredibly powerful and addictive drug. And it can be easy to lose yourself in the struggle. But it’s never too late to get the help you need. Cycles of Change Recovery Services is California’s premier heroin rehab treatment center. Our individualized treatment programs are designed to help you gain the knowledge, courage and determination you need to live a happy and productive life. Heroin addiction recovery isn’t an easy journey, but at Cycles of Change we make the process as comfortable as possible. Give us a call today: (661) 630-4176.


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