What are the Long-term Effects of Heroin Addiction?
Heroin can cause long-term physical, psychological and behavioral changes in those who are addicted to it. The repeated use of heroin changes the physical structure of the brain and creates long-term hormonal and neurotransmission impairment. Hormonal impairment will affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and can cause a diminished libido and an inability to achieve orgasm in both men and women.
The drug also affects the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for cognition and social behavior, personality expression and decision making. Executive functions of the pre-frontal cortex include the ability to differentiate between conflicting thoughts, deciding which thoughts are best, defining actions toward goals and expectations, and the operation of self-control. Studies have shown that there is deterioration of white matter in the pre-frontal cortex caused by heroin use. This deterioration hinders the addict from differentiating between conflicting thoughts and making the right decisions.
Heroin use causes the brain to be flooded with a surge of endorphins and over time, the brain will become trained to expect that surge. When withdrawal symptoms occur just hours after the last time the drug was used, the entrainment of the brain will cause intense cravings for more heroin. This demand for more of the drug to ease withdrawal symptoms coupled with the impairment of the decision-making processes in the brain work against the addict. These problems cause the addict to succumb to the demand of the cravings. Continued use of heroin will cause the brain to reduce or stop producing endorphins. This lack of protection against pain management and discomfort puts the addict at more risk of dependence on the drug.
How Heroin is Used
The ways in which an addict uses heroin also affects their health and can have long-term consequences. If heroin is snorted through the nose, it will eventually damage the mucosal tissue and perforate the septum. When heroin is injected into the body, it will cause scarred and collapsed veins. It may also cause abscesses and bacterial infections of soft tissue, blood and heart valves. Certain substances mixed into street heroin can clog blood vessels leading to the brain, liver, kidneys and lungs. This can lead to cell and organ infections and death. The sharing of IV needles or fluids can cause Hepatitis B and C, HIV and other viruses of the blood. In addition, IV heroin users are at the highest risk for getting Hepatitis C.
Other Long-term Effects
Many people do not realize the far-reaching and negative side effects this drug can have on the body over time. Developing arthritis is one long-term effect of heroin abuse. Tuberculosis may also occur when the addict’s body begins to deteriorate into poor health. The lack of proper nutrition to support the body results in a weakened immune system. In addition, a heroin addict can also develop muscle weakness, paralysis, respiratory impairment, pneumonia, loss of memory, cognitive impairment, liver and kidney disease, depression, jaundice, chronic fatigue, weight loss, rotted teeth and inflamed gums.
Along with physical effects, long-term psychological effects can occur in heroin addicts. Cognitive impairment and memory loss can create great stress on relationships. An inability to reason properly coupled with a loss of self-control can develop into self-destructive behaviors. Emotional instability may lead to severe depression and the addict may become suicidal. Overdose and unconsciousness can result in death if immediate medical help is not obtained. Overcoming and reversing these psychological issues will be a long-term, on-going process for the recovering addict.
Heroin addiction can destroy the physical, psychological and spiritual health of the user. It can also destroy the relationships, finances, career and social standing of an addict. Every facet of the addict’s life will be affected by his or her addiction. A variety of effective treatments are available to the recovering heroin addict. The integration of behavioral and pharmacological treatments is found to be the most effective in dealing with addiction. Long-term care and the positive support of family and friends can help the recovering addict begin to live a healthy life again.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.