Last updated: 10/8/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Heroin, processed from morphine, extracted from the opium poppy plant, is classified as a Schedule I narcotic drug. As a Schedule I narcotic, heroin has no medicinal purpose mainly because of its highly addictive properties, according to the University of Maryland.
As heroin is an illegal drug, it can only be purchased off the streets, which makes it even more so dangerous. Street batches of heroin can contain any number of byproducts, many of which cause serious damage to the user.
Someone who lives long enough to experience the long term effects of heroin must endure ongoing withdrawal effects, diminished brain function and damaging effects on the body.
Chemicals in the brain, known as neurotransmitters, basically regulate every function in the body. One neurotransmitter in particular – dopamine – plays a central role in making a person feel at ease at any given moment of the day. By working with other areas of the brain, dopamine helps regulates the body’s movements, heart function, blood flow, metabolism processes and energy reserves. Dopamine is also the neurotransmitter most affected by long term heroin use.
The long term effects of heroin actually change the brain’s chemical processes as well as its overall physical composition. As heroin closely resembles brain neurotransmitters in chemical structure, the more a person uses the less dopamine the brain manufacturers on its own. Over time, the brain becomes unable to manufacture needed dopamine supplies at all, which accounts for the ongoing withdrawal effects a person feels, even after getting high.
By the time a person becomes addicted to heroin, definite chemical and molecular changes have taken place in the brain. With each successive use, the brain and body develop a tolerance for the drug that leaves users needing larger and larger doses in order to get high. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the long term effects of heroin use make it all but impossible to experience the desired “high” effect since the body has reached such a high tolerance level.
As the body becomes physically dependent, the long term effects of heroin on the mind are just as damaging. Addicts come to a point where they actually believe they need heroin in order to feel normal. Granted, as far as the physical body goes, it does need heroin to feel normal or at least to relieve withdrawal symptoms. Once the mind comes to believe this, addiction has firmly taken hold of the individual.
Effects on the Body
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the long term effects of heroin gradually weaken the brain and body to the point where chronic conditions can develop. According to the University of Arizona, long term effects of heroin on the brain appear as diminished intellectual functioning in terms of memory, verbal functioning and decision-making.
Long term effects of heroin on the body can become particular damaging for IV users. Additives and byproducts mixed in with heroin can accumulate along artery walls. When this happens, the risk of heart attack increases considerably. Byproduct ingredients can also introduce bacterial and viral organisms into the body and cause infection. Infections of the liver, the heart and the lungs can all develop over time.