Heroin side effects can be overwhelming. The sensations are very intense, and in many cases outright deadly.

There are two types of time-related side effects associated with heroin use; short term and long term. Either type of effect is equally dangerous because both can easily lead to overdose.

First, however, we should consider the cause of these short and long-term Heroin side effects, which comes in the form of dependence.


With the strength of heroin’s short and long-term effects, it’s no wonder that a person can become addicted after a very short time with the drug. Addiction, also known as dependence, is what can happen to a heroin user only after a couple of tries with the drug.

The euphoric feeling one first gets when they try heroin can leave that person craving more. And with that, larger quantities of the drug are needed to sustain that first great high they initially experienced.

According to Drugabuse.com, one of the most dangerous aspects of heroin is its ability to elicit both tolerance and physiologic dependence in the user in a short amount of time. In laymen’s terms, this means that it’s very easy to get hooked on heroin.

Of course, we all know dependence translates into a physical need. And in the case of heroin, when one is addicted, they will experience discomfort and sickness during extended periods without the drug in their system. This is because the body has become dependent on heroin and finds its absence not normal.

The side effects that come with heroin use are also known as withdrawal symptoms. Those symptoms can include:

  • Restlessness and discomfort.
  • Pounding or racing heartbeat.
  • Anxiety
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Shivering
  • Pain/aches in the muscles and bones.
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Inability to sleep.

These symptoms begin after a few hours of nonuse, and can be quite severe and unpleasant. These symptoms can also last up to a week or more.


The reason heroin is so addictive has to do with its ability to create intensely pleasurable feelings. Once heroin binds to opioid receptors, and the chemical interaction takes place, the affected nerve cells release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a molecule that is instrumental toward mediating feelings of pleasure, and in many cases what initiates and supports an addiction.

While short-term effects deviate from user to user, the more common effects after inducing heroin are:

  • A “rush” which in this case is better known as a strong increase in euphoric feelings.
  • Warm and flushed feelings which occur during the rush period.
  • Reduced sensation of pain.
  • Drowsiness
  • Sedation
  • Lethargy

These pleasurable feelings last only a few minutes with more lasting feelings of sedation persisting for a few hours afterwards. The duration of any effects depends upon the heroin’s purity, dosage size, and whether the drug is snorted, smoked, or injected.

Throughout the heroin high, the user may move between periods of wakefulness and sleep, and as a consequence, “nod off” referring to as “nodding.”

The opioid high from heroin will decrease with continued use, as the user becomes increasingly tolerant of the drug. The onset of tolerance frequently promotes ingestion of higher and higher amounts, which can easily result in overdose.


People who use heroin for long periods of time may experience:

  • Decreased dental health such as damaged teeth and swelling gums.
  • Excoriated skin from scratching.
  • Severe constipation.
  • Increased susceptibility to disease from diminished immune system.
  • Weakness and sedation.
  • Poor appetite and malnutrition.
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Decrease in sexual functioning.

Liver and kidney damage can occur from long-term heroin abuse. This leaves the user susceptible to infectious diseases. Heroin, because it can lower heart rates, puts the brain in danger because of a lack of oxygen.

Abscesses, bacterial infections, and infections of the heart valves are more long-term symptoms of people who frequently use heroin.

Just as important, pregnant women on heroin have a higher risk of miscarriage. They also place their children at risk of communicable disease, as well as potentially being addicted to the drug from birth.

Additionally, someone addicted to heroin will likely experience numerous personal consequences, such as financial issues, relationship turmoil, school or employment troubles, and legal penalties.

Heroin Side Effects Infographic

If you feel you or a loved one has an issue with heroin, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.