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Regardless of the ingestion method, chronic heroin abusers experience a wide range of medical complications. While many health complications may be attributed to an individual’s poor overall health, heroin use negatively impacts nearly every organ and function of the body. And you may experience chest pains from heroin use.

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug, and the risk of developing a severe health condition increases exponentially the longer a person uses the drug. Prolonged heroin use can significantly impact and permanently damage major organs in the body, including the lungs and heart.

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Heroin?

Heroin is usually introduced into the body by injecting, smoking, or snorting the drug and produces many short-term effects. While all three methods are relatively fast-acting, smoking or injecting heroin provides the fastest route to the brain. When smoked or injected directly into a vein, the effects can be felt within seconds, while injecting the drug under the skin or into muscle tissue may delay the full effect for several minutes.

Once heroin reaches the brain, the drug is converted to morphine and binds to opioid receptors, creating an intense sensation of pleasure and euphoria. The length and intensity of this sensation are dependent on several factors, including:

  • The potency and purity of the heroin
  • How much the user takes
  • How fast the drug enters the brain and attaches to the opioid receptors
  • The size and health of the person using the drug.

Usually referred to by users as a “rush,” the initial intense sensation may last anywhere from 45 seconds to several minutes. Warm flushing of the skin, dryness of the mouth, and a heaviness in the extremities usually accompany the heroin rush. In some cases, the user may experience nausea, vomiting, or severe itching during this period.

After the initial rush wears off, the user is usually drowsy and relaxed with clouded mental function and a sedated appearance. For several hours, the user’s heart function and breathing may be slowed, in some cases severely.

Heroin changes neurochemical activity in the brain stem connected to automatic body functions such as breathing and heart rate. Severe respiratory issues in the hours following heroin use due to a depressed system can lead to coma, permanent brain damage, and even death.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin?

Research shows that long-term heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, negatively impacting a person’s health and mental functioning.

Tolerance and dependence usually accompany long-term heroin use. Tolerance is the need for an increasingly higher dose of the same quality heroin to achieve the same effect, while dependence is the user’s need to have the drug in their system to function normally.

Studies have found that long-term heroin use can cause the brain’s white matter to deteriorate and create imbalances in the neuronal and hormonal systems. This deterioration of the brain’s white matter affects an individual’s decision-making abilities, ability to regulate behavior, and responses to stressful situations.

Tolerance and dependence, along with changes in the heroin user’s brain, can make it difficult, if not impossible, for the long-term user to consider the life-changing consequences of their prolonged heroin use. In addition, long-term heroin users are often compulsive and have difficulty controlling their behavior despite health issues and problems at home, work, or school.

People who develop significant levels of heroin dependence are likely to go through withdrawal symptoms when they are without the drug. The severity of withdrawal symptoms varies significantly from person to person. Still, acute heroin withdrawal symptoms may appear from six to 24 hours after their last use, typically peak within the first few days, and can last for a week.

Chest Pains From Heroin: The Lungs and Heart

Heroin use has a tremendous impact on both the lungs and heart, causing your breathing and heart rate to become progressively slower as the drug takes effect. As a result, one of the most common causes of death associated with a heroin overdose is respiratory depression. Chest pains from heroin in this situation is obvious.

Unfortunately, depression is not the only respiratory issue caused by heroin. Nearly 15% of the heroin users treated for an overdose at a hospital eventually die of pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema is a condition that causes fluid to collect in the lungs and increases the risk of respiratory failure.

Empyema, a condition that causes a buildup of pus in the space between the lung and the chest wall, is also a risk that heroin users face. Empyema causes a cough, chest pain, fever, and shortness of breath. The treatment consists of first draining off the pus and then administering a round of antibiotics. Heroin use can also lead to hypoxia, a condition that causes your body to have issues with oxygen intake and can lead to a variety of other medical conditions.

Because of the profound effect heroin has on the respiratory system, lung diseases and chest pains from heroin are common among users. Pneumonia, tuberculosis, abscesses, and scarred air passages are typical. The pain-numbing effects of heroin enable a user to be extremely sick and not realize the seriousness of their condition.

Heroin use is also tough on the user’s heart. Bacteria from unsterile needles, the cotton used when preparing the injection, or the heroin itself can cause an infection known as endocarditis. This condition attacks the heart tissue and often results in death.

Autopsies of long-term heroin users often find clumps of bacteria growing on the heart valves. This area can be challenging for the body to defend against bacterial infections. Often, the bacteria will destroy the valves, requiring them to be replaced with artificial valves to save the user’s life.

The hearts of heroin users are also exposed to the contaminants found in the heroin they inject. In some cases, these contaminants can cause so much blockage that blood cannot flow freely through the lungs’ capillaries and leads to heart failure.

Research into why so many heroin addicts suffer from irregular heartbeats revealed over half had inflammation in the heart area that controls electrical impulses. In addition, autopsies found that in over half the deaths attributed to heroin and heart conditions, the electrical controls of the heart muscle had been replaced by fatty or fibrous tissue.

Get Help From Covenant Hills Treatment

Heroin use negatively impacts the health of the user in many ways. For example, long-term users often experience chest pains associated with lung and heart issues directly related to their drug use.

At Covenant Hills Treatment, we understand the complexities of heroin use and how difficult it can be to stop using. Our team of specialists utilizes various proven effective treatments and techniques to enable you to break free from heroin use. If you are interested in addiction treatment in the Orange County area, contact us today and let us help you find your freedom.