What happens to your body when you use heroin?

Short-Term Effects

Opioid receptors are located in the brain, the brain stem, down the spinal cord, and in the lungs and intestines. Thus, using heroin can result in a wide variety of physical problems related to breathing and other basic life functions, some of which may be very serious. Here are some ways heroin affects the body:

  • dry mouth
  • warm flushing skin
  • heavy feeling arms and legs
  • feeling sick to the stomach and throwing up
  • severe itching
  • clouded thinking
  • a temporary feeling of intense happiness
  • going "on the nod," switching back and forth between being conscious and semi-conscious
  • increased risk of HIV and hepatitis (a liver disease) through shared needles and poor judgment while “high” leading to other risky behaviors. (read more about the link between viral infections and drug use)

When mixed with alcohol, short-term effects can include:

  • coma—a deep state of unconsciousness
  • dangerously slowed (or even stopped) breathing that can lead to overdose death

Long-Term Effects 

  • problems sleeping
  • damage to the tissues inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • painful area of tissue filled with puss (an abscess)
  • infection of the heart
  • constipation and stomach cramping
  • liver and kidney disease
  • lung problems
  • mental health problems, such as depression
  • sexual problems for men
  • changes in menstrual cycles for women

In addition to the effects of the drug itself, heroin bought on the street often contains a mix of substances, including the dangerous opioid called fentanyl. Drug dealers add fentanyl because it is cheap, and they can save money. Some of these substances can be toxic and can clog the blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidney, or brain. This can cause permanent damage to those organs.

Also, sharing drug injection equipment or engaging in risky behaviors can increase the risk of being exposed to diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.