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What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use?


Updated March 14, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use?
Answer: Like many illicit drugs, heroin use can produce profound levels of tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance means the user requires more and more of the drug to feel the same effects and dependence means withdrawal symptoms will manifest if the user attempts to quit using abruptly.

When heroin is used repeatedly, it can cause actual changes in the physical structure and physiology of the brain which can create long-term imbalances in the neuronal and hormonal systems. These changes are difficult to reverse.

When someone abruptly quits using heroin, withdrawal symptoms can begin within a few hours. Usually the most severe withdrawal symptoms peak between 24 and 48 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. However, some users have experience persistent symptoms for many months.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Cold flashes with goose bumps
  • Sporadic leg movements

Risk of Heroin Addiction

Probably the most common long-term effect of heroin use is addiction - described by the National Institute on Drug abuse as a chronic, relapsing disease that goes beyond physical dependence on the drug.

Heroin addiction causes the user to experience uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior regardless of the consequences. Heroin addiction is so profound that seeking and using the drug can become the primary purpose in the addict's life.

Back to: Heroin FAQ


National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Heroin." Research Report Series Updated January 2014

The Partnership at DrugFree.org. "Heroin." Drug Guide. Accessed March 2014.

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