addiction recovery
June 9, 2022

Understanding The Consequences Of Heroin Addiction: 10 Things You Should Know

Nobody needs to be told that heroin is addictive or that the addiction it forms can be horrible to destructive to one’s body. Everyone knows this, most of all the addicts themselves. But there are a few things that not many people understand about addiction, even those same addicts.

Addiction is an incredibly complex state for a body to be in, and basically, no one understands it completely. Luckily, no one needs to understand it completely. There are specialists in each area, and their findings are usually the result of a lot of work and focus.

That means that while you do not have to become an expert to understand addiction, you can still educate yourself to better understand the consequences are heroin addiction without having to know much medical science to learn about it.

So, let’s go over a few of the things that happen in a heroin addict’s body.

Opioid Receptor Issues

Heroin is an “opioid drug” meaning that it interferes with the behavior of opioid receptors in your body. Opioid receptors are parts of the nerves that feel pain and stress. Opioids essentially tamper with these receptors to make them far less receptive to the signals they are meant for.

In short, that means the main function of heroin is getting high off of this feeling of stressless pain. The drawback is easy to see: The receptors themselves malfunction. In particular, they kind of “save up” the pain that was delayed by making them less receptive.

This can make coming down off of heroin extremely painful.

Diabetes Risks

One of the less well-known (but easily observed) issues with heroin use over a long period is problems with insulin production. Sometimes it is too much, sometimes it is too little, but most times it will get the ball rolling into what develops into type 2 diabetes.

This is why you will see so many heroin addicts with diabetic tumors in their legs, even if they have no other signs or diet that might be conducive to diabetes. It also means that anyone struggling with heroin addiction should be careful about their susceptibility to diabetes.

Muscle Tremors

Many people tend to notice this consequence of heroin dependency, but not many people know what causes it. The root of muscle tremors, and muscle weakness in heroin users in general, comes from the effect that heroin has on the nervous system, not the muscles themselves.

The essential problem is not that the muscles themselves are weak, but that signals are not reaching them properly.

Cold and Hot Spells

For the same reason as the muscle tremors, heroin addicts will frequently find themselves alternating between both being too cold and being too hot. This has nothing to do with internal body temperature. Heroin addicts will usually have higher internal body temperatures than normal, especially during withdrawal, but that does not relate to their feelings of being hot.

Again, this is a problem with the nervous system. The body cannot properly read whether or not it is cold or hot outside, meaning that it cannot properly regulate its temperature.

Prolonged Bleeding

Heroin acts as a blood thinner, meaning that any cut that a heroin addict sustains will have trouble closing. The thinner the blood, the less coagulant is in it. Moreover, more blood molecules can escape from any given wound, making their blood bloodier.

Irritated Veins

This is particularly a problem around the injection site of the heroin. Injection irritates the veins into which substances are injected. This is part of the reason why you will sometimes hear of heroin addicts shooting up (or more recently, getting vaccinated) between their toes.

Reduced Serotonin Responses

Serotonin is a chemical released during sleep. It helps with restfulness and heals the brain, as well as reduces stress. The problem is, that heroin makes serotonin difficult for your body to produce on its own or process. 

This is a result of serotonin being produced by heroin, but in much smaller amounts and at totally wrong times than your body needs.

Reduced Emotional Capacity

One of the main areas of the brain that heroin affects is the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that regulates emotional responses. The best way to think of the amygdala is that it is like a sphincter. It opens and closes to let things pass through, but instead of matter, it is emotions.

So, what happens when an emotion tries to pass through the amygdala that is too large for it? Well, it closes up. Your body then has to spend energy breaking down that overly large emotion.

Heroin causes the maximum amount of emotion that the amygdala can handle to be massively reduced. This means that things simply become more numbing and harder to deal with. Every emotion seems to last an eternity, and things are hard to feel in the moment.

Reduced Planning Capabilities

Another part of the brain harmed by heroin is the prefrontal cortex. This is the region of the brain associated with complex plans, as well as memories. Where the frontal cortex deals with thinking and creativity, the prefrontal cortex deals with everything that is not in the moment.

This means heroin addicts will have lowered capacities for long-term thought.

Lower Dopamine Levels

Heroin use releases a massive amount of dopamine into the system. That makes it sound appealing, but it has one major drawback: It cripples your body’s ability to produce dopamine. 

Dopamine is a chemical that is strongly associated with the human body’s ability to feel happy. If you can only get dopamine from taking heroin, your body will begin to see it as the only pathway to happiness. That is a false perception.


The words “false perception” are important to understand when it comes to drug addiction. There are many false perceptions both inside and out of a drug addict. Fighting addiction is about overcoming them. If you or a loved one needs help, visit:

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