heroin addiction

How Heroin Affects Your Body: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment Plans

Written By : Dr Andrew Kan   ✓ Fact Checked

Heroin is derived from an opium plant, and it has an effect on the opioid receptors of your body. To know more about how opium affects the body, continue reading.

(Last Updated on June 27, 2024)

It has many names. Heroin is the most common, though smack and dope are common too (though easily confused with other drugs that share the same nicknames). Calling it “opium” or “an opioid drug” is uncommon, even though it is true. The names all have the same meaning.

Heroin is a narcotic that people use to get high, and it gets them high in a very particular way: It is a drug that you put in your body to numb it. What does that mean, and how does it work?

Today, we are going to talk about that. The way heroin works is important to understanding why it is such a difficult habit to kick. And in addition to that, we will talk about how to kick it too.

How Does Heroin Work?

Heroin is derived from an opium plant, and it has an effect on the opioid receptors of your body. Opioid receptors are parts of your nervous system. They receive signals that are related to stress and pain. These signals are essentially electrical impulses, not chemicals.

That means when opioids reduce the amount of pain in your body, they are doing it not by reducing the number or intensity of the signals, but by reducing your body’s sensitivity to the signals. In light painkillers, this reduction is small. The pain is there, but it is lessened. This is why opioid painkillers are still used in modern medicine, as they do have a medical benefit.

The problem comes when someone uses too many strong opioids too frequently. When the opioid sensors are disabled by opioid drugs, the signals being sent to them do not go away.

The pain and stress signals are like cars stuck at a red light. Just because they are not moving does not mean they go away. In fact, more cars and stopping behind them. When the light finally turns green and the opioid sensors operate normally, there will be a deluge of traffic.

What Effect Does This Have on Your Body?

This is the downside of opioid drugs, particularly heroin: Extremely powerful opioids keep a person addicted by continually delaying the pain. As the addict sobers up, they become aware of the fact that they are feeling pain again and seek the relief of the opioid drug.

Other nerves will also be affected by this. Anyone who has had dental pain will be familiar with how nerves will “offset” pain. If there is too much pain going to one nerve, those signals might be redirected to a different nerve. But what if they are directed to a nerve that doesn’t feel pain?

If that happens, then the body will start to experience strange sensations. Heroin addicts, particularly those going through withdrawal, will feel suddenly hot and cold. Their body is not actually changing temperature. It is their nerves giving them false information.

Other parts of the body that suffer from this are the addict’s sense of balance, their sensitivity to light, and how easily their ears hurt. Keep in mind, they do not get better balance, better sight, or better hearing. They just suffer from having these senses more and more.

Since the brain is also a massive nerve center, you can expect some mental degradation as well. The main parts of the brain that are damaged are the front cortex, where long-term planning happens. Addicts will experience this damage as fuzzy thinking and disorientation.

A lack of stress chemicals will also result in issues with the amygdala, which processes emotions. Go too long without stress and the amygdala will become weak against it. This can make recovery much harder, since so much stress can feel overwhelming then.

How do You Treat All This?

Looking at all the different ways heroin damages the body can make recovery seem impossible.

Nobody is more aware of this than the heroin addicts themselves. Hopelessness is one of the biggest obstacles in addiction recovery. But like all obstacles, it can be overcome.

There are three elements to a good recovery strategy: Recovering your body, recovering your mind, and recovering your life. We are going to briefly talk about each of them.

Recovering Your Body

We mentioned the various ways that heroin degrades your body. We did not even include the worst of it, like potential heart conditions, diabetes, and organ failure. The specifics aren’t important, because the first step is always the same: Detox.

Getting the heroin and its effects out of your system is an important step in opiate detox treatment, but it does not have to happen all at once. You can take it slow, start eating healthy, and start working out to begin the process. The goal is to regain the strength and health that heroin took from you.

Recovering Your Mind

Similarly, heroin takes away a lot of your mental faculties. Much of the hopelessness involved in recovery comes from the concern that the brain damage will be permanent. But that is not the case. In fact, the brain is strangely good at recovering from damage.

When dealing with the brain, hopelessness is the main enemy. That means getting into therapy and developing relationships to hold you accountable is the main tool you use.

Recovering Your Life

We didn’t talk about how heroin damages your life in general as much because it is different for everyone. Rich kids with heroin problems have it easier than poor people with heroin problems, for example. But it can damage your living space and get you involved with bad people.

Fixing your life means sticking to a sober schedule and spending your time in ways that are fulfilling while sober. This is why a healthy body and a lucid mind are so important. Fixing your life requires you to repeatedly make the decision to fix it.


It doesn’t matter how far gone an addict is. They can always come back. If you need to talk to someone about you or someone you love being addicted to heroin, you can always talk to us: https://www.ascendantny.com/residential-detox-programs/

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