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Here's What Happens if Your Heroin Addiction Goes Untreated

By Jon McKenna
You could face a host of serious physical and mental health problems as a result of heroin use.

The consequences of untreated heroin abuse are enormous in the United States. Beyond the individual heroin addict, the medical, psychological, and social impact on our society is a multibillion-dollar blow, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

For the individual addict, the associated health woes have been well-chronicled since abuse of inexpensive heroin in this country started climbing in 2007.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, using heroin often in the short term can bring on a variety of medical issues, including: 

  • Insomnia
  • Constipation 
  • Sexual dysfunction in men 
  • Irregular menstruation in women

That list doesn’t include the symptoms that can accompany withdrawal, such as restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and goose bumps.

Long-Term Medical Effects of Heroin Use

Over time, the physical problems that can stem from snorting, sniffing, smoking, or injecting heroin can become terrifying. Your brain structure and physiology change, your hormones are thrown off balance, and your increased tolerance to the drug leads to physical dependence. 

Among those potential long-term effects are:

  • Higher risks of getting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C, due to sharing of syringes
  • Scarred or collapsed veins from needle use
  • Greater frequency of depression and anti-social personality disorder
  • Bacterial infections of blood vessels and heart valves
  • Abscesses and similar soft-tissue infections
  • Clogging of blood vessels by heroin additives that don’t dissolve easily, leading to damage of cell patches in the heart, lungs, kidneys and other vital organs
  • Damage to nasal tissues and a hole in the septum, if you snort heroin

Clare Waismann, founder of an opioid dependence treatment center in Beverly Hills, Calif., tells WebMD Connect to Care that she also has noted a “rapid increase” in incidence of anemia and health issues linked to poor nutrition. The abuse of synthetic opioid fentanyl with heroin is behind that trend, she believes.

“Fentanyl puts people at a much higher level of dependence and addiction,” which leads to sedate behavior and less attention to proper nutrition, Waismann says. 

Another alarming trend, she says, is heroin addiction among middle-aged and older Americans. Managing heroin detoxification along with pre-existing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes is “a significant challenge.”

Long-Term Psychological Effects of Heroin Use

The psychological impacts from prolonged misuse of heroin can also be severe. You’re more likely to develop:

  • Depression and anti-social personality disorder
  • Mood swings between depression and euphoria
  • Paranoia and hostility toward others
  • Anxiety, agitation and irritability
  • In some cases, disorientation and hallucinations

It’s not hard to understand how heroin abuse can fuel depression, Waismann says. “Buying heroin can feel much more degrading because it is viewed as the worst form of opioid addiction. It makes many people feel like they have crossed an irreversible line in their lives.”

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addition, don’t wait. WebMD Connect to Care advisors are standing by to help.

Treatment & Resources for Heroin Addiction