Heroin Addiction Health Risk Factors

Heroin is a dangerously addictive substance that can bring about significant risks to those who use it. Learn more here.

What is Heroin?

Heroin’s reputation as a highly addictive drug is accurate and well-deserved. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) survey found that about 948,000 adults in the U.S tried Heroin in the past twelve months. Equally concerning, approximately 170, 000 started using heroin in 2016, with numbers rising yearly — and still growing — since 2006. These statistics show that heroin’s addictive properties and availability make it a formidable drug. Knowing the heroin health risks is crucial to identifying and treating this type of addiction.1

Like other opiates, heroin comes from the poppy plant. Now sold illegally as a white or brown powder or as a thick black paste-like substance, heroin was once the wonder drug of medicine. Touted initially as a potent pain reliever with minimal side effects, the drug lost its favor with the medical profession due to its addictive properties and heroin health risks. Once addicted, quitting heroin use proved exceptionally challenging.

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How Do People Use Heroin?

Today, heroin remains a dangerous street drug. This drug can be sniffed, snorted, smoked, or injected. Many people who use heroin begin by snorting heroin or smoking heroin. Eventually, however, individuals may choose to inject the drug because intravenous (IV) use offers a more powerful and quicker high. Whatever route an individual chooses, the health risks of heroin are dire.

How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System?

Health professionals determine how long a drug stays in the body through a drug’s half-life. Because heroin has a short half-life, the body eliminates the drug quickly. Half of the heroin taken leaves the body in about fifteen to thirty minutes.

A 10-panel drug test can detect heroin up to forty-eight hours in urine after the last dose. However, small amounts of heroin remain in the body even when a high wears off. Because of these remnants of heroin within the body, heroin is detectable in saliva, urine, and hair. Moreover, although heroin leaves the body quickly, long-term use results in significant heroin health risks that last.2

Is Heroin Addictive?

Heroin is an opioid, like oxycodone and morphine. The same properties that give these drugs their powerful pain-killing abilities also make these drugs highly addictive. Heroin’s effects on the brain make it exceptionally addictive, due to its influence on brain chemistry.

Opioids release dopamine, a “feel good” chemical in the brain. Unfortunately, when opioids are used repeatedly, they change how dopamine affects the brain. The effects of heroin make the brain desire more heroin to achieve the same results, creating an addiction to the drug.

Prescription Opioids and Heroin

Sometimes opioid use disorder begins with legal drugs prescribed by a physician. Because opioids act in the same way as heroin, these drugs also have the same addictive properties. For example, using opioid painkillers prescribed after a surgery or some other injury routinely for a long time can lead to addiction.

Once addicted to prescription opioids, an individual might seek out illegal drugs like heroin when prescription drugs are unavailable. According to data from the CDC, about 45% of people addicted to heroin are also addicted to a prescription opioid.3

Heroin Addiction Statistics

The CDC also reports that heroin more than doubled in the last decade among young adults ages eighteen to twenty-five. What’s more, nine in ten people who use heroin do so in combination with other drugs. On its own, heroin is a high risk for a dangerous drug overdose. Used simultaneously with other drugs, however, the risk of a drug overdose with heroin increases.



The following are other troubling statistics linked to heroin addiction:4

Effects of Heroin Addiction

There are both short-term and long-term health risks of heroin that come with addiction. Heroin health risks short term can include:5
Routine heroin use results in heroin side-effects long-term chronic conditions like kidney damage and heart problems. The health risks of heroin can last a lifetime and even result in death.

Understanding the Dangers of Heroin Use

heroin addiction risk

Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that almost 2% of adolescents have tried heroin.6 Drugs like heroin damage the way neurotransmitters send messages through the brain. Because the adolescent brain is still developing, heroin use during the teen years can negatively impact future brain function. In addition, routine heroin use during adolescence can also cause long-term health impairments like heart disease and lung complications.7



The mental health risks of heroin aren’t only found in the individual using the drug. Tragically, the ramifications of heroin use within the family can also extend to other family members, resulting in secondhand health risks of heroin. Heroin addiction in parents can cause psychological trauma and health risks with thirdhand heroin smoke, especially in young children. Children and teens with parents who struggle with heroin addiction have more issues with mental and social functioning.

Black Tar Heroin Health Risks

Black tar heroin is a cruder version of heroin, which is cheaper to produce and purchase than other forms of heroin. This type of heroin gets its name from its appearance, which resembles black tar. Although black tar heroin costs less and is less refined than other types of heroin, it has the same heroin health risks.8

There’s a significant lack of quality control when it comes to heroin, and the contents of black tar heroin, especially, are unknown. Intravenous use of heroin, particularly black tar heroin, can result in infections and damage the veins. Black tar heroin health risks are more likely due to the high level of impurities.

Severe Health Risks Additional Risks

Regular heroin use can cause significant heroin health risks like:9
The health risks of heroin are strikingly apparent in the brain. Repeated heroin effects change the physical structure of the brain. These effects create imbalances in hormones and chemicals that are difficult to undo. Heroin use damages white matter within the brain, impacting behavior regulation, decision-making, and risk assessment. In other words, heroin makes the brain more susceptible to brain damage.

Dangers Of Heroin Addiction During Pregnancy

Heroin health risks extend to unborn children. A condition called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) may occur if a baby’s mother uses heroin during pregnancy. Heroin passes through the placenta to the fetus, causing the baby to become dependent. When born, a baby with NAS may show the following heroin health risks as symptoms:10
In a few rare cases, NAS may result in death. To treat NAS, the baby is hospitalized and treated with an opioid. The opioid is slowly tapered down until the baby is no longer dependent on heroin.

Heroin Rehab

Heroin Rehab

According to the World Health Organization, global heroin health risks are universal. Withdrawal symptoms from short-acting opioids start at about eight to twenty-four hours after the last dose. These withdrawal symptoms include severe cravings and significant physical effects, like seizures, muscle cramps, and diarrhea, especially during heroin detox. Quitting a heroin addiction is challenging, but it’s not impossible. With professional help and support, people addicted to heroin can proceed with their lives free from their addiction.11



Receiving care at a heroin rehab center gives individuals immediate access to trained professionals who can ease their discomfort and provide the best chance for success. Therefore, a heroin addiction treatment program is a safe and supportive environment to recover from substance abuse. Contact Concise Recovery today to learn how to help you or your loved one overcome heroin addiction and treat heroin health risks. Recovery is possible, and you can start your journey today by reaching out to our team.