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In the shadowy realm of substance abuse, few substances cast a darker pall than heroin. This insidious opiate has ensnared countless lives, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. In this blog post, we delve into the world of heroin, exploring what it is, the signs of its use, the short-term and long-term symptoms, and the harrowing emotional journey of those in its grip.


Heroin, derived from morphine, is an opioid drug synthesized from the opium poppy plant. Initially created as a painkiller, it has evolved into one of the most notorious illicit substances. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies heroin as a Schedule I drug, indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder, or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.

People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing. Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. §
What Is It?


Short-term effects

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Going "on the nod" or "nodding-out" a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious (asleep/awake). 

Long-term effects

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women §

Other effects

Heroin often contains additives, such as sugar, starch, or powdered milk, that can clog blood vessels leading to the lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain, causing permanent damage. Also, sharing drug injection equipment and having impaired judgment from drug use can increase the risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis (see "Injection Drug Use, HIV, and Hepatitis"). §


  • Among people aged 12 or older in 2020, 0.3% (or about 902,000 people) reported using heroin in the past 12 months. §
  • In 2021, an estimated 0.2% of 8th graders, 0.1% of 10th graders, and 0.1% of 12th graders reported using heroin in the past 12 months. §
  • Among people aged 12 or older in 2020, an estimated 0.2% (or about 691,000 people) had a heroin use disorder in the past 12 months. §
  • In 2020, approximately 13,165 people died from an overdose involving heroin. §
  • The greatest increase in heroin use is seen in young adults aged 18-25. §


Understanding the emotional state of a heroin user sheds light on the cycle of despair they endure. While the drug induces euphoria initially, it's followed by a crash into deep depression and anxiety. The temporary escape heroin provides is a façade, leaving users trapped in a cycle of seeking relief from their emotional pain.


Heroin's devastating impact reaches far and wide, affecting individuals, families, and communities. Recognizing the signs of use, understanding the short-term and long-term symptoms, and empathizing with the emotional struggles of users are essential steps towards addressing this crisis. Through education, awareness, and compassionate support, we can collectively work towards breaking the chains of heroin addiction, offering a path to recovery and hope for those in need.
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