Along with short-term risks like overdose and legal trouble, heroin use can also have a long-term impact. This highly addictive substance is capable of changing a person’s brain chemistry, which makes overcoming the drug extremely difficult. Very Well Mind explains how prolonged heroin abuse can damage your body and your life.

Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical that plays a primary role in the brain’s reward system. When a person uses heroin their brain produces more dopamine than it would under normal circumstances. After so long, natural dopamine production will cease and the person must continue using the drug to just feel normal. At this point, a person’s tolerance has increased, which is another dangerous aspect of long-term heroin use. 

The brain’s opiate receptors also change with heroin abuse. To accommodate the huge influx of opiates these receptors multiply, which increases the user’s tolerance. The more heroin a person uses, the higher his or her tolerance will be. This leads to increased usage to achieve the same high, and after so long, a person becomes physically dependent on the drug. When the drug is not available, severe withdrawal effects are soon to follow. Withdrawal is a complicated issue on its own, one that often requires medical assistance to treat. Abdominal cramps, vomiting, muscle pain, chills, leg spasms, and insomnia are all common effects. 

The lifestyle that accompanies heroin abuse is not without its own risks. Poor diet causes health problems, and a lack of basic hygiene can lead to infections and illness. Intravenous drug users are exposed to even more risks, including the transmission of HIV and hepatitis C. Complications from heroin addiction can cause lifelong medical issues in addition to the hazards of the drug itself.