Overview of Heroin

Heroin is an opioid synthesized from morphine, a substance that naturally occurs in the seeds of poppy plants. Heroin can be smoked, inhaled, or injected into the user. All opioids have a very high risk for addiction – see the Opiates Health Topic for more information.

Effects of Heroin

Someone who uses heroin will experience an alternately wakeful and drowsy state after a rush of euphoria. Opioid receptors in the brain, which are involved in the perception of pain and reward, are affected by heroin. Opioid receptors are also important in brain stem functions, which include blood pressure control, arousal, and breathing. Heroin overdoses often involve the suppression of breathing, which is why heroin use becomes increasingly dangerous when mixed with other drugs or alcohol.

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

The long-term effects of Heroin include tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Tolerance occurs when more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect. When the drug is needed to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, the user is experiencing dependence and/or addiction. Withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings, resulting from alterations in the brain’s reward systems, are responsible for continued use of the drug. The following are other possible long-term effects associated with Heroin use:

  • Collapsed veins, infection of the heart lining, abscesses, liver disease, kidney disease, and pulmonary complications
  • Damage to vital organs. Street Heroin is usually contaminated with toxic additives and substances that are harmful to the body
  • Impaired reproductive function
  • Suppressed immune function
  • Risk of spontaneous abortion, if the user is pregnant

For more information on abuse, overdose and withdrawal, visit the Opiates Health Topic.

How We Can Help

If you think you or a friend may have an issue with heroin, call (530) 752-6334 or go to Health-e-messaging and log in to schedule an appointment with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Intervention Services Coordinator. There is no charge for the confidential appointment.


Heroin (National Institute on Drug Abuse)