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Long-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Last Updated: November 3, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Heroin, a potent drug derived from morphine, is known for its powerful and addictive properties. While the immediate effects of heroin use can be dangerous, the long-term impacts can be even more devastating, leading to significant health problems and life-altering consequences.

Opioid Addiction & Abuse Statistics in Kansas City and Beyond

Opioid and heroin abuse in Missouri has been a significant concern, with the state experiencing an upward trend in opioid overdose deaths. The issue is particularly severe in certain areas, such as St. Louis and its fringe areas.

Key data points on the opioid crisis in Kansas City and Missouri include: 

  • In 2018, Missouri had the largest absolute and percentage increase in opioid-related overdose fatality rates per capita over the previous year (18.3% and 3.1/100,000).
  • The rise in opioid deaths in Missouri is primarily due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl (IMF) and similar substances.
  • St. Louis and its surrounding areas have the highest opioid death rates within Missouri.
  • Of the more than 600 opioid-related deaths in Kansas City in 2021, around half were linked to manufactured opioids like fentanyl.

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How Heroin Affects the Body Over Time

Physical Effects

Long-term heroin use can lead to numerous physical health problems. These include:

  • Collapsed veins: Regular injections can damage veins, leading to collapse.
  • Heart infections: Heroin use can lead to bacterial infections of the heart lining and valves.
  • Liver and kidney disease: These vital organs can be severely damaged by prolonged heroin use.
  • Lung diseases: Chronic heroin use can lead to various lung complications, including pneumonia.
  • Increased risk of infectious diseases: Sharing needles can expose users to diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Effects on the Brain

Heroin affects the brain by binding to opioid receptors, causing a release of the brain chemical dopamine, which creates feelings of happiness. Over time, repeated exposure to heroin changes the physiology and structure of the brain, leading to:

  • Hormonal and emotional changes: These changes are often not easily reversed and can lead to mood disorders.
  • Deterioration of white brain matter: This can affect a person’s decision-making and behavior regulation abilities.
  • Development of physical dependence: The brain adjusts to the presence of heroin. When heroin use is reduced after dependence has developed, withdrawal symptoms occur.

Psychological Effects

Heroin use can also lead to psychological effects, including:

  • Memory loss: Chronic heroin use can impair memory and cognitive function.
  • Depression and anxiety: Long-term heroin use can lead to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • Social isolation: Heroin use can strain relationships and lead to withdrawal from family and friends.

Effects on Pregnant Women and Newborns

If a woman uses heroin during pregnancy, it can lead to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in the newborn, causing symptoms like excessive crying, irritability, seizures and tremors. In extreme cases, this can lead to the death of the child.

Addiction and Dependence

One of the most significant long-term effects of heroin use is the development of addiction and dependence. The pleasurable sensations induced by the drug can lead users to escalate their dosage and frequency of use, leading to physical dependence and psychological addiction. This can result in withdrawal symptoms when heroin use is reduced or stopped, making it difficult for individuals to quit on their own.

Seeking Help for Heroin Addiction at The Recovery Village Kansas City

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin use, quitting can seem like an overwhelming task. The prospect of withdrawal symptoms can seem insurmountable. However, recovery is possible with help.

At The Recovery Village Kansas City, we believe that heroin recovery takes place in steps. Starting with medical detox, we help wean you off heroin, offering medication-assisted treatment as medically appropriate. We continue supporting your recovery through our extensive rehab programs, including our residential, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs. Don’t wait: contact us today to learn more and see how we can help.


National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin DrugFacts.” December 2022. Accessed August 6, 2023.

Stoecker, William V.; Bosworth, K. Taylor; & Rottnek, Fred. “Missouri’s Fentanyl Problem: The China Connection.” Missouri Medicine, July–August 2020. Accessed August 6, 2023.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Operation Engage Kansas City.” Accessed August 6, 2023.