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The ravages of addiction become apparent after a while through symptoms like rapid, drastic weight loss, dental problems, and other visible physical changes. However, addiction causes more serious, sometimes hidden, health problems that can have long-term consequences even if the substance user gets clean. At our Scottsdale based treatment center in Arizona, there are four major biological systems that are affected by heroin addiction, and many times, problems with one system lead to further damage to the others.
Digestive Problems: Problems with the digestive system go beyond the stomach cramps and other issues normally related to heroin use. Because opiates have a sedating effect, they slow all of your biological systems down. When someone in Phoenix is admitted to treatment, they may not notice the bloating and constipation caused by chronically slow digestion, or to associate digestive problems with their drug use. Users are also less likely to talk about health problems or seek medical assistance, which can lead to more severe problems like intestinal blockages if the problem isn’t addressed.
Nervous System Problems: Nervousness isn’t just a symptom of substance abuse problems. Heroin affects the brain more than almost any other vital organ, and on a much deeper level The brain chemistry becomes unbalanced as continued use interferes with the pleasure centers and neurotransmitters, causing a surge of dopamine and disrupting signals between your brain and heart, lungs, and other organs. Research by the NIDA also shows shrinkage of white matter, which is the part of the brain that affects decision making abilities and regulates behavior.
Cardiovascular Issues: It’s well-known that overdoses of heroin can stop the heart and lead to death. Lesser known are the long-term effects of use on cardiovascular health, especially with prolonged intravenous use. Veins and arteries create a delicate network of interior plumbing that carries oxygen from the lungs to the heart, and carries blood and vital nutrients to other major organs. As more veins collapse or become damaged, it interferes with circulation and puts additional stress on the heart.
Constant needle jabs, and occasional misses, do irreparable damage to the venous networks. This leads to abscesses, infections, amputations, and even death. Collapsed veins are what causes the scars known as track marks that are another visible sign of heroin addiction. The CDC studied addicts in New York, finding that 32 percent of them suffered from abscesses and a drug-related condition called cellulitis. We also see this at our center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Respiratory Distress: This isn’t a problem normally associated with heroin use, but health professionals will tell you that it’s quite common and serious. In fact, Anesthesiology magazine refers the respiratory distress as one of the most serious and deadly side-effects of heroin abuse. It’s especially dangerous for long-time or heavy users. As sedatives, heroin and other opiates slow the breathing. They also interferes with signals from the brain to the respiratory system and put additional stress on the heart, which also slows. Heavy users build up a tolerance for the drug, which leads to bigger and more frequent doses, and increases the likelihood of the respiratory system shutting down completely.