How Opioids Affect Your Heart

As opioid use escalates, the effects of opioids on the heart are becoming more apparent. However, users might not realize they are doing damage until it drastically affects their health. Those who use heroin are especially at risk since they are likely to inject the drug, which can do serious damage to the cardiovascular system as a whole. Understanding what opioids do to your heart can help you prevent any further harm. 

Substance abuse and addiction can devastate your well-being in so many ways, so its important to seek treatment that can address all the effects of drug abuse. A variety of treatment centers and programs in your area can give you the assistance you need, and we can help you choose the one that’s best for you. Reach out to us today at 385-327-7418 to get connected with addiction treatment in your area. 


Opioid abuse can lead to a variety of adverse heart problems. Click through the sections below to learn more.

How Opioids Affect Your Heart

Your Heart After Opioid Abuse

Research shows that most drugs can have adverse cardiovascular effects. Problems can range from irregular heartbeat to increased risk of a heart attack. While heart complications are not the only adverse effects of opioids by far, they are significant. The impact of opioids on the heart can sometimes be fatal. 

For example, a recent study found that opioid use appears to increase a person’s risk for developing a specific heart-rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation. This is the most common heart rhythm disorder, which causes the heart’s upper chambers to beat irregularly and out of rhythm with the lower chambers. Atrial fibrillation is also one of the leading causes of stroke. 

One possible explanation for why this occurs may have to do with the fact that opioids can interfere with your breathing. Specifically, opioid use can lead to sleep apnea, a sleep disorder characterized by breathing that erratically starts and stops. Sleep apnea is a known risk factor for an irregular heartbeat. Though the exact cause of opioid-related heartbeat irregularity is still unknown, the effects are evident. 

It is important to note that this study tracked the use, rather than abuse, of opioids. The distinction is significant because it means the findings emphasize that opioid use by itself is dangerous, even before it becomes a problem of substance abuse or full-blown addiction. A person does not have to be addicted to experience the effects of opioids on the heart.  

Older adults who use opioids might be at an even greater risk for heart problems since advanced age on its own is a risk factor for many health complications, including heart issues. 

Injection Drug Use and the Heart

Using opioids can affect your entire cardiovascular system. Heroin, in particular, can be hard on not only the heart itself but also on blood vessels throughout the whole body. This is because heroin users commonly inject the drug directly into their bloodstream. The injection can be dangerous for several reasons. For one, heroin often contains additives like starch or sugar, which can clog blood vessels and obstruct blood flow to vital organs. More generally, injection drug use can lead to collapsed veins and bacterial infections of the blood vessels and heart valves.  

Injecting heroin puts users at risk for inflammation of the heart due to infection. Contaminated needles can introduce harmful bacteria into the bloodstream and carry it to the heart. Infections can lead to various further symptoms, including damaged heart tissue, shortness of breath, fatigue, and an increased risk for heart failure and stroke. We can treat heart infections, but doing so typically requires surgery to replace damaged tissue. Invasive operations like this can increase the risk of repeated infection. Additionally, the adverse effects can persist even after you resolve the initial condition.

An Overview of Opioid Abuse Treatment

Although some professionals can treat opioid-related heart complications, they will likely continue to occur and impair your health unless you address the root of the problem: drug abuse. Addiction treatment can help you stop using drugs and stay drug-free so you can prevent damaging your body, restore your health, and return to a happier, productive life. 

In general, treatment for opioid abuse involves a combination of medications and behavioral therapies. This is known as a “whole patient” approach since it aims to end drug use and resolve any related issues. 


Medication on its own is not considered full treatment but is rather one part of the process. The use of medicine in addiction treatment is known as Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). Medicines can ease withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, and re-establish normal brain function. MAT helps patients reduce drug-seeking behavior and become more open to behavioral treatment, which will help them stay drug-free in the long run.  

The medications used in opioid addiction treatment work by binding to the opioid receptors or blocking the receptors to suppress the effects of opioid drugs.  


Behavioral therapies help patients modify their attitudes and behaviors related to drug use and increase their healthy life skills to persist with recovery. Experts will use several types of behavioral therapies in addiction treatment.  

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing can be especially helpful at the beginning of treatment for anyone unsure or reluctant about starting therapy. It aims to boost a person’s readiness to change their behavior. During motivational interviewing, therapists help patients overcome insecurities about treatment and discover their motivations for recovering. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

In cognitive-behavioral therapy, patients learn to recognize and avoid or cope with the situations in which they are most likely to use drugs. When patients have healthy coping skills, they are less likely to relapse when they encounter drug cravings triggers.  

Contingency Management

Motivational incentives, also known as contingency management, use positive reinforcement to encourage abstinence from drugs. For example, a patient may receive a voucher for each drug test they pass. This type of therapy helps patients associate drug-free behavior with positive feelings. 


Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT) treats adolescents with drug abuse problems. MDFT addresses the family’s influence on the adolescent’s drug abuse patterns and aims to improve overall family functioning, promoting drug-free behavior. 

Treatment is unique to every individual. This means the treatment professionals you work with will also be able to provide you resources to deal with any additional problems related to your drug use, including physical health complications. 

More About Opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that include illegal and prescription substances. This group contains heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and many others.  


Heroin is from the natural opioid morphine. It comes in powder or a sticky substance that users may inject, sniff, snort, or smoke. Some people mix heroin and crack cocaine, which is known as speedballing. This increases the risk of heart problems since cocaine use causes higher blood pressure, stiffer arteries, and thicker heart muscle walls, increasing the risk of a heart attack. 

Heroin takes effect rapidly. It works by binding to opioid receptors in parts of the brain involved in pain and pleasure feelings, controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. The manipulation of these brain functions is what creates the euphoric and sedative effects. 

People generally use heroin for the initial “rush” or a sudden surge of pleasure immediately after taking the drug—however, there other common immediate effects.

Effects of heroin include: 

  • 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,” a back-and-forth state of being conscious and semiconscious 

Prescription Pain Relievers 

Opioids besides heroin are often medicines due to their ability to relax the body and relieve severe pain. For example, doctors may prescribe opioids after invasive surgeries. Although some opioids have legitimate medical uses, people can use them to get high. Even though these drugs are legal with prescriptions, it is still dangerous to misuse them because they are highly addictive and commonly lead to overdose. 

Misuse occurs when you take medicine in a way or dose other than prescribed by your doctor. If you are taking a medication in order high, it is misuse, even if you have a prescription for it. Taking someone else’s prescription medicine is also misuse. 

Along with pain relief and relaxation, prescription opioids have other effects similar to those of heroin. Prescription opioid misuse can additionally open the door to heroin use.  

Effects of prescription opioids include: 

  • Drowsiness 
  • Confusion 
  • Nausea 
  • Constipation 
  • Euphoria 
  • Slowed breathing 

Healthy Heart, Healthy Mind

It is easy to overlook how opioids affect your heart since you cannot see the changes made inside your body. This is part of what makes opioid use so dangerous—you might not realize your heart is being affected until something extreme happens, like a stroke or a severe infection. Notably, heroin use is mainly increasing among young adults, who generally should not have to worry about such severe heart problems for many years.  

To truly recover from opioid-related heart issues, it is not enough to focus on treating the physical health effects. Unless you address your drug use, the problem will not get better. Fortunately, addiction is not a battle you have to fight on your own. Addiction treatment helps you stay away from drugs and restore your health, regardless of how you may have been impaired by it. Treatment may be challenging, but when you stick with it, the outcome can be incredibly rewarding. It can mean improved function of your heart, mind, and many other aspects of your life.  

If you are concerned about your health or the health of a loved one due to opioid use, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. There is no shame in wanting a better future for yourself. With the right care, you can achieve it. Our dedicated professionals can guide you toward the resources you need to start your journey to an addiction-free life. Call us today at 385-327-7418 for more information on addiction treatment in your area. 

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