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How Does Heroin Impact Weight?

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Aug 21, 2023 • 5 cited sources

Ongoing heroin use can contribute to a number of negative health problems, including weight loss. 

In the short term, people using heroin may be neglecting to eat healthily or even at all, which can lead to acute dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. In addition, heroin exerts its influence on the GI tract, often leading to constipation, nausea and vomiting which can in turn cause decreased appetite and weight loss. [ 2] In some cases, constipation can be so extreme it can lead to GI tract obstruction, which can be life threatening and require hospitalization or surgery.[3] 

Long term, people who are not eating due to drug use can lose weight and eventually even muscle mass, leading to chronic malnutrition. [1] Rapid and extreme weight loss can lead to the following complications: 

  • Electrolyte imbalances: In heroine users, electrolyte imbalances as a result of dehydration and malnutrition can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and even death. 
  • Vitamin Deficiencies: Weight loss and chronic malnutrition in patients with heroin use can cause vitamin deficiencies that lead to a number of other complications such as increased risk of bleeding, bone mineral density loss, etc. 
  • Muscle loss (Sarcopenia): Muscle loss can lead to fatigue, deconditioning, increased risk of falls and injury 
  • Mental and emotional co-morbidities: Rapid weight loss can lead to abnormal hormonal regulation, including decreased dopamine and serotonin, both of which are necessary for normal mood regulation. Consequently, malnourished patients can experience mood changes, depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. 

Improved Quality of Life Begins With Treatment for OUD

At Bicycle Health, we know that recovering from long-term heroin use starts with addressing the underlying physical dependence on the drug. With Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT), we can help you to begin the process of easing into recovery at your own pace and on your terms as you take back control of your life. 

If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you, contact us at Bicycle Health today.

Medically Reviewed By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

  1. Metabolomic Profiling of Brain Tissues of Mice Chronically Exposed to Heroin. Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics. Feb 2017. Accessed January 2023.
  2. What Are the Medical Complications of Chronic Heroin Use? National Institute on Drug Abuse. June 2018. Accessed January 2023.
  3. The 'Acute' Abdomen in Heroin Addiction. The British Journal of Surgery. October 1982. Accessed January 2023.
  4. Chronic Heroin Dependence Leading to Adrenal Insufficiency. Case Reports in Endocrinology. June 2014. Accessed January 2023.
  5. Heroin Drug Facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. December 2022. Accessed January 2023.

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