What Is Heroin?
Heroin is a powerful and highly addictive opioid drug derived from morphine, which is a natural substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance due to its high potential for abuse and the absence of accepted medical uses in the United States.
Heroin is typically found as a white or brown powder or as a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” It can be injected, snorted, or smoked, and users often experience an intense, euphoric “rush” shortly after administration. Heroin acts as a central nervous system depressant, slowing down heart rate and respiration and inducing a state of relaxation and sedation.
Despite its initial pleasurable effects, heroin use carries significant risks. Heroin effects include a higher risk of addiction, overdose, and a range of physical and mental health complications. Long-term use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and profound changes in brain function.
What Are The Common Heroin Side Effects?
Heroin use can have a range of immediate and long-term side effects, impacting both physical and mental health. Common side effects of heroin use include:
- Euphoria: A rush of intense pleasure and happiness is one of the immediate effects of heroin use.
- Drowsiness: Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, leading to drowsiness and sedation.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Many users experience nausea and may vomit shortly after using heroin.
- Itching: Heroin can cause intense itching of the skin.
- Dry Mouth: A feeling of dryness in the mouth is common.
- Constricted Pupils: Heroin use typically causes pinpoint pupils.
- Slowed Breathing: Heroin is a respiratory depressant, leading to slowed breathing, which can be life-threatening in overdose situations.
- Confusion: Users may experience haze and mental fog.
- Constipation: Opioids, including heroin, often cause constipation.
- Impaired Cognitive Function: Long-term heroin use can result in cognitive deficits, affecting memory and decision-making.
- Track Marks: Injection drug use can leave visible marks or scars at injection sites.
- Risk of Infection: Sharing needles can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
- Addiction: Heroin is highly addictive, and repeated use can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
Short Term Effects Of Heroin
The short-term effects of heroin use include an immediate rush of euphoria, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, itching, dry mouth, constricted pupils, slowed breathing, confusion, and constipation. These effects occur rapidly after heroin enters the bloodstream, and users may also experience a feeling of heaviness in the limbs.
- Euphoria: Heroin produces an intense feeling of pleasure and happiness.
- Drowsiness: Users often experience a profound sense of calm and drowsiness.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Many individuals feel nauseous and may vomit shortly after using heroin.
- Constricted Pupils: Heroin use causes the pupils to become significantly smaller (pinpoint pupils).
- Itching: Users may experience intense itching of the skin.
- Dry Mouth: A feeling of dryness in the mouth is common.
- Slowed Breathing: Heroin is a respiratory depressant, leading to slowed breathing.
- Confusion: Mental fog and confusion can occur.
- Impaired Cognitive Function: Heroin use can result in slowed thinking and impaired decision-making.
- Analgesia: Heroin has pain-relieving properties, contributing to its use as an analgesic.
- Warm Sensation: Users may feel a warm sensation throughout the body.
Long Term Effects Of Heroin
Long-term heroin use can result in severe and potentially irreversible health consequences, affecting various systems in the body. Common long-term effects of heroin use include:
- Addiction: Continued heroin use often leads to physical and psychological dependence, making it challenging for individuals to stop using the drug.
- Tolerance: Over time, users may develop tolerance, requiring larger amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effects.
- Physical Health Issues: Chronic heroin use can contribute to respiratory problems, including pneumonia and other lung complications.
- Cardiovascular Complications: Heroin use may lead to cardiovascular issues such as infections of the heart lining and valves, as well as an increased risk of heart attacks.
- Liver and Kidney Damage: Long-term heroin use can result in damage to the liver and kidneys, impacting their proper functioning.
- Gastrointestinal Problems: Constipation is a common long-term side effect, and gastrointestinal issues may arise due to reduced motility.
- Malnutrition: Individuals using heroin may neglect their nutritional needs, leading to malnutrition and related health problems.
- Weakened Immune System: Heroin use may suppress the immune system, making users more susceptible to infections.
- Mental Health Issues: Chronic heroin use is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders.
- Cognitive Impairment: Long-term use can result in cognitive deficits, impacting memory, attention, and decision-making.
- Social and Legal Consequences: Heroin addiction can lead to strained relationships, employment difficulties, and legal issues.
- Risk of Overdose: Long-term users are at an elevated risk of overdose, which can be fatal.
- Is Heroin A Narcotic? Opioids, Specifics, Street Names, Heroin Addiction, Overdose, Withdrawal & Treatment
- What does heroin look like? Purity, Cutting Agents, Overdose, Risks, Addiction & Treatment
- Heroin Overdose, Signs, Statistics, Treatment, Withdrawal & Addiction Treatment
- Heroin Addiction, Symptoms, Effects & Treatment
- How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System? Effects, Overdose & Treatment
- Heroin Detox Importance, Process, Duration, Medications, Withdrawal, Programs, Methods, Therapies & Treatments
- Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, Addiction & Treatment
- Black Tar Heroin, Effects, Health Risks, Overdose, Addiction & Treatment
Get Your Life Back
Find Hope & Recovery. Get Safe Comfortable Detox, Addiction Rehab & Dual Diagnosis High-Quality Care.Hotline (855) 695-1160
How Does Heroin Work?
Heroin works by rapidly crossing the blood-brain barrier and converting into morphine, a potent opioid. Once in the brain, morphine binds to specific receptors known as opioid receptors, particularly the mu-opioid receptors. These receptors are primarily located in areas associated with pain perception and reward.
The binding of heroin to mu-opioid receptors triggers a cascade of events that result in various effects, including:
- Pain Relief: Activation of mu-opioid receptors inhibits the transmission of pain signals, providing a powerful analgesic (pain-relieving) effect.
- Euphoria: Heroin stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward system, producing intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
- Depression of the Central Nervous System: Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, slowing down functions such as heart rate and respiration. This contributes to the characteristic calm and sedated state experienced by users.
- Respiratory Depression: One of the critical risks of heroin use is the suppression of the respiratory system, which can lead to slowed breathing and, in cases of overdose, respiratory failure.
- Decreased Anxiety: Heroin use can induce a sense of relaxation and decreased anxiety.
While these effects may initially seem pleasurable, the risks associated with heroin use, including addiction, tolerance, dependence, and severe health consequences, make it a highly dangerous substance. The rapid onset of euphoria contributes to its high potential for abuse and addiction. Seeking professional help for heroin addiction is crucial for those struggling with its use.
How Is Heroin Used?
Heroin can be used in various ways, and the method of administration can impact the speed and intensity of its effects. The common methods of using heroin include:
- Injection: This is one of the most direct and potent ways to use heroin. The drug is dissolved in water and then injected into a vein (intravenously) or into the muscle (intramuscularly).
- Snorting: Heroin can be ground into a powder and then snorted through the nose. This method allows the drug to be absorbed through the nasal tissues.
- Smoking: Heroin can be heated and vaporized, and the vapors are then inhaled. Smoking heroin produces a rapid onset of effects.
- Inhalation (Chasing the Dragon): This method involves heating heroin on a piece of foil, and the vapors are inhaled through a tube or straw. It’s called “chasing the dragon” due to the user’s movement as they follow the moving vapor.
- Oral Ingestion: While less common than other methods, some users may ingest heroin orally. However, this method is less efficient, as heroin undergoes significant metabolism in the liver when taken by mouth.
The choice of administration method often depends on individual preferences, availability, and the desired intensity and duration of the drug’s effects.
Get Help. Get Better. Get Your Life Back.
Searching for an Accredited Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers in Near You?
Even if you have failed previously and relapsed, or are in the middle of a difficult crisis, we stand ready to support you. Our trusted behavioral health specialists will not give up on you. When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Call our hotline today.FREE Addiction Hotline – Call 24/7
Heroin Effects On The Body
Heroin exerts a range of effects on the body, impacting various physiological systems.
- Central Nervous System Depression: Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, slowing down brain activity. This leads to a sense of calm, relaxation, and drowsiness.
- Pain Relief: Heroin has analgesic properties, meaning it can reduce the perception of pain by binding to opioid receptors in the brain.
- Euphoria: The drug stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward system, producing intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria.
- Respiratory Depression: One of the most dangerous effects is the suppression of the respiratory system. Heroin use can lead to slowed breathing, which, in severe cases, may result in respiratory failure and death.
- Constricted Pupils: Heroin use causes the pupils to become significantly smaller (pinpoint pupils).
- Gastrointestinal Effects: Heroin use can cause constipation due to its impact on gut motility.
- Nausea and Vomiting: Many individuals experience nausea and may vomit shortly after using heroin.
- Decreased Heart Rate: Heroin use can lead to a decrease in heart rate.
- Hypothermia: Users may experience a drop in body temperature.
- Decreased Libido: Chronic heroin use can lead to reduced sexual drive and performance.
- Weakened Immune System: Long-term heroin use may suppress the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.
- Skin Issues: Heroin use can contribute to skin problems, including abscesses and infections at injection sites.
- Endocrine Effects: Heroin use may disrupt the endocrine system, affecting hormonal balance.
- Risk of Overdose: Using heroin always carries the risk of overdose, which can be life-threatening.
How Long Do Heroin Effects Last?
The duration of heroin effects can vary depending on factors such as the method of administration, the purity of the drug, and the individual’s tolerance. Here are general estimations for the duration of heroin effects:
- Intravenous (IV) Injection: The effects of intravenous heroin use are usually felt within seconds to a few minutes, and they peak quickly. The duration of the intense “rush” is relatively short, typically lasting around 15 to 30 minutes. However, other effects, such as sedation, may persist for a few hours.
- Snorting or Smoking: When heroin is snorted or smoked, the onset of effects is somewhat slower compared to intravenous use. The initial effects are typically felt within 10 to 15 minutes, with a peak occurring within 30 minutes to an hour. The overall duration of effects can last several hours.
It’s important to note that the initial euphoria or intense rush associated with heroin use is relatively short-lived, regardless of the method of administration. However, users may experience lingering effects such as drowsiness, sedation, and a general sense of calm that can last for a more extended period.
The short duration of the euphoric effects often contributes to a cycle of repeated use as individuals seek to maintain the pleasurable sensations associated with the drug. This cycle, coupled with the risk of developing tolerance and dependence, can lead to significant health consequences, including addiction and an increased risk of overdose. Seeking professional help for heroin addiction is crucial for individuals looking to break free from this cycle and work toward recovery.
First-class Facilities & Amenities
World-class High-Quality Addiction & Mental Health Rehabilitation TreatmentRehab Centers Tour
Renowned Addiction Centers. Serene Private Facilities. Inpatient rehab programs vary.Addiction Helpline (855) 695-1160
Proven recovery success experience, backed by a Team w/ History of:
- 15+ Years Experience
- 100s of 5-Star Reviews
- 10K+ Recovery Successes
- Low Patient to Therapist Ratio
- Onsite Medical Detox Center
- Comprehensive Dual-Diagnosis Treatment
- Complimentary Family & Alumni Programs
- Coaching, Recovery & Personal Development Events
Heroin overdose occurs when an individual takes a dose of the drug that overwhelms the body’s ability to handle its effects, leading to life-threatening symptoms. Heroin is a potent opioid, and an overdose can result in severe respiratory depression, cardiovascular complications, and, if left untreated, death. Here are the signs and symptoms of a heroin overdose:
- Slow or Shallow Breathing: Respiratory depression is a hallmark of a heroin overdose. The person may breathe very slowly or have difficulty breathing.
- Blue or Grayish Skin: Cyanosis, a bluish or grayish tint to the skin, especially around the lips or fingertips, is a sign of inadequate oxygenation.
- Pinpoint Pupils: Constricted or pinpoint pupils are a common indicator of opioid overdose.
- Weak Pulse: The person may have a weak or erratic pulse.
- Extreme Drowsiness or Unconsciousness: Individuals experiencing a heroin overdose may be difficult to awaken or completely unresponsive.
- Choking or Gurgling Sounds: Due to impaired respiratory function, the person may make unusual sounds while breathing.
- Confusion or Delirium: In some cases, individuals may exhibit confusion or delirium.
If you suspect someone is experiencing a heroin overdose, it is critical to seek emergency medical help immediately. Time is of the essence, and quick intervention can be lifesaving. While waiting for help, you can perform the following actions if you are trained to do so:
- Administer Naloxone: Naloxone is an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. It is available in a nasal spray or injectable form.
- Perform Rescue Breathing: If the person is not breathing or breathing very slowly, performing rescue breathing can help provide oxygen until medical help arrives.
Remember that naloxone is a temporary solution, and professional medical attention is essential. After administering naloxone, it’s crucial to stay with the person until emergency responders arrive.
If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin use, seeking professional help and addiction treatment is crucial to prevent future overdoses and promote recovery.
World-class, Accredited, 5-Star Reviewed, Effective Addiction & Mental Health Programs. Complete Behavioral Health Inpatient Rehab, Detox plus Co-occuring Disorders Therapy.CALL (855) 695-1160
End the Addiction Pain. End the Emotional Rollercoaster. Get Your Life Back. Start Drug, Alcohol & Dual Diagnosis Mental Health Treatment Now. Get Free No-obligation Guidance by Substance Abuse Specialists Who Understand Addiction & Mental Health Recovery & Know How to Help.
Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal
Heroin addiction is a complex and chronic disorder characterized by a compulsive and uncontrollable urge to seek and use heroin despite the negative consequences. Individuals who are addicted to heroin often develop a tolerance, needing increasingly larger doses to achieve the desired effects. Dependence can also develop, leading to withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not used.
Withdrawal from heroin typically involves the following symptoms:
- Flu-Like Symptoms: Withdrawal often begins with flu-like symptoms, including muscle aches, fatigue, and fever.
- Gastrointestinal Distress: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are typical withdrawal symptoms.
- Intense Cravings: Individuals going through withdrawal experience powerful cravings for the drug.
- Insomnia: Difficulty sleeping and insomnia are common during the withdrawal period.
- Anxiety and Restlessness: Feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and irritability are prevalent.
- Runny Nose and Sneezing: Nasal symptoms, such as a runny nose and sneezing, can occur.
- Dilated Pupils: After the constriction of pupils during heroin use, withdrawal can lead to dilated (enlarged) pupils.
- Sweating: Profuse sweating, even in cool conditions, is a common withdrawal symptom.
- Tremors: Shaking or tremors can occur as part of the withdrawal process.
- Goosebumps: The skin may develop “goosebumps,” resembling the appearance of chicken skin.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be intensely uncomfortable, but they are not typically life-threatening. However, the psychological cravings for the drug can be powerful and contribute to the challenges of overcoming addiction.
Experience Transformative Recovery at the We Level Up Treatment Center.
See our authentic success stories. Get inspired. Get the help you deserve.
Start a New Life
Begin with a free call to an addiction & behavioral health treatment advisor. Learn more about our dual-diagnosis programs. The We Level Up treatment center network delivers recovery programs that vary by each treatment facility. Call to learn more.
- Personalized Care
- Caring Accountable Staff
- World-class Amenities
- Licensed & Accredited
- Renowned w/ 100s 5-Star Reviews
We’ll Call You
Inspiring Heroin Addiction Recovery Story. Learn How Carlos Got Clean. What Finally Saved Him?
Search Drug & Alcohol Rehab / Detox & Mental Health Topics & Resources
- ‘Heroin DrugFacts’ – The National Institute on Drug Abuse (drugabuse.gov)
- ‘Heroin’ – National Library of Medicine (Medlineplus.gov)
- Heroin addiction, Sándor Hosztafi, National Library of Medicine (pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- NIDA. “What is heroin and how is it used?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-heroin
- NIDA. “What effects does heroin have on the body?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22 Mar. 2022, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/effects-of-heroin-on-body
- NIDA. “What are the immediate (short-term) effects of heroin use?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use
- NIDA. “What are the long-term effects of heroin use?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 13 Apr. 2021, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use
- NIDA. “What can be done for a heroin overdose?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2 Nov. 2023, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-can-be-done-for-heroin-overdose