Effects of Heroin

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The effects of heroin can be physically and psychologically damaging, especially in the event of addiction.

Heroin addiction, clinically classified as opioid use disorder, is a chronic and relapsing brain condition characterized by various distressing and disruptive side effects, both physical and emotional. 

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What are the side effects of heroin?

Side Effects of Heroin

A semi-synthetic opioid, heroin is derived from morphine taken from the seed pods of opium poppies. 

Whether smoked, snorted, or injected, heroin induces a euphoric and almost immediate rush. At the same time, ingesting heroin slows both heart rate and respiration. 

Heroin is fiercely addictive with tolerance forming rapidly. When this occurs, you will need to use more heroin or to use heroin more frequently to achieve the same effects. In many cases, people move from smoking or snorting heroin to injecting the drug as tolerance builds. 

Using heroin long-term almost always leads to heroin addiction.

Regardless of the method of delivery, heroin enters the brain quickly. In the brain, heroin attaches to various opioid receptors, particularly receptors associated with: 

  • Breathing
  • Sleeping
  • Heart rate
  • Pleasure
  • Pain

Heroin can create some problems in the short-term – more on those effects directly below – but most damage triggered is due to the long-term effects of heroin. 

Abusing heroin can lead to the following adverse physical effects:  

  • Continuous flu-like symptoms
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Constipation
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Unintentional and noticeable weight loss
  • Respiratory problems
  • Regular chest infections
  • Uncontrollable itching
  • Constricted pupils
  • Exhaustion
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Malnutrition
  • Tuberculosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin damage caused by injecting heroin
  • Hepatitis C
  • Blood clots
  • Infection of the heart lining and valve
  • Seizures

If you develop heroin addiction in the form of opioid use disorder, this is characterized by intensely unpleasant withdrawal symptoms in the absence of heroin. 

Fortunately, a medically-supervised detox removes much of the discomfort and danger from heroin withdrawal. You can then engage with a structured treatment program involving MAT (medication-assisted treatment) and psychotherapy to address the psychological component of heroin addiction. Before we show you how to connect with the help you need for heroin use disorder, what are the short term effects of heroin? 

An image of a woman struggling with the effects of heroin, including exhaustion

Short Term Effects of Heroin

Injecting, smoking, or snorting heroin induces the following short-term effects

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Appetite loss
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Reduced lung function
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchiness
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Flushed skin
  • Euphoria

Even though some of the short-term effects of heroin are unpleasant, the desire to experience the pleasurable effects like euphoria lead to powerful cravings for the drug developing. 

Regrettably, this can start a vicious cycle and lead to habitual heroin use. The more you give in to cravings and the more you use heroin, the more your tolerance for the drug will grow. If this pattern continues, you will spend even more money buying more heroin, you will increase your risk of overdose, and you will also raise the risk of some of the more adverse physical long-term effects caused by heroin abuse. 

What are the long-term effects of heroin, then? 

Long Term Effects of Heroin

If you continue to use heroin long-term, you are liable to experience a range of physical and mental health problems. 

These are some of the most serious negative physical outcomes associated with long-term heroin use: 

These physical effects can be damaging and even deadly, but heroin abuse also causes emotional and psychological problems.

The sustained abuse of heroin can damage gray matter in the brain. The repeated use of the substance can also change the physical structure of the brain. It is not easy and not always possible to reverse these changes.

Heroin abuse can also cause emotional and mental turmoil. Frequently, heroin abuse leads to impaired cognitive function.

Like all addictions, heroin addiction often co-occurs with mental health conditions like anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Heroin addiction (opioid use disorder) is diagnosed per the criteria in DSM-5-TR, the updated version of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), heroin addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain condition. As with all substance use disorders, central to heroin addiction is a compulsive use of the drug regardless of negative outcomes.

How Long Do the Effects of Heroin Last?

The effects of heroin last for longer than the effects of cocaine and meth, but heroin has a very short half-life of 30 minutes. 

If you take a single dose of heroin, it then takes 30 minutes for blood concentration levels of the substance to reduce by half. It takes between 5 and 7 half-lives for all heroin to be purged from the system. 

The precise length of time it takes before the effects of heroin wear off depend on many factors, including:

  • Amount of heroin used
  • Quality of heroin
  • Age
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Rate of metabolism
  • Body fat content
  • Genetics
  • Kidney health
  • Liver health
  • Hydration

To summarize, heroin can be detected in the system as follows:

  • Urine tests: Usually 2 days, although heroin sometimes shows in urine tests for up to 7 days.
  • Blood tests: 6 hours, although heroin sometimes shows in blood tests for up to 2 days.
  • Saliva tests: 6 hours, although heroin sometimes shows in blood tests for up to 2 days.
  • Hair follicle tests: 3 months or more.
california beach representing heroin detox at california detox center.

Heroin Addiction Treatment at California Detox

Here at California Detox, we offer treatment programs for heroin addiction at all levels on American Society of Addiction Medicine’s continuum of care

You will first need to detox from heroin and we can help you with that. Our beachside medical detox center provides you with around-the-clock clinical and emotional care during the week or so of heroin detoxification. You can also benefit from prescribed medications to reduce the intensity of cravings for heroin and to alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms. 

Once the detox process is complete, choose from one of the following treatment programs: 

  • OPs: outpatient programs offering 2 or 3 hours of weekly therapy sessions.
  • IOPs: intensive outpatient programs offering 12 to 15 hours of weekly therapy sessions.
  • PHPs: partial hospitalization programs offering 30 to 35 hours of weekly therapy sessions.
  • Inpatient rehab: residential program lasting for between 30 and 90 days.
  • Virtual IOPs: remote therapy sessions for addictions and mental health conditions.
  • Dual diagnosis treatment programs: integrated treatment for co-occurring addictions and mental health disorders.

Heroin use disorder and opioid use disorder respond positively to MAT (medication-assisted treatment). Your treatment team can administer FDA-approved medications to help promote abstinence and to minimize ongoing cravings for heroin. 

MAT is best when delivered alongside interventions like counseling and psychotherapy (talk therapies like CBT and DBT, both proven effective for treating addictions and mental health disorders. 

When you complete your heroin addiction treatment program here at California Detox, you will step down to a less intensive form of therapy or transition directly into sober living and ongoing recovery. Either way, you will have relapse management strategies in place and all the aftercare you need. Here at California Detox, we can help you navigate detox, treatment, and ongoing recovery from heroin addiction. Call 949.567.8790 today for immediate assistance. Also, visit this page if you think someone is exhibiting signs of heroin use


The short-term effects of heroin generally last for about 4 hours. However, long-term effects and lingering problems, including addiction, can last a lifetime if not managed or treated.
Heroin will heat up the body causing flushed skin and a warm body.


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