The Effects of Doing Heroin
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that threatens the health and well-being of thousands of men and women each day. But what is it about heroin that gets people hooked—and what does it feel like to be under the influence of this powerful opioid?
The following is a brief look at the effects of heroin on both the mind and the body of the user.
How Does the Drug Work?
Opioids like heroin are known for their pleasurable effects, which include euphoria and pain relief. As heroin is ingested it attaches to the mu-opioid receptors located throughout the brain and body. When heroin binds to the receptors in the reward center of the brain, it triggers the release of dopamine. The pleasurable sensations caused by the release of dopamine can reinforce future drug use.1
What Are the Physical Effects?
Heroin abuse also affects the human body in significant physical ways. The symptoms manifest themselves differently according to the make-up of each individual, as well as how they use the drug and whether they combine heroin with other drugs.
The most common physical effects of heroin use include:1
- Nausea and vomiting. Shortly after heroin enters the body, users may experience stomach discomfort such as nausea and vomiting.
- Dry mouth. Heroin users may experience dryness of the mouth soon after using the drug.
- Euphoria or “rush.” Heroin causes an intensely pleasurable sense of euphoria and well-being.2
- Clouded thinking. Heroin can alter a person’s ability to think clearly.
- Heaviness in the extremities. Heroin can cause a heavy feeling in the arms and legs.
- Heroin users may experience severe itching while high.
- Drowsiness or “nodding off.” Heroin users may appear drowsy for several hours after taking the drug.
- Heroin users are at high risk for overdose. The risk for an overdose is increased when heroin is taken with other depressant drugs, such as alcohol, or when it is mixed with other potent opioids like fentanyl.1,3
How Does It Affect You Psychologically?
Heroin abuse also carries a number of psychological side effects. These effects can lead to long-term mental health problems that keep the heroin addict from maintaining healthy relationships or successful careers.
The most common psychological side effects of heroin addiction include:
- Heroin is highly addictive. Signs of heroin addiction include difficulty controlling drug use and impairment in several areas of a person’s life as a result of drug use.2 Chronic heroin use can also cause physical dependence, in which the person’s body adapts to regularly having heroin in the system, and the person experiences withdrawal without the drug. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, and muscle and bone pains. Tolerance, another consequence of heroin use, happens when a person feels less of an effect from the drug over time and must use more and more to achieve the effects they want. 1
- Insomnia. Long-term heroin use can cause sleeping disturbances like insomnia.1 Heroin users may also suffer from insomnia during withdrawal.4
- Though heroin may initially alleviate feelings of worthlessness or despair, chronic heroin use can lead to depression.1 People who abuse alcohol and/or benzodiazepines along with heroin are also at an even higher risk for developing depression.4
- Anxiety. Heroin withdrawal can cause intense worry or anxiety, especially among users who already suffer from an anxiety disorder.4
How Long Do They Last?
The rate at which heroin takes effect depends upon how the drug is used. Smoking or injecting heroin can result in a relatively faster high than snorting, since the drug reaches the brain more quickly.1
When heroin is injected, its effects are felt within 1 minute. The euphoric “rush” after injecting can last between 45 seconds to a few minutes and feelings of drowsiness and calm can continue for up to an hour.2
Heroin cravings usually set in between 4 and 6 hours after the last dose. Some users may inject themselves up to 4 times a day.5
Don’t let heroin addiction damage you or your loved one’s life. If you or a loved one has a problem with heroin, browse our directory to learn more about available treatment options.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Research report series: Heroin.
- South Carolina Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services. (2001). Fact sheet: Heroin.
- Drug Policy Alliance. Heroin Facts.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
- Chudler, E. (2017). Neuroscience for kids: Heroin. University of Washington.