Physical Effects of Heroin

The Mental & Physical Effects of Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive opiate drug with a “high” that peaks approximately 2 hours after consumption. In fact, twenty percent of those who use heroin casually end up addicted to it. The drug can have a detrimental impact on the brain, central nervous system and the entire body. While heroin can have short and long term effects on both brain and the body, each individual is impacted by the substance differently depending on a number of factors.


The Effects of Heroin on the Brain

When heroin enters the brain, it is converted to the chemical morphine, which affects the brain’s ability to perceive pain and pleasure. Over time, the brain will develop a tolerance to this chemical and will need more and more of the drug to feel the same effect. As a result, the person taking the drug will feel an intense psychological need to continue taking it.

Heroin use impacts opioid receptors in the brain which disrupt endorphin production throughout the body. Feelings of intense euphoria are created while suppressing great physical pain. These feelings of euphoria can last anywhere from 45 seconds to several minutes, with the overall high wearing off in roughly 5 hours, leaving the individual drowsy, relaxed, and disconnected from the outside world.

Heroin also slows motor function which is why people feel relaxed when taking it. Effects on the brain can lead to physical and psychological dependence, which over time, builds in the body towards addiction.


The Effects of Heroin on the Body

Once heroin enters the system through smoking, snorting or injection, the dopamine sensory pathways in the brain are depressed. As heroin rushes through the bloodstream, the body warms and extremities will feel heavy and relaxed. Heroin may also produce dry mouth, nausea and vomiting. All other functions (physical and mental) will slow.

The use of heroin affects every person differently so no two experiences will be alike as to how the body reacts.

The physical symptoms of heroin use include:

  • Shallow breathing
  • High body temperature
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Problems with defecation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impaired perception and thinking

Addicts who inject heroin into their bodies are at risk of communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis infections. They also end up with heart, liver, and kidney diseases.

Difficulty breathing, intense drowsiness, and an irregular pulse rate can all occur after use. It is during this period when overdoses are most likely to occur, leading to unconsciousness or even death.


How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System

Heroin has a half-life of no more than eight minutes. Even for a heavy user, the drug is undetectable in the body after a few days. Factors that affect the length of time for which heroin stays in the body include the mode of consumption, frequency, and overall health of the user.

Heroin is not used medically; it is taken purely for the kick that drug users crave. It is classified as a Schedule One controlled substance in the U.S. You cannot obtain it even with a doctor’s prescription. Buying, selling, using, and possessing heroin is a crime in America.

Heroin is smoked, snorted, sniffed, inhaled or injected. The mode of consumption impacts the time it takes to enter the bloodstream.

  • If heroin is injected, the effects will begin about 20 seconds after injection and last for roughly 4 hours.
  • If it is smoked, the effects will begin after about 10 minutes and last roughly 5 minutes.

With almost all the methods mentioned, the drug reaches the brain fairly quickly. After consumption, heroin breaks down into morphine that has a half-life of around 3.6 hours.


Developing a Tolerance

As mentioned tolerance can build up quickly in habitual heroin users, with many users saying they never experience as powerful a high as the first time they used. Chasing that initial high leads many to overdose, or to mixing heroin with other drugs. Tolerance is actually a defense mechanism employed by the body, and it is what often leads to the death of the individual.

Researchers have uncovered a link between patterns of behavior and tolerance to heroin. People who regularly take the drug in the same locations become conditioned to expect the drug in that setting, which may actually increase their tolerance.

Tolerance typically occurs when an individual is taking heroin every day and has developed a dependence.

Symptoms of heroin dependence include:

  • Racing heartbeat
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Strong cravings for the drug
  • Violent or unpredictable behavior


Lasting Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from heroin can be a difficult period and exacerbate existing physical conditions. Withdrawal can begin approximately 6 to 12 hours after the last dose, with symptoms that resemble the flu accompanied by anxiety and restlessness. Withdrawal symptoms generally peak after 36 to 72 hours and are completed after 5 to 10 days.

The rapid metabolization of heroin in the body leaves only a small window of time for detecting its presence. This timeframe varies with the weight, age, metabolism and other factors associated with the user. Screening for heroin can be done via blood work, urine tests, and hair sample testing.

Heroin does not stay in the blood for longer than a day. After this period, a urine test is a better option for detecting the presence of heroin in the body. Heroin will show up in urine for up to two days however after large dosages or long term use it may show up for even longer.

The presence of heroin in hair can be detected even after three months of previous use. However, the length of hair and the amount of the substance consumed will determine if the test results can be used as legally admissible evidence.

In the long haul, heroin has devastating effects on an individual’s life, social ability, work, finances, relationships and more. The momentary euphoria followed by pain relief can result in consequences for people who become addicted. Each person who uses heroin has potential for dependency and addiction, resulting in heroin withdrawal syndrome if a person tries to stop. Some people become dependent on heroin and addicted much more quickly than another person who might have been using for a longer period.

If you are dealing with heroin addiction or know someone who is, then it is imperative that a doctor be consulted. Timely therapy and medical intervention can help reverse the damage caused by the use of this dangerous substance. Drugs such as clonidine and methadone are prescribed to help with heroin withdrawal symptoms.

It’s also important to try to stay away from your drug abusing friends as well as engage in healthy activities, play games, eat well, and spend time with the family.


If you have questions about finding treatment for heroin, the damage it could cause, or how to find the right way to get sober, our team at The Villa can guide you.