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What Does a Heroin High Feel Like? Effects, Overdose, Withdrawal, & Treatment

Heroin makes you feel relaxed, relaxed, tired and oblivious. These effects are followed by fatigue and confusion. Read more about the dangers, side effects, and treatment options for heroin addiction.

By We Level Up | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: January 13, 2023

What Does a Heroin High Feel Like?

Have you ever asked yourself, “what does heroin feel like?” Curiosity about the effects of heroin use can lead someone to try the drug. People who misuse prescription opioids sometimes transition to heroin because it could be cheaper, more available, or more potent. So, what does heroin feel like? What is it that causes an addiction to develop so quickly? What does a heroin addict look like?

What does heroin make you feel like? When someone first uses heroin, the high is often pleasurable. A rush of euphoria and a false sense of well-being can also come with a relief of pain, anxiety, and depression. Powder heroin effects can feel like an escape and are often used as a recreational drug or a method of self-medication. Other feelings often associated with heroin high include a sense of safety and well-being, despite the actual surroundings or environment.

What is a typical heroin effect on the brain? Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a release of endorphins that causes the high. This sensation leads to changes in feelings, thoughts, and sensations. While most people feel the initial heroin high is pleasant, some may have negative experiences, depending on the individual.

What does being on heroin feel like? People want to experience a “high” from heroin because of the euphoria it can bring, especially if they might not otherwise feel pleasure, often due to depression or other conditions.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a drug that reaches the brain quickly once consumed. For this reason, it is very easy for a person to develop heroin addiction, even from one or a few uses. Before we get to the main topic, let’s learn about what heroin is. According to the scientific piece ‘Heroin,’ published by The National Library of Medicine, “Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky substance (black tar heroin).” [1]

It’s an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance in the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. Heroin can also be smoked or snorted up the nose. All these ways of taking heroin are leading the substance being sent to the brain very quickly. This makes it very addictive.

Regular use of heroin can lead to tolerance. This means users need more and more drugs to have the same effect. At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If dependent users stop, they will have heroin withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps. That is why a medical detox for heroin addiction is very needed.

Heroin High Symptoms

If you know someone abusing heroin, you may wonder what are the signs and symptoms of heroin use. The main sign of a heroin high is a strange sense of happiness or well-being. There are also many other symptoms of heroin intoxication that can accompany a heroin high. These can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed, warm skin
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or clouded thinking
  • Severe itchiness
  • Shifting in and out of semi-consciousness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Coma
  • Absent breathing, leading to death

Nodding Off

Nodding off can refer to falling asleep, but it is much more severe in using heroin. “Nodding off” refers to drifting in and out of consciousness. This is particularly dangerous as it indicates someone is on the edge of a life-threatening overdose. There is a possibility that someone may not return to consciousness when drifting into unconsciousness.

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Heroin Drug Abuse Statistics

In 2020, heroin-involved overdose death rates decreased by nearly 7% 2019 to 2020. However, more than 13,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States, a rate of more than four deaths for every 100,000 Americans. The number of heroin-involved overdose deaths was nearly seven times higher in 2020 than in 1999. Almost 20% of all opioid deaths involved heroin.


626,000

Roughly 626,000 Americans had a heroin addiction in 2016.

Source: NIDA

60%

When someone uses heroin, they have a 50 to 60 percent chance of developing an addiction.

Source: NIDA

13,000

More than 13,000 people died from a drug overdose involving heroin in the United States.

Source: NIDA


Heroin Drug Facts

Heroin

Heroin is an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a white or brown powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin.


How do people use heroin?

People inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing.


What are the effects of heroin?

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

Short-Term Effects

People who use heroin report feeling a “rush” (a surge of pleasure or euphoria). However, there are other common effects, including:

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Nausea and vomiting

Long-Term Effects

People who use heroin over the long term may develop the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Liver and kidney disease

Heroin Fast Facts Made Publicly Available by the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) for Substance Use Disorder Awareness

Heroin High Effects

Heroin side effects and intoxication during a “heroin high” can easily lead to overdose and death. First, while someone is experiencing “heroin high” effects, they’re also experiencing changes in how their brain is functioning. This is what causes changes in mood and perception.

When heroin enters the brain, it is converted into morphine before binding to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. That’s why heroin’s high effects include euphoria and pleasure. When heroin binds to the opioid receptors, the rush of feel-good dopamine is much higher than what you could experience from natural pleasure.

The euphoric rush and other effects are short-lived, but heroin intoxication can cause extreme drowsiness during the high, leading the person to slip in and out of consciousness or nod off.

What does a heroin high feel like? It is impossible to know from appearance alone whether someone is using heroin.
What does a heroin high feel like? It is impossible to know from appearance alone whether someone is using heroin.

Heroin Effects On The Body

“What are the heroin effects on the body?” It is impossible to know from appearance alone whether someone is using heroin. However, heroin use can sometimes cause changes in someone’s physical appearance. Someone who is addicted to heroin may experience weight loss. Their pupils may also be smaller than usual, sometimes called “pinpoint” pupils.

Additionally, this person may become less concerned with their physical appearance and hygiene or appear more disheveled, but this is not always the case. A user who shoots heroin may have scars on their body to indicate injection histories, such as on their arms or legs. In severe cases, these injection sites may become infected or cause abscesses to form.

Heroin Effect On The Brain

The health hazards associated with heroin stem from the drug itself and the circumstances around its use. Chronic heroin users who share unsterilized heroin paraphernalia can develop long-term health consequences. In addition to chronic conditions and infectious diseases, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, ongoing heroin use can cause changes to the brain.

What does heroin do to the brain? Research further shows that heroin abuse can lead to a deterioration of the white matter in the brain, which can directly affect decision-making capabilities, the ability to control behavior, and methods of responding to stress. Changes to the brain can also predispose it to a greater likelihood of relapse. Research shows that even after achieving sobriety, a person with a history of heroin abuse may be more likely to take up heroin again than those who do not have a history of such abuse.

Heroin abuse among women has been linked to infertility and disruptions to menstrual cycles. In some cases, pregnant women who use heroin have experienced spontaneous miscarriages. Women who continue their pregnancies may give birth prematurely, and infants may have a low birth weight or be born addicted to heroin. Regarding sexual function, women and men may experience diminished sexual drives. Men may experience erectile dysfunction and the inability to regain sexual interest on a long-term basis.

Heroin High Feeling

The heroin’s high feeling begins with extreme euphoria and a strange sense of pleasure. As the high occurs, heroin intoxication can cause drowsiness and “nodding off”. It can also induce mental sluggishness, outwardly showing slow or slurred speech and confusion. People who experience a “heroin high” may also feel warmth, relaxation, and coziness.

What does being high on heroin feel like? The “heroin high” feeling users describe as pleasurable is unlikely to continue with the same effects as a person builds a tolerance to the drug. Eventually, someone who uses heroin may continue to do so solely to avoid withdrawal rather than to get high.

How Long Does A Heroin High Last?

What does being high on heroin feel like, and how long is a heroin high? Heroin is an opiate, so it quickly attaches to opioid receptors in your nervous system when you take it. This causes a euphoric feeling, called a rush or high, followed by drowsiness. This process can last as long as a few hours, or it can be gone as quickly as 15 minutes.

What does it feel like to be high on heroin? Because of the intense euphoria involved in the first stages of the high, many users feel their mental health is affected by feelings of depression when coming down off the drug.

How To Tell If Someone Is High On Heroin?

Your suspicions should be provoked to a possible drug problem if you notice these symptoms of heroin addiction from a family member or a loved one:

  • Work or school issues. The person seems disinterested or is often absent and admits to declining performance.
  • Disinterest in physical appearance. The person is suddenly disdainful of clothes and grooming.
  • Behavior changes. They have drastic changes in relationships and may seem secretive about activities and personal space.
  • Money problems. The person starts hitting you up for loans often.

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What Does a Heroin Overdose Feel Like? 

Heroin addiction can easily lead a person to overdose on this drug because it makes people want more and more of the substance. A heroin overdose occurs when a person uses enough of the drug to produce a life-threatening reaction or death. 

What does a heroin overdose feel like? When people overdose on heroin, their breathing often slows or stops. This can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain, a condition called hypoxia. Hypoxia can have short- and long-term mental effects and effects on the nervous system, including coma and permanent brain damage.

Signs Of Heroin Overdose

There are many signs of a heroin overdose, which occurs when someone ingests too much heroin. The primary indication of an overdose is reduced or stopped breathing. Opioid drugs depress breathing rates, especially in large quantities. Depressed breathing looks like this:

  • Pale skin
  • Blue tint to the lips and fingertips
  • Shallow breaths
  • Gasping for air

Other symptoms of a heroin overdose can include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Discolored tongue
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Disorientation, delirium, or a changed mental state
  • Constipation
  • Spasms or seizures
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Coma
  • Extreme drowsiness or an inability to stay awake

Because an overdose can be life-threatening, it is extremely important to get medical attention as soon as these symptoms appear. Symptoms of an overdose from injected heroin typically begin about 10 minutes after the individual has taken the dose.

Heroin Overdose Treatment

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a specific medicine called Naloxone can save the life of someone overdosing. Naloxone is a medicine that can treat an opioid overdose when given right away. It works by rapidly binding to opioid receptors and blocking the effects of heroin and other opioid drugs. Sometimes more than one dose may be needed to help a person start breathing again, which is why it’s essential to get the person to an emergency department or a doctor to receive additional support if needed. [2]

Naloxone is available as an injectable (needle) solution and nasal sprays (NARCAN® Nasal Spray and KLOXXADO®). Friends, family, and others in the community can use the nasal spray versions of naloxone to save someone who is overdosing. The rising number of opioid overdose deaths has led to increased public health efforts to make Naloxone available to at-risk persons and their families, first responders, and others in the community. Some states have passed laws that allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription from a person’s doctor.

What does a heroin high feel like? Heroin is used intravenously by injection with a needle. Other forms of use include smoking, inhalation with a pipe, snorting, or inhalation with a straw.
What does a heroin high feel like? Heroin is used intravenously by injection with a needle. Other forms of use include smoking, inhalation with a pipe, snorting, or inhalation with a straw.

Heroin Overdose Statistics

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), since 2000, drug overdose deaths have increased by 137 percent, with opioid drugs leading to a dramatic rise. There has been a 200 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths due to the rise in both opioid medication and heroin addiction and abuse. [3]

Over 10,500 people died from a heroin overdose in 2014 alone, with non-Hispanic white individuals between the ages of 18 and 44 experiencing the highest rates of heroin overdose death, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Historically, men have been the primary victims of a heroin overdose; however, since 2011, rates of women abusing heroin and overdosing from it have risen substantially.

According to the World Health Organization, nonfatal heroin overdoses are more common than fatal overdoses. The international medical association noted that some groups of people who struggle with addiction to heroin are at a higher risk of suffering a heroin overdose. [4]

Although many people who struggle with heroin addiction are single, WHO notes that heroin overdoses tend to happen in front of at least one witness, like a family member or friend. Regardless of the situation, people who witness a person suffering from a heroin overdose (or prescription opioid painkillers) must call 911 and get emergency medical help immediately. Doing so can save a person’s life.

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How Heroin Is Used?

Heroin is a fast-acting, highly addictive drug processed from morphine, a legal opioid narcotic. Unlike morphine, heroin is an illegal substance and the most commonly abused drug in the opioid class. The usage of heroin creates a state of relaxation and euphoria for the user caused by the binding of the drug to the body’s endorphin sites. By binding to the body’s natural pain relievers, heroin blocks signal to the brain, which in turn blocks an individual’s ability to feel pain.

Most commonly, heroin is used intravenously by injection with a needle. Other forms of use include smoking, inhalation with a pipe, snorting, or inhalation with a straw.

Immediately after heroin is injected, it crosses the blood-brain barrier, converting it into morphine and binds to opioid receptors. How does heroin feel like? Once consumed, heroin is said to create a surge of pleasurable sensations, referred to as a “rush” or “high.” The intensity of the rush depends on how much of the drug is taken and how fast it enters the brain. The immediacy with which heroin enters the brain and the resulting “rush” is what makes this drug so addictive.

Heroin is most commonly found in white or brown powder form. Other forms of heroin may include a black sticky substance known as “black tar heroin.” Acquiring heroin on the streets is dangerous because you cannot be sure what it is mixed with or the exact level of purity you are receiving. Often street heroin is mixed with sugar, starch, pesticides, or other poisons, putting heroin users at an increased risk of overdose and death. Other common street names for heroin include: “smack,” “thunder,” “poppy,” “white junk,” and “dead on arrival.”

Heroin Detox

Starting the healing process after heroin abuse requires the elimination of heroin in the body through a process called detoxification, or detox for short. This initial step in the treatment process is a vital part of heroin addiction recovery. Despite the unpleasant effects of heroin detox, numerous methods exist to ease the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may occur during this practice. Heroin detox is the start of a new life without drugs, which makes it worth any short-term discomfort.

Drug detoxification describes the process of eliminating certain substances from the body. Once heroin is cleared from a person’s body, they will experience withdrawal symptoms or uncomfortable side effects. Withdrawal is the way our bodies demand more drugs during detoxification. Even though withdrawal from heroin is rarely life-threatening, it can be unpleasant, particularly for heavy and long-term users.

Most users experience their first withdrawal symptoms of heroin within six to twelve hours following their last heroin use. If a person stops using heroin cold turkey, without any medical assistance, withdrawal symptoms often peak within two to three days after their previous heroin use.

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Even though some people choose to detox at home, heroin withdrawal can be so intense that most people relapse instead of going through the discomfort.
Even though some people choose to detox at home, heroin withdrawal can be so intense that most people relapse instead of going through the discomfort.

Why Is Heroin Detox Needed?

What does a heroin high feel like? and how long does a heroine high last? It can only last as long as a few hours or can be gone as quickly as 15 minutes. But the consequences, if left untreated, can affect your life in the long run.

The dangers of ongoing heroin use are significant, and every hit puts a person at greater risk. Heroin detox at a drug detox center helps clear the body of substances in a safe and controlled environment, with medical assistance, supervision, and the proper tools to handle situations.

What Does Heroin Withdrawal Feel Like?

Even though some people choose to detox at home, heroin withdrawal can be so intense that most people relapse instead of going through the discomfort. Aside from ensuring physical comfort, supervised heroin detox at a drug detox center also guarantees safety and prevents relapse plus potential overdose.

What Happens During Heroin Detox?

A medical heroin detox typically involves a monitored detox period intended to address any psychological or physical complications that occur during withdrawal, ensure comfort and minimize relapse. Supervised heroin detox may or may not include medication.

Intake is the first step for any person to start a heroin detox program. It involves a medical evaluation that helps quantify a person’s level of heroin use and creates a personalized plan for detox and treatment. Evaluations often include questions such as:

  • How long has the person been using heroin?
  • Have they ever received treatment for heroin abuse?
  • Do they take other drugs? If so, what are the other substances?
  • Do they drink alcohol? If so, how often?
  • Do they have other existing mental or physical health issues?

A comprehensive physical exam is given during intake to evaluate the person’s current health status. Similarly, their physical examination results and medical history, as well as their general evaluation, helps guide their treatment therefore, complete honesty and openness are required for optimal results.

Treatment For Heroin Addiction

Treatment for heroin addiction includes medical detox treatments and behavioral therapies for addiction. For a treatment to be effective, it’s essential to match the best treatment approach to meet each patient’s particular needs. Medicines are being developed to help with the withdrawal process. The FDA approved lofexidine, a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Medicines to help people stop using heroin include Buprenorphine and Methadone. They work by binding to the same opioid receptors in the brain as heroin, but more weakly, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Another treatment is Naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors and prevents opioid drugs from having an effect. A NIDA study found that once treatment is initiated, both a Buprenorphine/Naloxone combination and an extended release Naltrexone formulation are similarly effective in addiction. Because full detoxification is necessary for treatment with naloxone, initiating treatment among active users was difficult, but once detoxification was complete, both medications had similar effectiveness.

Behavioral therapies for Heroin Addiction include methods called Cognitive-Behavioral therapy and contingency management. Cognitive-Behavioral therapy helps modify the patient’s drug-use expectations and behaviors, and helps effectively manage triggers and stress. Contingency Management provides motivational incentives, such as vouchers or small cash rewards for positive behaviors such as staying drug-free. These Behavioral Treatment approaches are especially effective when used along with medicines.

National Institute on Drug Abuse [5]

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Researching for “what does a heroin high feel like?” Heroin addiction is a severe condition that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from heroin addiction with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Each call is private and confidential.

Several treatment options can effectively treat addiction. Encourage your friend or loved one to talk to their doctor or a treatment counselor about using alcohol treatment programs, substance abuse treatmentrelapse prevention, or support groups as part of their recovery.

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6 Popular “What Does a Heroin High Feel Like?” FAQs

  1. How long does a heroin high last?

    The effects of heroin last different amounts of time depending on how you use the drug.

  2. How do people on heroin act?

    Heroin is a depressant drug – it slows down certain functions of a person’s brain and nervous system.

  3. What are heroin drug effects?

    What does a heroine high feel like? Depending on the dose, some of the immediate effects of heroin can be extreme enough to be life-threatening. However, regardless of the other immediate effects of the drug, the sensation of pleasure is often strong enough to make the individual want to use heroin again just to repeat the feeling.

  4. What is “heroin experience?”

    No one experiences heroin addiction the same way as someone else. So how does heroin feel like? Generally, this sensation is experienced as an overwhelming rush of pleasure and well-being, including a diminished ability to feel pain.

  5. What are heroin’s side effects?

    What does it feel like to do heroin? If the person responds to that desire and uses heroin repeatedly, a number of long-term mental and physical side effects can develop, including:
    – Collapsed or clogged veins.
    – Heart or circulatory infections.
    – Lung damage.
    – Liver damage and disease.
    – Hypoxia, or low oxygen in the blood.
    – Chronic constipation.
    – Sleep disorders and fatigue.
    – Mental cloudiness or cognitive damage.

  6. How long is a heroin high?

    What does it feel like to be on heroin? The effects of heroin last different amounts of time depending on how you use the drug. The effects produced by heroin generally happen in two stages. The first is the initial rush of euphoria, warmth, and tingling users feel when the effects of the drug kick in.

    The second stage is the rest of the high, where users feel pain relief, relaxation, sleepiness, and mild euphoria. This stage depends on various factors but usually ranges between 2-5 hours.

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