Updated on February 6, 2024
4 min read

Meth vs. Heroin: Which Drug is More Addictive?

Key Takeaways

Meth and heroin are two extremely dangerous and addictive drugs. Both are highly addictive and can cause severe physical and psychological damage. 

Which Drug is More Addictive?

A study by neuropsychopharmacologist David Nutt found that heroin is the world’s most addictive drug.

Taking heroin will result in the following:

  • Heroin causes the quantity of dopamine in the brain to increase by up to 200%  
  • Regular heroin users often develop a tolerance, which means that they need more of the drug to achieve their desired effects
  • Heroin is extremely dangerous because the amount that can cause death is only five times greater than the quantity required for a high

While meth may not be as addictive as heroin, it’s still incredibly addictive. The drug also increases dopamine, leading to more of this chemical in the brain. 

Frequent meth users may: 

  • Build up a tolerance to the drug that will require a person to take more of the drug to feel the same effects as before
  • Find it challenging to feel happy without meth and will experience withdrawal symptoms when it wears off
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Dangers of Mixing Meth and Heroin

Mixing meth and heroin is commonly referred to as “speedballing.” A “speedball” usually involves a combination of a depressant and a stimulant.

Side effects of mixing meth and heroin include:

  • A state of general confusion
  • Incoherence
  • Blurred vision
  • Stupor (decreased mental function)
  • Drowsiness
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia 
  • Uncontrolled and uncoordinated motor skills

The risks of mixing meth and heroin include:

  • Overdose
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Aneurysm
  • Respiratory failure
  • Death

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Treatment for Meth and Heroin Addiction

Many drug addiction treatments are available for meth and heroin addiction. Drug treatment programs include:

Heroin and meth are two of the most difficult drug addictions to overcome. This is why anyone addicted to heroin or meth requires professional treatment. People who attempt to quit drug use alone rarely make a lasting recovery.

Similarities Between Meth and Heroin

Despite their differences, meth and heroin also have some similarities. Their similarities include:

Addictive Properties

Meth and heroin are highly addictive drugs. They both cause physical and psychological dependence, which leads to addiction.

It's easy to become addicted to either drug, and it can be difficult to stop using them. When someone is addicted to either drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.

Long-Term Damage

Taking either drug can cause long-term damage to the body. Both drugs can damage the brain, heart, lungs, and other organs. They can also lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

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Differences Between Meth and Heroin

While both drugs are dangerous, there are some key differences between meth and heroin:

Street Names

Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth or crystal meth, is an illegal stimulant drug.  Street names for methamphetamine include crank, crystal, ice, and speed.

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug made from morphine, which comes from opium poppy plants. Street names for heroin include smack, big H, hell dust, and horse.

Appearance

Methamphetamine is a white crystal-like rock or powder. Heroin comes as a white or brown powder or black sticky substance known as black tar heroin

Method of Use

Meth is most commonly used by smoking, snorting, and injection, while people inject, sniff, snort, or smoke heroin

Effects

While both cause a high, heroin and meth produce opposite effects. Meth is a stimulant that causes a ‘high’ that lasts between 4 and 14 hours. 

On the other hand, heroin is a depressant that slows the activity of the central nervous system (CNS). A heroin high is much shorter than a meth high and usually lasts only a few minutes.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Methamphetamine withdrawal lasts longer than heroin withdrawal, with cravings and other symptoms lasting up to 5 weeks. 

Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Disturbed sleep 
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Lack of appetite and malnourishment
  • Increased appetite
  • Muscle spasms or seizures
  • Depression
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Intense cravings for more meth

Heroin withdrawal can start as early as only a few hours after the last time the drug is taken. Significant withdrawal symptoms peak between 24 to 48 hours after the last dose and subside after about a week. Some people experience it for many months.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Severe muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps ("cold turkey")
  • Uncontrollable leg movements ("kicking the habit")
  • Severe heroin cravings

Summary

Heroin and meth are two very different drugs, but they also have similarities. Both are highly addictive and can cause long-term damage to the body. 

It's important to be aware of the risks associated with both drugs. Seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with addiction.

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Updated on February 6, 2024
14 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. Bowman, E. “The Five Most Addictive Substances in the World.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2019.
  2. “Heroin In The Brain | The Opium Kings | FRONTLINE.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service.
  3. “Methamphetamine and Other Stimulants.” Minnesota Department of Health. 
  4. "Heroin DrugFacts." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2019.
  5. "How is methamphetamine different from other stimulants, such as cocaine?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  6. "What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine misuse?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2002.
  7. "What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  8. "What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  9. "What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020.
  10. “Substance Use.” MyHealth.Alberta.ca, Government of Alberta.
  11. “Speed-Balling: Mixing Stimulants and Opioids.” The Florida Alcohol And Drug Abuse Association (Fadaa) And The State Of Florida, Department Of Children And Families.
  12. Zorick, et al. “Withdrawal Symptoms in Abstinent Methamphetamine‐Dependent Subjects.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  13. Newton TF, Kalechstein AD, Duran S, Vansluis N, Ling W. “Methamphetamine abstinence syndrome: preliminary findings.” Am J Addict, 2004.
  14. Nutt D, King LA, Saulsbury W, Blakemore C. "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse." Lancet, 2007.

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