Updated on February 6, 2024
4 min read

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Key Takeaways

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug derived from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the opium poppy plant. Heroin belongs to a category of drugs called opiates or opioids, which treat pain.

Heroin appears as a white or brownish powder "cut" with sugars, starch, powdered milk, or other substances. It can be snorted, smoked, or injected.


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What Does a Heroin High Feel Like?

Heroin is a powerful sedative, and its effects can be relaxing and euphoric. Heroin users often describe feelings of:

  • Warmth
  • Detachment
  • Sleepiness or a dream-like state
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Decreased physical and/or emotional pain

The effects of heroin appear quickly and can last for several hours. The duration can depend on the dosage and administration.

Effects of Heroin High on the Mind

Heroin affects the opioid receptors and the brain's risk/reward system, leading to euphoria. Too much heroin can lead to addiction or psychological dependence.

Repeated heroin use creates long-term neuron and hormonal system imbalances. Studies have shown a loss of the brain’s white matter is associated with heroin use.

Other mental side effects of heroin include:

  • Poor decision-making
  • Behavior control problems
  • Impaired stress response
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters

Effects of Heroin High on the Body

Heroin is a depressant that slows down the body’s systems. It lowers blood pressure and reduces heart rate.

Many people find heroin very unpleasant the first time they take it. The effects of heroin on the nervous system can cause:

  • Vomiting
  • Suppressed breathing
  • Coughing reflex
  • Constipation

Over time, a heroin user can build a tolerance. This creates a sensation of relaxation in the body and can cause the limbs to feel heavy.

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How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin is highly addictive. Heroin users often develop a tolerance and need higher and more frequent drug doses to achieve the desired effects.

Many heroin users develop a substance use disorder (SUD). This happens when continued drug use causes various life issues. 

People addicted to heroin who suddenly stop using the drug may experience severe withdrawal. This is very dangerous and can be fatal.

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Intense flu
  • Restlessness
  • Aches and chills
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion
  • Nausea
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps 
  • Uncontrollable leg movements 
  • Severe cravings

Risks & Dangers of Heroin Use 

Heroin use is associated with several severe health conditions, including:

  • Fatal overdose
  • Spontaneous abortion
  • Hepatitis
  • HIV contracted through sharing needles
  • Collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections in the heart and blood vessels
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Blood clots affecting the brain, heart, and lungs

Heroin is also often cut with more potent opioids like fentanyl, which results in overdose deaths. In the U.S., approximately 128 people die daily from opioid overdoses.

Signs that Someone May Be Using Heroin

Physical signs that someone may be high on heroin include: 

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • Constricted pupils
  • Falling asleep suddenly
  • Slow breathing
  • Loss of self-control
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation

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Symptoms of Heroin Addiction 

Symptoms of a heroin addiction may include:

  • Persistent hacking cough 
  • Dry mouth
  • Tiny pinpoint pupils 
  • Huge pupils (if withdrawing from heroin)
  • Eyelids and arms/legs appear to be heavy
  • Cuts, bruises, or scabs from skin picking 
  • Infections or abscesses from injecting
  • A strong smell of cigarette or marijuana smoke (heroin addicts often smoke both)
  • Lack of hygiene and disregard for physical appearance
  • Sores on nostrils or lips 
  • Nosebleeds
  • Burn marks on fingers or mouth
  • Dark circles or puffiness under the eyes
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fever, aches, vomiting, and chills
  • Runny nose or constant sniffing 
  • Needle marks on arms or legs 

Treatment for Heroin Abuse & Addiction 

Opiates, mainly heroin, account for 18% of the admissions for drug and alcohol treatment in the U.S. Many addiction treatments, including medicines and behavioral therapies, effectively help people stop heroin use.

These treatment programs include:

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Updated on February 6, 2024
10 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
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Drug Enforcement Administration, www.dea.gov/factsheets/fentanyl

  2. “Heroin Statistics - Facts About Heroin Addiction, Use & Death - Drug-Free World.” Drugfreeworld.org, Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin/international-statistics.html

  3. “How Opioid Drugs Activate Receptors.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 5 June 2018, www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/how-opioid-drugs-activate-receptors

  4. NIDA. "Heroin DrugFacts." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 21 Nov. 2019, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.

  5. NIDA. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 10 June 2020, www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

  6. NIDA. "What are the long-term effects of heroin use?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 May. 2020, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-long-term-effects-heroin-use Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.

  7. NIDA. "What is heroin and how is it used?." National Institute on Drug Abuse, 28 May. 2020, https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-heroin Accessed 3 Jan. 2021.

  8. “Signs of Heroin Use.” Easy Read, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 5 Sept. 2019, https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/heroin

  9. “Warning Signs That a Person Might Be Using Heroin.” 54 Heroin Abuse or Addiction Warning Signs, New Hope Recovery Center, www.nationwidechildrens.org/-/media/documents/151683

  10. What Is Heroin and What Does It Feel like? https://drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/what-is-heroin

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