Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew


Heroin, an illegal narcotic derived from the opium poppy flower, has been linked to nearly 1,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts alone.

Over 902,000 persons are projected to have used heroin in the previous year in the United States, with an additional 691,000 developing a heroin use problem.

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Identifying Heroin

Heroin typically has physical characteristics such as a white powder or brown powder form, or a sticky, black tar-like substance.

The smell and taste of heroin may differ depending on the level of refinement or chemicals used in the heroin.

Street Names For Heroin

Heroin may be referred to by several different slang names, depending on the form. Slang terms include dope, snow, junk, china white, brown, skag, H, and more.

Heroin Withdrawal

Using heroin regularly may result in your body becoming chemically dependent on the drug. People with a physical addiction will start to feel withdrawal symptoms as soon as a few hours after not taking heroin.

Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew
Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew


Heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • tremors
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • depression

Severe cases of heroin withdrawal may be life-threatening. Symptoms of severe heroin withdrawal include trouble breathing, high sodium levels in the blood, and heart failure.

Effects Of Heroin

When heroin enters the brain, it binds to receptors that produce sensations of happiness and well-being. Heroin may also make people behave irrationally or make poor decisions.

Effects On The Brain

When heroin enters the brain, it binds to naturally occurring opioid receptors that lead to a release of dopamine and other chemicals. The result is an overwhelming feeling of wellbeing, relaxation, and painlessness.

The more heroin someone takes, the less dopamine their brain will produce. Over time, the brain will become dependent on the drug and will experience withdrawal when heroin is not in the system.

Effects On The Body

After the brain has released a rush of pleasure-inducing chemicals to the body, it will be accompanied by a warm sensation to the skin, and dryness in the mouth. Extremities will start to feel heavy as well.

The onset of nausea, vomiting, and itching may occur in the initial minutes of the high, followed by drowsiness and slowed breathing.

Heroin Overdose

Heroin overdose may occur when too much heroin is taken at once. However, if treated quickly with the medication naloxone (Narcan), it can be reversed.

Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew
Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew


Symptoms of a heroin overdose may include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • cold flashes
  • weak pulse
  • cramping
  • seizure
  • bluish skin
  • gurgling

Taking heroin may become even more dangerous when it’s mixed with other drugs such as benzodiazepines, cocaine, and other opioids.

Heroin Use During Pregnancy

Heroin use during pregnancy can cause serious problems for the pregnant woman and the unborn baby, including premature birth, neonatal abstinence syndrome, birth defects, and stillbirth.

Abusing heroin can be dangerous for expecting mothers. Placental abruption is a serious condition in which the placenta separates from the uterus before birth.

Placental abruption may cause heavy bleeding and cut the baby off from its food and oxygen supply. It can be deadly for both mother and baby.

How Heroin Affects Babies

Heroin use can result in neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs when heroin is passed to the fetus, causing dependency in the baby.

The baby may experience fever, seizures, irritability, and possibly death after prolonged exposure to heroin.

In most cases, the baby will require hospitalization and treatment with medication such as morphine to relieve symptoms until the baby is opioid-free.

What Are The Risk Factors For Heroin Addiction?

Research over the years has determined that there are certain factors that may increase the risk of heroin addiction in some people.

These factors include but are not limited to lack of parental supervision, poverty, early aggressive behavior, and availability of heroin.

How Long Does Heroin Stay In Your System?

The half-life for heroin is short, which means the body processes and flushes it from the system quickly. Heroin will typically remain in the blood for 6 hours and remain detectable in urine for up to 3 days.

Heroin detection times will vary between people depending on the frequency of use, age, body fat percentage, and more.

Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew
Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew


Myths About Heroin Addiction

There are several misconceptions about heroin addiction and treatment.

Some of the most common myths include:

  • Heroin is a young person’s drug — the average age of heroin overdose is in the late 30s or early 40s.
  • Impure heroin kills more people — heroin purity is only modestly related to an overdose death.
  • People only use heroin recreationally — people almost always become dependent on heroin once they begin taking it regularly.

Celebrity Deaths Caused By Heroin Abuse

Many high-profile and artistic people have died from a heroin or opioid overdose over the years, outlining the fact that anyone is susceptible to the dangers of the drug.

A few of the most famous examples of celebrity deaths include:

  • River Phoenix — actor
  • Jim Morrison — musician
  • Janis Joplin — folk singer
  • John Belushi — actor
  • Chris Farley — comedian and actor
  • Phillip Seymour Hoffman — actor

Treatment Options For Heroin Drug Use And Addiction

Heroin addiction may be treated in an inpatient or outpatient treatment setting and may include a range of therapies and evidence-based services.

Treatment options for heroin use may include:

  • short-term or long-term residential treatment programs for heroin addiction
  • dual diagnosis treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone
  • group, individual, and family counseling for opioid use
  • medically monitored heroin detox
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • outpatient programs for heroin addiction
  • aftercare services

Due to the possibility of severe withdrawal symptoms, it’s important to seek a reputable treatment program when recovering from heroin addiction.

Heroin FAQs

See the frequently asked questions below for more useful information about heroin addiction.

How Long Does A Heroin High Last?

Whether injected, smoked, or snorted, the euphoric high from heroin will peak around two hours in and last for a total of four hours or longer.

What Is Heroin Made From?

Heroin is an opioid made from morphine, a substance taken from the seed pod of opium poppy plants. These plants are typically found in Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Columbia.

What Is A Heroin Hangover?

A heroin hangover, also known as “dope sick”, occurs when a person who habitually uses heroin stops for a few hours.

Someone with a heroin hangover may experience minor withdrawal symptoms such as runny nose, sore back, sensitive skin, and restless limbs.

Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew
Identifying Heroin: Facts About Heroin You Never Knew


What Is Freebasing Heroin?

Freebasing is a method of heroin use that is intended to increase the potency and immediacy of the high.

The method involves putting the drug into a glass pipe and heating it until it boils, followed by rapid inhalation of the vapors.

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