The Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use – Understanding the Risks

In 2020 in the US, over 900,000 individuals aged 12 and older reported using heroin over the previous year. Since 2017 deaths by heroin overdose have been declining but in 2020, approximately 13,165 people died of heroin overdose. 

Heroin users run the risk of fatal overdose as well as a number of other short- and long-term health difficulties, including problems with various organ systems, life-threatening infections and deteriorating mental health.

A heroin use disorder, which is another name for a heroin addiction, can also result from consistent heroin usage. 

Definition of Heroin

Heroin, an opioid that is 2-3 times more potent than morphine and is highly addictive, is derived from the opium poppy plant. Around 75% of the heroin in the world is made in Afghanistan. Typically, it travels from South America to the US. It can be injected, smoked or snorted as a white powder.

There is also black tar, a different sticky, brown substance which is smoked or snorted. It is uncertain what the drug includes and how potent it actually is. The likelihood of accidental overdose and mortality increases because it is frequently cut with fentanyl and carfentanyl.

Many users attest to the drug’s ability to reduce pain and anxiety. Heroin use, however, has significant hazards. For instance, a heroin rush causes a person’s blood pressure to drop, their heart rate to slow down, and their respiration to become shallower.

If the person experiences heart failure or completely ceases breathing, these effects could cause a medical emergency. Along with cardiac and pulmonary problems, Heroin use has been linked to the disturbing side effect of people sliding in and out of consciousness, which could eventually put them in a coma.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to realize that injecting heroin using needles might make a person more susceptible to infections, particularly HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

Short-Term Effects of Heroin Use

Users who inject heroin feel the effects instantly. When heroin is mainlined, users can usually begin to experience a feeling of euphoria within 7-8 seconds.

When it is smoked, the user will typically feel its peak effects in 10 to 15 minutes. Those who snort or smoke heroin may not feel the intense rush that injection users feel but will experience the same other effects.

Points to consider:

  • How you take heroin will determine how quickly it affects you.
  • When heroin is injected into a vein, it quickly travels to the brain and causes a euphoric surge. The results can endure for 45 seconds to several minutes.
  • Effects from smoking or snorting are similar in speed but less potent.
  • The effects of injecting heroin into a muscle or beneath the skin happen more gradually, usually within 20 minutes.
  • After the brief “rush” of happiness, there is a time of calm. This could go on for up to an hour. Other transient effects could linger for 3 to 5 hours.
  • People who use heroin may feel the urge to consume it every 6 to 12 hours to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Psychological Effects

Short-term psychological effects include a strong state of euphoria, depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, dizziness, confusion and going nodding off – a state where opioid users drift in and out of consciousness.

Nearly 70% of people struggling with addiction also have co-occurring mental health disorders. 

Physical Effects

Short-term physical effects include:

  • drowsiness, loss of coordination
  • arms and legs feeling heavy
  • nausea, cramps, vomiting
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • constricted (pinpoint) pupils that do not react to light
  • flushed or itchy skin 
  • decreased breathing
  • headaches

Cognitive Effects

Tests on addicts’ thought processes have shown interesting findings. The impacts on cognitive abilities include:

  • loss of the ability to speak clearly
  • loss of the ability to walk straight 
  • loss of the ability to talk clearly
  • loss of the ability to sleep

Heroin has a huge impact on all areas of the body’s and brain’s functioning which easily leads to changes in how we behave. 

Social Consequences

Heroin use usually leads to addiction. One’s priorities shift and tend to revolve around sourcing the drug, one’s job, family, friends and self-care all seem to be pushed aside. Heroin addiction is expensive therefore crime to fund the cost is often the case. 

  • Financial trouble
  • Lack of motivation and productivity
  • Job loss
  • Deterioration of relationships with friends
  • Family breakdown, unable to care for your children
  • Isolation – not participating in routines
  • Domestic abuse

Heroin Dependence and Withdrawal

Within weeks of regular use, physical dependence on heroin and drug use disorders may appear. A person’s life can quite quickly become consumed by the need to obtain heroin.

Your health and the following factors will determine how bad your heroin withdrawal symptoms are:

  • usage and frequency
  • length of drug usage and the circumstances that cause withdrawal

After the last dose, withdrawal symptoms may appear 6 to 12 hours later. They may peak between 24 and 72 hours and then significantly decline after 5 to 7 days.

Often, people would inject heroin to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

During the drug withdrawal stage, in addition to strong cravings for the drug, you could experience:

  • stomach cramps
  • rapid heartbeat
  • sleeplessness
  • uncontrollable muscle spasms
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • sadness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • sweating
  • cold, goosebumps-inducing flashes (also known as “cold turkey”)

As painful and uncomfortable as heroin withdrawal can be, deaths are quite rare.

Often, people would inject heroin to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Drugs that act as opioid substitutes, like buprenorphine or methadone, can be used to treat heroin addiction. The same brain receptors that heroin stimulates are stimulated by these. This therapy can:

  • stop the detox from heroin
  • decrease cravings

About 20 to 30 percent of people with opioid use disorder who receive treatment succeed in quitting for good.

A person’s life may be impacted by problematic heroin use. Opioid use disorders have the following links:

  • crime, often to fund one’s addiction
  • poverty, problems at work, unemployment
  • family breakdown

If you use heroin while you are pregnant, it will pass through the placenta. Babies may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • sweating
  • irritability
  • trouble feeding
  • excessive crying
  • shaking or jerky movements
  • seizures
  • diarrhea 
  • vomiting
  • death

Risks Related to Heroin Use

Users rarely know the actual strength of the drug they are taking. Overdose is a serious risk while using heroin. Heroin works quickly, especially when it is injected. If you consume too much, you can become unconscious.

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • unresponsiveness
  • slow, shallow breathing
  • gurgling sounds, snoring
  • cold, clammy or flushed skin
  • loss of consciousness
  • if too much is consumed, heroin will stop your breathing. 

Overdose is more likely if you take heroin with other drugs including alcohol, benzos, methadone or other opioids. Combining drugs can increase each drug’s effects. This puts you at an increased risk.

Importance of Naloxone for Heroin Overdose

In cases of overdose, naloxone will work quickly to block the effects of overdose.  It must be given within 30 minutes after the heroin has been taken to be effective. 

An overdose victim’s life may be saved by prompt medical attention. Naloxone is a drug that can counteract some of the negative effects of opioids, perhaps saving the life of someone who has overdosed on heroin.

The opioid receptor antagonist naloxone can undo the effects of an opioid like heroin and restore normal breathing in the affected person.

Until recently, only healthcare professionals could access naloxone. Today, it is carried by the majority of first responders, including paramedics, firefighters, and police officers.

Additionally, it is frequently prescribed together with prescription opioids, and naloxone is available over-the-counter in several jurisdictions. 

Heroin Addiction Treatment 

If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, there are various treatment options available. It is always recommended to seek professional help and people who attempt detox alone will usually relapse.

Detox – Under the guidance of a healthcare professional, medically supervised detox and withdrawal treatment enables your body to get rid of heroin while they keep you as secure and comfortable as they can using supportive care and drugs.
Inpatient treatment – You must remain at the facility – a hospital or residential center – while receiving therapy if you choose inpatient rehab. Counseling, behavioral therapy, education and treatment for any co-occurring mental health conditions are typically included in treatment.
Outpatient treatment – While participating in scheduled counselling and therapy sessions, you can live at home or in a sober living environment with the help of outpatient program, which often offer therapeutic treatments similar to those found in inpatient care.
Aftercare – After finishing a formal treatment program, long-term follow-up care prepares you for a long-lasting recovery with support and accountability and may include

Get Help for Drug Abuse & Heroin Addiction

Please contact Luxe Recovery right away if you or a loved one needs assistance with heroin addiction. Our trained admissions staff can go over the many treatment choices with you.

As our clients resolve to overcome their addiction and lead fulfilling lives in recovery, Luxe Recovery gives them a top-notch program for substance abuse and mental health therapy. 

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