Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an illegal opioid derived from morphine. It is one of the most addictive drugs in existence. Using heroin can easily lead to an overdose or other terrible health issues.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

The main ingredient in heroin is morphine, a naturally-occurring compound that mimics endorphins in the brain. Heroin changes how the brain perceives things, its mood and the level of consciousness.

Heroin was first created from morphine in the 1800s because it was believed to be less addictive than morphine. Instead, it was found to be even more addictive.

Heroin reverts to morphine when injected so that it can bind to opioid receptors in the brain, producing a sudden burst of intense pleasure. This intense rush only lasts a couple of minutes. It is followed by a milder euphoria that gradually goes away. Once this happens the user will feel sluggish, sleepy and satisfied. Users will have confusion, slurred speech and slowed body motions for several hours.

It is listed as a Schedule I drug because it has no medicinal use. Heroin addiction is common, especially among people who have become tolerant to prescription drugs.

Today, heroin is sold on the street as smack, dope, mud, horse, skag, junk and other names when combined with different drugs.

Heroin can be used in many ways.

  • 68% of people who use heroin will inject it
  • 25% of people will inhale it
  • 4% of people will smoke it
  • Less than 1% will take it orally

How it is used determines how quickly you will feel its effects.

Method of use


Effects set in after…


  • Injection into vein
  • 7-8 seconds
  • Injection into muscle
  • 5-10 minutes
  • Smoking
  • 10-15 minutes
  • “Banging” (Snorting)
  • 10-15 minutes
  • “Plugging” (Rectal administration)
  • 10-15 minutes
  • “Skin popping” (subcutaneous injection)
  • 20 minutes
  • Taking it orally
  • 30 minutes

 

Consequences of Heroin Addiction

Heroin has a high risk of dependence even with short-term use. Because heroin’s “high” is so powerful, your body becomes unable to make its own endorphins. This means you will need it to feel natural pleasure or pain relief.

Chronic heroin use leads to addiction and causes difficulty in handling stress, making good choices and regulating one’s behavior. The effects of long-term heroin abuse are permanent.

People with heroin addictions go through cycles of trying to buy, use and recover from heroin. This damages job stability and personal relationships.

People with heroin addictions may engage in risky behaviors that lead to injuries, sexually-transmitted diseases and legal problems. Despite the disastrous effect of the drug on their life, they continue to pursue it.

Heroin Withdrawal

There are two stages of withdrawal from heroin.

Stage 1

Stage 1 occurs within several hours of the last drug use.

Symptoms of Stage 1 heroin withdrawal include:

  • Moodiness
  • Restlessness
  • Extreme drug cravings

Stage 2

Stage 2 happens 8-24 hours after stopping the drug.

Symptoms of Stage 2 include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extremely runny nose/eyes
  • Stomach cramps and diarrhea
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fever or chills
  • Increase in blood pressure and/or respiratory rate

These symptoms aren’t life-threatening, but they are very uncomfortable. They put people with heroin addictions at high risk of going back to the drug during withdrawal.

Author:Kent Hoffman
Kent Hoffman

Kent Hoffman, D.O. has been practicing medicine for nearly 30 years. He is board-certified to practice addiction medicine and family medicine. Dr. Hoffman gets to know his patients on a first-name basis to provide compassionate and professional health care.

Last modified: 01/14/2019