Dependence on heroin

People who use heroin regularly can develop dependence on heroin quickly. More on how the body adapts to the presence of heroin in the system here.

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Heroin can be injected intravenously, inhaled by snorting or sniffing, or smoked. All routes of administration transport the drug to the brain very quickly. So, people who use heroin regularly can develop dependence to it, which they experience withdrawal symptoms when heroin dosing is significantly reduced or ends abruptly. More on symptoms of becoming physically dependent or addicted to heroin here.

Heroin dependence vs. addiction

Dependency on heroin develops in users who maintain the habit daily. By taking heroin daily, you (in effect) trick the brain into speeding up to counter the depressant effects of heroin. But when the body can no longer function at its normal level without the drug, you experience withdrawal symptoms when it is no longer available. If a dependent person suddenly stops taking heroin, unpleasant withdrawal symptoms will follow. But when you withdraw from heroin, symptoms eventually subside. If cravings remain afterwards, this is a sign of addiction to heroin.

Heroin is powerfully addictive. But addiction is different than dependence. Addiction is characterized by the psychological craving and urge to use heroin despite negative consequences to one’s life. Regardless of the method of abuse, heroin addiction often occurs as a result of frequent use. The longer a person uses heroin, the stronger the addiction becomes.

Heroin dependence time: How long to be dependent on heroin?

A person can become psychologically hooked on heroin even after trying it once, and that one time can easily lead to another use in the future. But generally, heroin dependence occurs within a few times of repeated dosing. Heroin causes rapid tolerance when used frequently, so doses increase dramatically from first dose onwards. Inhaling doses of heroin usually start at about 5 and 20 mg of pure heroin, while intravenous doses start from 5 to 10 mg.

Dependence on heroin symptoms

Heroin dependence is a medical condition characterized by symptoms that occur when you stop using heroin. If the following symptoms manifest when heroin is no longer available, these are a clear indicator that a person has become dependent on heroin:

  • a racing heartbeat
  • anxiety
  • dilated pupils
  • goose bumps
  • high blood pressure
  • paranoid delirium
  • severe gastrointestinal distress
  • sleeplessness
  • strong drug cravings

violent behavior

Heroin dependence withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal begins within 6 to 12 hours after the last administered dose, with the appearance of symptoms that mimic those of a severe flu, along with anxiety and yawning. This is followed by a few hours of restless sleep. After 36 to 72 hours, heroin withdrawal symptoms peak. But, most of these symptoms resolve after 5 to 10 days.

Physical dependence on heroin

Both physical and psychological dependence on heroin are very strong, and in most cases they develop rapidly. Physical dependence occurs when a persons’ body becomes accustomed to the drug and adapts to functioning with heroin present. When heroin is used over and over again, the initial intense pleasure decreases within the first few weeks. And with continued use, the dosage needs to be increased to achieve similar initial effect (a.k.a. tolerance) and you crave the drug more often.

Psychological dependence on heroin

Heroin is psychologically addictive because it produces desirable feelings and emotions in the user. Psychological dependence occurs when satisfying the need for heroin becomes the main motivating force in a person’s life. People experiencing psychological dependency to heroin feel the urge to use heroin most times and can result in social marginalization. The sedative effects of heroin make serious problems such as homelessness, unemployment, abuse and other, easy to cope with. But anyone can easily become hooked; heroin is not a drug to be underestimated.

Heroin dependence questions

If you feel you or a loved one need help overcoming heroin dependence or abuse problem, feel free to ask any questions or share experiences in the comments section below. We will answer all legitimate questions quickly and personally, and we can also refer you to other resources for more professional advice.

Reference Sources: NIDA: Drug Facts: Heroin
NIH FACT Sheets: Heroin
Heroin dependence and medication treatments
Canadian Department of Health: Heroin
NCBI: Heroin Dependence
NIDA: Heroin Abuse
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. How many days does it take of consecutively using heroin to develop a physical dependency? Will I experience withdrawals after using for 2.5 weeks, on average half a gram every other day? I was clean for almost 70 days before relapsing and just wondering if I need to detox medically somewhere or if I’ll be okay to detox by myself.

  2. My neighbor has tinkered with heroin, but met a girl while we were casually dating who is an addict. He wanted to help her. But instead seems to do the drug with her and has become more of an addict. He and he have huge dramatic fights then he comes back to me and wants me to be friends and talk and be friends and understand his complicated relationship. But he said a few things to me about her drug use and he feels he is going to become a drug addict and is starting to hang out with the wrong people and when they fight he is afraid she’s going to give him a dose of heroin when they are fighting that kills him in his sleep. I feel like he’s somehow made me responsible for him by telling me his deepest, darkest secrets. Then he tells me we have nothing in common he’d never date me (after 6 months of dating me). I told him not to date her, pick anyone else it’s fine if it’s not me, just not her. He has pretty much cut off the friendship with me now. Of course stating how much he loves her. He told me it’s his decision and he wants me to butt out of his relationship with her and basically it’s his choice to use drugs. I feel helpless to help this friend, I feel like it’s still early enough to stop him from an all out addition. I could definitely break them apart, but it could be a short term fix that only makes him hate me forever and again we’re neighbors and I don’t want to do that. It’s only for the reason of saving his life not to get him back. I need a long term remedy to make this bad influence go away from him and I want it to be his choice, but I don’t think its going to be one he makes on his own. Please God… How do I help?

  3. I’ve been on Suboxone for years, taper down to about 2 mg and I was wondering ( as risky as it sounds) if once I get real sick from the Suboxone withdrawals if I were to use a little bit of heroin on and off through the worst of the Suboxone withdrawals I would still continue to withdrawal from Suboxone right? I just want to feel it cuz of the h and as long as I was strong enough to not continue using heroin I would have made die withdrawals a lot easier correct?

    1. Hi Billy. You are quitting heroin, so taking it again just to ease Suboxone withdrawal is not right. I suggest that you consult with your doctor to recommend some over-the-counter medications to ease withdrawal. Also, you may download our free guide ‘The Definitive Guide To Withdrawal’ to get a better understanding:
      Finally, if you have any problems call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant who can help you find the best program for you.

  4. I have been a heroin addict nearly 32 years and was on a methadone prescription for far too long. I feel the system lets us diwn and feel like its a revolving door. I resorted to buying suboxil and snirting it daily for 7 days. I had couple of restless nights but other than this it was so much easier than I ever imagined. The daily battle is fighting the mind demon’s and filling in your days due to the amount of time you now have clean. I can understand why people so easily can slip bk into the only routine we had been accustomed to. Be strong! It is worth it been able to wake up and not be dependent on something.

  5. Hi my question involves my current relaspe situation; I was clean for two months then I relaspe recently and have been injecting heroin for little over a week so far. I’m wondering will I go through withdrawal and how intense would it be if by using for a week were to cause physical dependency??? I want to take the naltrexone shot I took before that helped me before but just​really nervous about how far I set myself back in my recovery by this duration of heroin use. Was using 1-2 bags per day for ~7ish days. THANKS IN ADVANCE!

    1. Hi Rowan. Relapses are part of the recovery. Don’t lose hope… You may experience heroin withdrawal symptoms. If you have any problems, call a toll-free Heroin Helpline on 1-888-988-7934 to get in touch with trusted and confidential helpline professionals available 24/7.

  6. I’ve been smoking heroin to come down off crack for the past few months a few times a week but in November I’ve done crack and heroin everyday without fail I only do between half a point minimum or 0.2 to maximum and even if I have a tiny amount I am still sick after using if I smoke a cigarette or another piece of crack how as if I wasn’t used to it but I’ve used almost everyday for a few months and this November smoked heroin every single day with out fail. I have a psychological addiction but when I wake up or go without for a lot longer than twelve hours I don’t experience any withdrawal symptoms what so ever apart from sweating. My two questions I want to find out is how come I can’t build a tolerance and be sick even after doing it everyday for quite some time. And how come I don’t experience any withdrawal symptoms when I don’t have none

    1. Hello. Try to stay sober for a few days, and see what will happen. It seem to me that you should stop using heroin and crack before you became addicted to them.

  7. My husband used it until the day he died my son and grandson found him kneeling over my son thought he was praying but he was dead. How do we cope with our love ones doing drugs and dying from overdose

    1. Hi Yvonne. I’m really sorry for your loss… It would be worth talking to a trusted spiritual or community leader or to confide in someone that you trust. With your belief in a Higher Power, know that as long as you take steps towards a resolution, the help you need will be provided. Also, look into Narc-Anon, it’s a 12 step program for families of addicts. You may share your experience there, and learn how people cope with similar situations as yours. Moreover, you can seek professional support through a family counselor, with experience in addiction. You are not alone… May your heart and soul find peace and comfort at this hard time.

  8. My son and his wife use heroin daily and have lost their home, their car, all of their belongings and their child lives with me. They are homeless and my son has a warrant for missed court date. Both have overdosed and they will die if I don’t get them help. Help me!

    1. Hi Jeannie. Call the help number displayed on our site to speak with a treatment consultant who can help you find a treatment program for your son and his wife.

  9. Hello gracie. There are some good articles about heroin use and abuse here:

    In terms of drug testing, my personal opinion is to mandate it! Drug testing for opiates are accurate and non-invasive (urine sample) for 2-4 days after last use. I’d suggest that you call a diagnostics lab in your area or speak with your family doctor/pharmacist about the most cost effective home drug testing kit option for you.

  10. Hi, I have someone who has been shooting heroin for a couple years, at only 22 and with a life of depression I know why she is doing it. I tried to help and took care of her through withdraws, after 3 days she wanted to go home said she was done and would not touch it again. I tried my best to make her stay but she is an adult and I could not force her. I told her I would not ignore this and would help her to the next level cause it just doesn’t go away. Of course there is so much more to this story like she has a husband who is also addicted and I kept them apart for the 3 days trying to support them both best I could. They do not want to tell her parents, afraid. Parents do not understand, I agree they don’t. So this is why I took her in. I needed to do whatever I could. Being a drug user, crank and coke until I was 26 I know what drugs do to you. My daughter was a meth addict from 13 to 17. So my eyes are not blind but Heroin is a different animal. I have researched and researched trying to understand this monster of a drug. It was around when I was doing drugs but I just knew it was not to be played for some reason. Today people aren’t looking at it that way. So what is my question you ask.. Well I told the kids as I call them, when they were trying to stop that if they didn’t …. the first thing that will go after selling all their stuff they love would be their apartment. then the car. Well they just got evicted and are moving back to the parents home. I highly suspect even though she tells me NO that they are still using. After researching so much, and the depression I just don’t believe they are clean. She is doing it in order to function everyday. It takes the depression away. She has tried to take her life a couple times in her teens. This is more reasons I just don’t believe she is clean. They have detoxed a couple of times in the past only to go back to it. From everything I have learned the only way to tell if a person is still using is watching habits, like going to the bathroom to shoot up, craving the drug etc etc etc,. Are their any physical tell tales, like pupils or something ? How good are the home drug test ? Any special one anyone can recommend ? It appears that opiates stay in the urine for at least a day sometimes 2. How accurate is that? I want to help but with her telling me they are clean I need to know she isn’t 100 % before I take parents aside and make them realize we are talking about her life here. a life I am not willing to let go of ! Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. And to JD, my heart hurts and goes out to you and your family. I am very sorry for your loss. God does know and now He has your brother who is no longer in pain of any kind. His depression is gone. Unfortunately you and the family are left with the pain and memories of his hurting. I am sure he would not want you to remember him that way.

  11. My brother lost his battle w/ addiction/dependence on heroin in May this year. He was slumped over on his couch as I’d found him on many occasions. This time he did not come back. The most heart wrenching thing ever. Yet, the hardest thing was watching him suffer and not being able to do anything to help, take his pain away, or save his life. God knows, I tried. In and out of hospital emergency rooms with him time after time. Encouragement, support, treatment, unconditional love was not enough. What can you do when the addict is not ready to quit except watch them die. My brother died years ago, we just buried him in May 2014.

  12. I used to be addicted to heroin and got clean using nutrition, supplements, exercise, qigong and personal development. The reason I could never quit before was due to having imbalances in my biochemistry. It’s so sad how many people are turning to heroin due to it being cheaper and often easier to get than Rx opiates.

  13. I used to be addicted to heroin and it was harder to quit than anything else! I finally quit a few years ago after being unsuccessful on many attempts. I started focusing on nutrition, exercising and personal development, which all helped me feel good about life again. I also used the Chinese form of exercise “qigong” to help me stay clean. It really helped me reduce cravings.

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