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What is heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which in turn is derived from raw opium (the dried sap of opium poppy). In its pure form, heroin appears as a white powder with a bitter taste. However, heroin sold in streets can appear as off-white to brown powder, or as black sticky goo. Heroin has a chemical formula C21H23NO5 but is also known by names such as smack, H, skag, junk, brown sugar, horse, and black tar. Almost all heroin sold today are made illegally in clandestine laboratories.

To make heroin, dried opium sap pieces are first boiled in water with lime to precipitate morphine at the top. This morphine is then drawn off, reheated with ammonia and filtered and boiled again. This process yields heroin that appears as a brown paste.

In the medical sense, heroin is called diamorphine or diacetylmorphine. Heroin is taken into the body via injection (most common, with almost instant effects), smoking and snorting, and less commonly, by oral consumption. Heroin is highly addictive and is therefore illegal in many countries. When people take it even for a short period of time, a strong need for heroin is quickly developed and long term heroin addiction treatment is needed. But what makes heroin so addictive? And why it is illegal in many places?

Heroin effects

Heroin is a strong opioid analgesic, like morphine. Heroin is considered a potent depressant because it reduces sensation of pain (anesthesia) and also slows breathing, lowers the heartbeat and blood pressure. What happens for heroin to take effect on the body?

When heroin is abused, it is transformed into morphine and goes straight to the brain in a very short span of time. However, unlike morphine, heroin has a markedly addictive effect after first few uses. Why? Because heroin effects include euphoria, an intense sense of well being.

In fact, heroin users feel a sense of relaxation plus intense acute euphoria (termed a ‘rush’) soon after administration of the drug. This rush may also be accompanied by flushing of skin, dry mouth with nausea, vomiting and severe itching. This rush lasts only for a short time, after which then it quickly subsides. To feel high again, the user must again take heroin, sometimes at a larger dose to overcome tolerance.

Another effect of heroin use is increased tolerance. Generally, heroin use causes tolerance quickly, which means you need to increase successive doses taken just to feel the same effect. Among habit-forming drugs, heroin is one of the most addictive. First time users of heroin can easily get addicted to it in a short period of time.

Heroin overdose

Heroin overdose is a medical emergency which happens when large amounts of heroin are suddenly introduced in the body. Injecting heroin makes you most susceptible to overdose because this method of delivery travels to and crosses the blood-brain barrier almost instantly. In the event of overdose, heroin sends the nervous system into delirium, disorientation and coma.

A person experiencing heroin overdose may manifest symptoms such as:

  • Bluish fingernails
  • Coma
  • Constipation
  • Discolored tongue
  • Disorientation and delirium
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Shallow or no breathing, or slow and difficult breathing
  • Snoring
  • Weak pulse, and low blood pressure

Heroin overdose is always a potential threat to life, and therefore must be addressed as soon as possible. When heroin overdose is suspected, you should call your local emergency phone hotline or national poison control center.

A person who you suspect is experiencing heroin overdose must be kept constantly awake, or must be awakened from sleep. Nothing should be put into their mouth due to risk of choking. If seizures occur, do not restrain the victim; move things away to prevent injury. Always stay with the victim until medical help arrives.

For more info on heroin’s addictive properties and treatment, see:


Heroin Laced with Fentanyl is Causing a Spike in Overdose Deaths

Heroin Laced with Fentanyl is Causing a Spike in Overdose Deaths

December 29th, 2018

Fentanyl has been causing overdose deaths to spike since 2010. Learn about how drug dealers are lacing heroin with fentanyl…and get prepared to prevent overdose here.

Help for Heroin Withdrawal

Help for Heroin Withdrawal

August 20th, 2018

Heroin detox requires medical supervision. Symptoms are uncomfortable and medications make the process more humane and successful, especially over the long-term.

Heroin Rehab Treatment: What to Expect?

Heroin Rehab Treatment: What to Expect?

July 2nd, 2018

Rehab offers you many opportunities to learn and change. Find out more about what happens in a heroin rehab. Then, explore your options for change here.

Is it Hard to Quit Heroin?

Is it Hard to Quit Heroin?

June 1st, 2018

Yes. Heroin is hard to quit. However, with proper medical treatment and support you can succeed! Read more about what makes heroin so addictive, as well as the most appropriate methods for coming off this powerful and highly addictive drug here.

Heroin Detection Timeline [INFOGRAPHIC]

Heroin Detection Timeline [INFOGRAPHIC]

January 21st, 2018

A graphical display of heroin detection times. We reveal what influences heroin detection periods here.

2 Heroin Metabolism in the Body: How Heroin Affects the Brain (INFOGRAPHIC)

Heroin Metabolism in the Body: How Heroin Affects the Brain (INFOGRAPHIC)

November 13th, 2017

A graphic about how heroin works in your body from the moment you administer it…until it is eliminated from the body. More on the basic metabolism of heroin here.

Heroin rehab cost

Heroin rehab cost

November 2nd, 2017

The cost of heroin rehab varies from $100-1,000 per day. We explore treatment options during heroin rehab here and introduce some ideas for how to cover your costs. Find a way, not an excuse. Help is available today.

The Fix: Living with a Heroin Addicted Parent (BOOK REVIEW)

The Fix: Living with a Heroin Addicted Parent (BOOK REVIEW)

October 10th, 2017

Heroin addiction has been stigmatized over the years. In this memoir, young Sara tells how her father’s addiction problem influenced every aspect of her life. Read more here about how she managed to find understanding and forgiveness… and take the best of her father’s addiction with her as she grew up.

5 Heroin rehabilitation: How long?

Heroin rehabilitation: How long?

August 7th, 2017

A review of heroin treatment program lengths. We discuss ideal treatment length for heroin problems. Plus, what you can expect during the process.

38 Smoking heroin

Smoking heroin

May 11th, 2017

Smoking heroin delivers the opiate from the lungs to the arteries. Then, it travel through the bloodstream and goes directly to the user’s brain. Read more about effects of smoking heroin and how it affects the brain. More here

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Leave a Reply

22 Responses to “Heroin
3:10 am August 27th, 2016

My son is a heroin addict and I have learned more about drugs and drug addiction over the last several year than I ever thought possible. I do, however, have one question I haven’t been able to find an answer for. What causes the blood spatter I find on the walls and even some ceilings? Can you help me? Thanks

5:56 pm February 7th, 2017

It’s been a while since you posted your question, and I hope you have recived an answer by now, if not here is my theory.
I am a Phlebotomist (draw blood) by trade and in my experience the only time blood may splatter on wall or as high as the ceiling would be if the IV user removed the needle prior to releasing the tourniquet. I can imagine that this may occur if the person is ‘passing out’ after injection and the needle falls out, which can happen with the pressure built up in the users vein. Some people are just good bleeders, I have pricked a finger for a capillary test and the blood arched several feet into the air, so I could see this occurring with an untrained professional as well.
I hope your son gets/got the help he needs, and that you are able to see your way through this addiction.

10:24 pm March 12th, 2017

I am a recovering heroin addict and it may be him doing when he is cleaning his needle with water and he may just be spraying it anywhere unfortunately

6:46 pm May 18th, 2017

Heroin after injection is turned rapidly in 6-Monoacetylmorphine which gives users that rush. The former metabolite is then turned into morphine after first pass metabolism.

2:15 pm July 19th, 2017

I was a pretty heavy skin popper on herion for about 4 months. I had stopped using 14 days to 16 days before my doctor did a urine test. do you think it will show up in my urine?

10:34 am July 29th, 2017

@steven I do the same thing and my father gets mad sometimes after I shoot up in my bathroom I draw up water to clean out the syringe and carelessly spray it anywhere, or sometimes when the syringe gets clogged by coagulated blood I push the plunger down really really hard and the blood squirts everywhere. Im almost 100 percent sure this is the reason you find blood splAtters on the ceiling and walls

1:27 am October 7th, 2017

My name is Casey. I am a nursing student from a college in the north-eastern part of the United States. As one of our assignments, we have been compiling information on a Global Health Problem that is becoming increasingly prevalent across the planet. For this semester, we are encouraged to seek international feedback about our problem and gather personal insight about the issue. My topic is opioid addiction, specifically heroin. I am submitting this post in hopes to get some feedback from individuals concerned with this topic. The feedback can be from a recovering addict, a loved one of an addict, a medical professional, or anyone with insight about this global epidemic. I am open to hearing personal stories, struggles, addiction treatments, etc. I hope that this blog post brings light to others as well as informing me of the struggle of addiction from a different perspective. Thank you all!!

4:56 am December 9th, 2017

no man in the addiction history did not die from a heroin,oor methadon,,suboxone crisis,,i have passed all this shit and i have win the battle and the war,,and i am a happy man GOD HELP ME EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE,,do not fear,,be brave,,believe me one day after all this passes by you will have the emotion of liberation,,free man,,ande you just keep it this way,,its beautifull,,,,,GOD bless you all

2:39 pm December 12th, 2017

Informative article!!!!! I am aware of these facts and we know how much teenagers are getting addicted to it. we have to take care of our children and our elders too.

2:25 am April 12th, 2018

Can a person overdose by smoking heroin

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
9:27 am April 12th, 2018

Hi Kay. Yes, they can.

3:00 am May 24th, 2018

Hi my husband is on day 3 of detox .he’s got bad anxiety & panic attacks ..I’m trying to be supportive..he sounds like he’s in pain.. sometimes he says he can’t do it..but he still laying in bed I’m next to him.please pray for him to get through this. And I pray for all of you on here..good give us all stregnth.

2:52 am June 12th, 2018

Can 10 dollars worth of heroin be out of my system in 24 hours?

12:22 am July 31st, 2018

I would really enjoy this newsletter

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
12:41 pm August 1st, 2018

Hi Dina. Thank you for your interest for Addiction Blog. You may follow us via Feed Burner to get daily articles here:

Also, I’ve put your email on our mailing list for newsletters, expect to get the first one soon 🙂

12:24 am July 31st, 2018

I need help im on heroin and need advice how to go from heroin to suboxen

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
3:01 pm July 31st, 2018

Hi Dina. You may need to enroll into a rehab facility first. Call the helpline you see on the website to get in touch with a trusted treatment consultant.

2:21 pm August 8th, 2018

hi my friend was on herion for 6 months and from around a month he is getting withdrawal treatment from a rehab center he was ok now but from last 2 days he is having panic attacks again with all the withdrawal symptoms like full body pain ,restlessness sweating and all ..please tell me is it normal or he has started again using the substance.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
5:17 pm August 8th, 2018

Hi Aaira. Some individuals experience protracted withdrawal symptoms that can last for few months.

9:10 pm November 20th, 2018

My 24 year old has been using heroin on and of for over 10 years. I was pretty active here several years ago and glad to read about others lives that have been affected by this drug. She seemed to have beat it and all was well. Little did I know that she was just a functional addict. Long story short, she had a baby addicted to heroin back in April. She swore this baby was her saving grace. She was on suboxine and things seemed ok. My husband and I were super supportive of her, and things were turning around. In her birthday in September she went out and didn’t come home for 2 days. We’re now raising this baby and have no idea where she’s at. I text her trying to find out if she’s ok and she won’t text back. I send her pictures of her baby and still no response. She’ll text now and again blaming me and calling me all kinds of awful names with no trigger from me. All we want is for her to get better. I’m so scared she’ll die. Any suggestions?

1:53 pm November 21st, 2018

Hello Leslie. You are in a a very tough position. I’d suggest that you seek help immediately to get some professional guidance from a family counselor. Look for a therapist with experience in addictions. But, you don’t need to go through this alone. You can find a psychologist through the American Psychological Association’s directory page, or look for a licensed clinical social worker licensed in your state. You can always give us a call, also. We can help talk you through the process of intervention and treatment.

9:01 am December 11th, 2018

I am reading all of this and all of the comments, sound like things I think about. My own son is on Heroin, how he passes drug tests, mouth swabs I don’t know..gets a chip at NA, I don’t know but what I know is, its a lie and it did not stop……..we allowed him to come home after he was catch with another guy in his car. The guy was already on probation and selling so he was being watched. I thought, finally, they have several drug treatments through the courts he will get help, and nope!! He got fines and fees, and a PO for 6 months..really they hope to see them mess up and go to jail and more fines and fees to make money for the county. They do not give a darn about any of them just how to use them to make money and how many of them use and drink themselves you can not imagine. So, it is an endless journal, I visited a dozen parents I never really spoke with while they were still minors, now as adults, these same parents and grandparents, began after my honest introductions were all ashamed and hiding the truth of their own adult children using, and stealing, etc. and a few parents, one who made me want to laugh and cry, denied it all her son was a hero,and she worked with a drug program, and a healing center, what a joke..her son was a dealer who got my son going on all of this….but to hear how many families also suffer due to this…………wow, we had parents here finally win a 2014 case of their daughter put in jail for 7 days while on heroin and 30 times she asked and wrong for help, telling them she was sick, and finally she was dying and did die. The parents just won 11 million. The same jail my son sat in a dirty cell, freezing all night when he was “not using”. and when we came to get him, 5 am driving for 1 hour [ both of us are disabled and 65 yrs old] they would not allow us to use a bathroom. They told us to go down the block to a J JOHN outside. Where is this money to help addicts going ? When will we learn this is not a jail issue and drugs and alcohol are portal for those demons to come in and cause addicts to do things they normally would never do. As a parent, I am now on medication they give vets for PTSD. I don’t sleep, I pray all the time, We have lived here for 26 years and even the DA and the attorneys are can people find a way to healing with this surrounding you ?

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