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What Does Heroin Feel Like?

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People who use heroin primarily due so for the feelings of pleasure, reward, euphoria, and drowsiness it induces. These effects are the result of reduced activity in the central nervous system. However, heroin use can have numerous far-reaching and potentially life-altering consequences, including dependence and overdose. In fact, in 2020, more than 13,000 people died from a heroin-related overdose in the United States, a rate of more than four fatalities for every 100,000 Americans. (1)

If you or someone you love is using heroin, you are urged to seek professional treatment to prevent severe health conditions, permanent organ or brain damage, or even death. Guardian Recovery is a licensed, accredited rehab center specializing in treating misuse of heroin, other drugs, and alcohol. Our integrated treatment programs feature various evidence-based therapies, services, and activities. We are dedicated to helping our clients achieve abstinence, prevent relapse, and foster the fulfilling lives they deserve.

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How Does a Heroin High Feel Like?

Heroin is commonly used for its rewarding effects, which can initially be intense and include reduced anxiety, depression, and pain. Heroin can be very effective at self-medication for physical or mental issues and serve as an emotional escape. Unfortunately, this comes with a price, as it also produces a false sense of safety and well-being, regardless of the risks faced in the environment or to one’s body.

All these effects result from how heroin acts with the brain and central nervous system (CNS), as it attaches to opioid receptors, which release chemicals that cause the desired changes in feelings and sensations. However, heroin’s intense effects become more difficult to achieve when used regularly, a condition also known as tolerance. (2) When this occurs, the user will require increasing amounts of the drug to experience the same high they were formerly able to achieve at lower doses.

Euphoria, Pleasure, & Well-Being

Many illicit drugs are used because they induce intense happiness, pleasure, and well-being. Also referred to as euphoria, these feelings are significantly greater than what people can experience in their everyday lives. Various factors, including the release of certain neurochemicals in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin, can cause euphoria. (3) Heroin and other opioids are particularly effective at eliciting these effects. Unfortunately, over time, this causes dependence, which results in a person’s inability to quit using without experiencing severe withdrawal effects and cravings.

Pain Reduction

In addition to causing euphoria, opioids reduce pain perception by blocking the transmission of pain signals in the brain and spinal cord. When opioids attach to brain receptors, they interfere with the processing of pain signals and lessen the intensity of perceived pain. This can provide significant relief for people experiencing chronic or severe pain. However, this reduction in pain comes with the same risks as any other associated with long-term heroin use, such as tolerance, physical dependence, overdose, and other adverse health effects.

How Long Do the Effects of a High Last?

Heroin can produce a high that typically lasts several hours. However, the high’s duration and intensity are impacted by factors, such as the amount used, the method of administration, and the individual’s tolerance level and metabolism. Intravenous injection, the most popular method of administration, results in a high that onsets within just a few seconds, with intense effects peaking shortly thereafter. This is also the most dangerous method due to the increased risk of overdose, bacterial infections, endocarditis, and viral diseases such as HIV/AIDS. (4)

Other methods of use, such as smoking or snorting, take longer to manifest (5-15 minutes). Peak effects are also described as being intense but usually less so than injection. Feelings produced by any method of use are similar, including relaxation, warmth, euphoria, and drowsiness.

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Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Use

Heroin use can produce many different physical effects, ranging from unpleasant to life-threatening. Although overdose is perhaps the most serious risk, many other symptoms can also be dangerous.

Signs and symptoms of Heroin Use Can Include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Constipation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Cardiovascular problems.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Decreased libido.
  • Bacterial infections.
  • Coma and overdose.

Compromised Gag Reflex

Heroin and other substances that cause CNS depression can compromise the body’s natural defense mechanism against choking, commonly referred to as the gag reflex. Moreover, heroin use increases the risk that an incapacitated individual will inhale vomit into their lungs and asphyxiate, which can quickly be fatal. According to recent research, 23% of all overdose deaths are caused by asphyxiation, second only to acute overdose. (5)

Worsened Depression

Although heroin can temporarily relieve feelings related to stress and despair, it is not an effective long-term treatment for depression. While it can produce a temporary sense of euphoria, its effects on the brain will eventually result in many adverse consequences, including worsening depression. Tragically, heroin use has also been linked to an increased risk of suicide due to dramatic mood instability, unpredictable behavior, and financial, legal, and relationship issues that can contribute to stress, despair, and thoughts of ending one’s life. (6)

Heroin Withdrawal Effects

Heroin withdrawal effects can be severe and include aches and pains, stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. Detrimental psychological effects include extreme depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Other Heroin Withdrawal Effects Include:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Runny nose.
  • Teary eyes.
  • Tremors, muscle twitching, spasms.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Mood instability and depression.
  • Agitation and irritability.
  • Intense drug cravings.

Professional help is recommended for those seeking recovery, beginning with medical detox under clinical supervision to reduce the discomfort and risks associated with withdrawal. In addition, medication-assisted treatment is available to address heroin-related withdrawal symptoms, including three prescription medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): methadone, naltrexone, and Suboxone.

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If you suspect you or someone you know is using heroin, the best approach is to address this problem promptly by seeking professional treatment. Even occasional users are at a very high risk of developing an emotional reliance on heroin, which can rapidly lead to chemical dependence and addiction. Furthermore, even one use can lead to overdose, which is life-threatening and can result in permanent brain damage or death.

At Guardian Recovery, we personalize our treatment plans to meet the needs of each individual, including those related to their addiction and co-occurring conditions, such as mental health issues and chronic pain. Reach out to us to speak with a skilled Treatment Advisor who can explain more about our comprehensive programs and full continuum of care. For a free, no-obligation assessment and health insurance benefits check, contact us today to begin your journey.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/heroin/index.html
  2. https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/tolerance
  3. https://brain.harvard.edu/hbi_news/exploring-how-serotonin-and-dopamine-interact/
  4. https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/Potential_Complications_Of_IV_Drug_Use
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0376871603001911?via%3Dihub
  6. https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.156.8.1229

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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