Heroin Guide

Learn More About the Dangers of Heroin


Table of Contents

What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug made of morphine.1 Morphine comes from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants that grow in Southeast and Southwest Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Opioid drugs can be either natural, synthetic, or sometimes semi-synthetic. Opiates like morphine and codeine are naturally found in the opium poppy.2 Some, such as methadone, are synthetic opioids and are chemically made. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opioid and is made from chemically processed morphine.

Drug Class

Heroin is classified as an opioid.

Drug Schedule

According to the Drug Enforcement Association, all drugs fall between one of five categories. How they are categorized depends on the drug’s acceptable medical use.3 The abuse rate is also a factor in determining the scheduling of a substance. For example, Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and create severe psychological and physical dependence. As the drug schedule changes, so do the abuse potential. Schedule V drugs usually have the least potential for abuse.

Heroin is a Schedule I substance; it is not currently accepted under medical usage and holds a high abuse potential.

Street Names

Common street names for heroin include:4

  • Smack
  • Junk
  • H
  • Black Tar
  • Ska
  • Horse

How Addictive is Heroin?

Heroin is a fast-acting substance.1 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain quickly, especially receptors that deal with feelings of pain and pleasure and those that control heart rate, sleeping, and breathing.

How is Heroin Used?

Heroin, like other drugs, can be taken in a variety of ways.5 Some of the which include the following:

  • Snorting: Heroin can be snorted through the nostrils in powder form
  • Smoking: Heroin smoke can be inhaled through a straw
  • Injecting: Heroin can be injected into either a vein or in a muscle using a syringe

Signs of Heroin Addiction

As with any drug in the Opiates category, substances like heroin can affect you psychically and behaviorally.

How Heroin Affects Your Eyes

The use of opiates, such as heroin, directly affects the pupil.6 According to the National Library of Medicine, drugs that act through the opioid receptors μ, κ, and δ can decrease pupil size and its ability to respond to light. The effect usually starts within 15-60 min and lasts for 3-5 h.

Physical Symptoms

These physical symptoms after heroin use are quickly noticeable:7

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • Constricted pupils
  • Falling asleep suddenly
  • Slow breathing
  • Loss of self-control
  • Itching
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Consistently wearing long sleeve clothing to cover-up needle marks and scars (even in warm weather)
  • Social and Familiar withdrawal to avoid drug use discovery
  • Social and personal isolation

Heroin Addiction's Effects

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin creates an addictive feeling of rush or euphoria.1 There are side effects, as with any drug. The side effects of heroin include:1

Short-Term Heroin Effects

Long-Term Heroin Effects

Heroin use over time leads to the following effects:

Overdose and Withdrawal


A heroin overdose can occur when enough of the drug is taken to produce life-threatening reactions or death. A sign of Heroin overdose includes dramatically slowed or stopped breathing.1 Heroin can decrease the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. This dangerous effect can have short- and long-term mental effects, including coma and permanent brain damage.


Suddenly quitting heroin can result in various withdrawal symptoms.1 Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as the last use the drug was taken.1 Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Severe muscle and bone pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Cold flashes with goose bumps (“cold turkey”)
  • Uncontrollable leg movements (“kicking the habit”)
  • Severe heroin cravings

Extra Risks of Heroin Addiction

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B and C

The use of heroin increases the risk of HIV and viral Hepatitis exposure.8 HIV and Hepatitis travel through infected blood and other bodily fluids. Blood-borne illnesses are more common with syringe use, especially when multiple people use the same syringe.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is treatable and is available through various methods.

Detox - The First Step

Detox is commonly the first step in treating heroin addiction. Detox should be done under medical or trained professionals supervision as there is an increased risk of death during withdrawal. The body has chances of going into shock or experiencing seizures due to low oxygen in the blood. Nonetheless, detoxing is the first step in Heroin treatment.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatments are developed to treat opioid use disorders by targeting the same receptors affected by the drug. These medications are safe, can address symptoms of withdrawal, and improve quality of life.9 Three types of medications are used to treat an opioid use disorder, they include:

  1. Agonists, which activate opioid receptors
  2. Partial agonists, which also activate opioid receptors but produce a smaller response
  3. Antagonists, which block the receptor and interfere with the rewarding effects of opioids

Medication is prescribed based on specific medical needs and other unique factors.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy provides effective long-term addiction treatments for opioid use disorder, such as those involving heroin. 1 According to the National Institute on Drugs Abuse, contingency management and cognitive-behavioral therapy can treat heroin use disorder, especially when used alongside medications.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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