Heroin Signs Withdrawal Symptoms & Side Effects

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Heroin is a dangerous and addictive opioid. Heroin is a Schedule I substance, meaning that it is illegal to use recreationally and for medical purposes. (1) Heroin use can produce short-term and long-term physical and psychological effects. Many individuals begin heroin use without completely understanding heroin signs and symptoms, and the negative symptoms that it elicits during and after use. Approximately 1 million individuals were diagnosed with heroin use disorder in 2021. (2) Here at Guardian Recovery, we are determined to help decrease the negative statistics related to heroin use.

If you or someone you know are having difficulties controlling heroin use, it can be beneficial to understand the available treatment options. Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer heroin specific detoxification services, therapeutic interventions, psychoeducation, and medicated-assisted treatment. Our trained clinicians will work with you to meet your treatment goals. Contact us today to receive more information.

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Physical & Psychological Side Effects of Using Heroin & Other Opioids

Once heroin enters the body, it acts quickly. Heroin bonds to opioid receptors in the brain and targets areas responsible for controlling pleasure, pain, heart rate, breathing, and sleep. (3) Additives, like sugar and starch, are commonly added to heroin. Additives in heroin can increase one’s chances of experiencing blood clots, which can lead to serious health problems.

Short-Term Side Effects

Heroin use can produce adverse effects, even after using it for a short period of time.

Short-term side effects associated with heroin use include: (4)

  • Dry mouth
  • Warm skin
  • Slow breathing
  • Heavy feelings in the legs and arms
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Extreme itchiness
  • Clouded mental state
  • Going in and out of consciousness

Long-Term Effects

If heroin is used chronically, daily, or repeatedly, other adverse effects may occur.

Long-term side effects associated with heroin use include: (5)

  • Difficulties falling and staying asleep
  • Heart infection
  • Abscesses (swollen, pus filled tissue
  • Stomach pain and constipation
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Lung problems
  • The development of mental disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Collapsed veins due to intravenous injections
  • Damaged nose tissue due to snorting
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women

Dangerous Side Effects of Mixing Heroin With Other Drugs

Prescription opioids, such as oxycodone, can produce similar effects as heroin. Research has found that abusing prescription opioids increases one’s chances of experiencing heroin use disorder. (6) It has also been found that those who engage in heroin use often use other substances as well. (7) Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin. (8) Combining fentanyl and heroin is extremely dangerous and can increase one’s chances of experiencing an overdose.

Other substances commonly mixed with heroin include: (9)

  • Alcohol – Mixing alcohol and heroin can lead to slow breathing and heart rate, which is already a side effect of heroin use. Other side effects associated with mixing heroin with alcohol include low blood pressure, extreme sedation, and coma.
  • Benzodiazepines – These substances are used to help treat anxiety and insomnia. Mixing heroin and benzodiazepines can lead to extremely slow breathing. Mixing heroin with this substance can also make naloxone, a medication used to treat opioid overdose, ineffective.
  • Cocaine – Mixing cocaine and heroin is known as speedballing. Heroin and cocaine produce opposite effects to the central nervous system (CNS). Cocaine stimulates the CNS, while heroin depresses it. These opposing effects are dangerous to the body and can cause cardiac impairments.

Mixing heroin with any substance increases the likelihood of one experiencing an overdose. It is best not to combine heroin with other substances as it is a safety risk.

What Symptoms Are Caused By an Overdose From Heroin?

When too much heroin is ingested, an overdose can occur. Understanding the heroin side effects associated with overdose can be beneficial. Breathing can be slowed to a dangerous point during a heroin overdose, causing brain damage or death.

Symptoms associated with a heroin overdose include: (10)

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Inability to stay awake
  • Losing consciousness
  • Shallow breathing
  • Choking
  • Limp body
  • Cole, pale, or blue skin

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Signs Someone May Have Overdosed on Heroin

Understanding the signs of a heroin overdose can be the difference between life and death.

Signs of a heroin overdose may include: (11)

  • Gasping for air
  • Blue fingertips or lips
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Discolored tongue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Wak pulse
  • Altered mental state
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures or spasms
  • Coma

Experiencing a heroin overdose can be fatal. If you believe that you or someone you know are experiencing a heroin overdose, follow these steps: (12)

  1.  Call 911
  2. Administer naloxone is available
  3. Help to keep the individual awake
  4. Lay the individual on their side to assist with choking
  5. Stay with them until emergency medical providers arrive

Co-Occurring Disorders Caused By Heroin Use

Continuously engaging in heroin use can lead to the development of other mental health disorders. When more than one mental health disorder is present, these diagnoses are known as comorbid or co-occurring.

Mental health disorders that can co-occur due to heroin use include: (13)

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Schizophrenia

Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer dual diagnosis treatment options to help individuals who are experiencing substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously.

Withdrawal Symptoms Caused By Heroin Addiction & Dependence

Withdrawal occurs when an individual stops or cuts back their substance use. Experiencing a heroin withdrawal can be difficult and uncomfortable due to the negative symptoms associated with it.

Common withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin use include:

  • Dehydration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulties falling and staying asleep
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Cramping
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Mental disorders such as anxiety or depression

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The time that it takes to complete a heroin withdrawal varies between each person. A complete timeline is determined by several factors, such as length of time one engaged in heroin use, and dosage amounts typically used. Acute withdrawal symptoms can last a week or more. These symptoms can begin 6 to 12 hours following last use. Long-term withdrawal symptoms, also known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, can be present for up to a year following last use, depending on the severity of use.

Treatment for Withdrawal Symptoms & the Effects of Heroin

The best way to treat heroin symptoms and withdrawal is to receive treatment at a medically supervised facility. At a medically supervised facility, detoxification, or the removal of a substance from the body can begin. Medication-assisted treatment is often utilized during detoxification to help reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment options for heroin effects may include:

Therapeutic modalities such as cognitive-behavioral therapymotivational interviewingdialectical behavior therapymindfulness, and eye movement desensitization.

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Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer evidence-based treatment options for those experiencing heroin, opioid, and other substance use disorders. Our admissions process is simple in order to help remove some of the burden associated with beginning substance use treatment. Contact us to speak with a Treatment Advisor who will work with you in initiating the treatment process. A free, no obligation insurance benefits check can be provided upon your request. Begin your road to recovery with Guardian Recovery.


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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.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
  6. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/how-heroin-linked-to-prescription-drug-misuse
  7. https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/heroin.html
  8. https://www.cdc.gov/stopoverdose/fentanyl/index.html
  9. https://drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/mixing-heroin-alcohol-drugs
  10. https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/pdf/patients/preventing-an-opioid-overdose-tip-card-a.pdf
  11. https://www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/prevent/index.html
  12. https://www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/prevent/index.html
  13. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/common-comorbidities-substance-use-disorders/part-1-connection-between-substance-use-disorders-mental-illness

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


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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