Heroin vs Methamphetamine (Meth)

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According to a 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health study, 902,000 people reported using heroin in the past year compared to 2.5M using meth. While the difference in usage is significant, so is the impact both substances can have on your life.

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What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug that is derived from the opium poppy plant. It has a long history of use in medicine and recreational use, but it has been increasingly abused over the last century.

Where Does Heroin Come From?

Heroin is synthesized from morphine derived from the opium poppy plant. Opium poppies are cultivated in various regions worldwide, such as Afghanistan and Mexico. The heroine then enters the black market, where it can be sold illegally or abused recreationally.

Heroin Methods of Use

Heroin can be injected, snorted, or smoked. Each method brings about a different experience, mainly in the time it takes for the drug to take effect.

Injection is the most common way of using heroin, though it also carries an increased risk of HIV and other diseases because users often share needles. Snorting heroin results in a slower onset of effects than injection but still can lead to addiction. Smoking heroin produces a less intense high than injection but has been known to create intense cravings in some users.

Signs, Symptoms, & Withdrawal

Like other opioids, symptoms of heroin use include drowsiness, constipation, euphoria, nausea, vomiting, and slowed breathing.

Heroin withdrawal can cause anxiety, insomnia, nausea, vomiting, cramps, and sweating. It is important to seek professional help, such as that offered by Guardian Recovery, if heroin addiction is suspected, as the symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases.

We understand how difficult getting heroin out of your system (detox) can be and offer a medically-supervised program where your withdrawal symptoms will be recognized and treated immediately. Guardian Recovery provides 24-hour medical supervision to make sure you have a safe and comfortable detox that will prepare you for the next phase of your recovery journey.

Heroin’s Effects on The Brain

Heroin works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a flood of dopamine which produces intense feelings of euphoria. Over time heroin use can lead to tolerance, requiring increasingly larger doses of the drug to achieve the same effect. This poses significant health risks, including the risk of death, due to heroin’s potency and its potential for addiction.

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What is Meth?

Meth, also known as methamphetamine or crystal meth, is a stimulant drug that has become increasingly popular in recent years. It is usually ingested orally, smoked, or injected. The effects of methamphetamine are similar to heroin but significantly more powerful and with greater potential for addiction.

How is Meth Produced?

Most meth is currently produced in small clandestine laboratories from relatively cheap medications that can be purchased over the counter. One such ingredient is pseudoephedrine, a common cold medicine.

It is illegal to produce or possess methamphetamine in most countries, and many have placed limits on purchasing its component parts to make production more difficult. Recently the prospect of using meth has become more hazardous as some producers have started lacing it with fentanyl.

Side Effects of Meth Use

The side effects of methamphetamine use include increased heart rate and blood pressure, restlessness, paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, and irritability. Long-term use can lead to extreme weight loss, insomnia, dental problems (known as “meth mouth”), severe anxiety, memory loss, and violent behavior.

How Does Meth Affect the Brain?

Methamphetamine works by increasing the release of dopamine, which produces intense feelings of euphoria. Over time meth use can also lead to tolerance and physical and psychological dependence. It can also damage the regions of the brain that control learning, memory, and the ability to control emotions.

Finally, it greatly depletes levels of dopamine and the way dopamine receptors in the brain work. Low dopamine levels can bring about severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and severe drug cravings as meth leaves the body. These reactions can give rise to compulsive drug-seeking behaviors and continued meth abuse.

Differences Between Heroin Use & Meth

The highs produced by heroin vs meth are in some ways similar and others very different.

Methamphetamine (meth) is a stimulant drug that produces intense feelings of energy and euphoria. Where heroin produces deep relaxation, meth produces an energetic high that often leads users to engage in risky behaviors or develop a psychological dependence on the substance. The effects of heroin last longer than those of meth, but they also take longer to kick in and come with more risks associated with addiction.

Intensity & Duration of a High

Heroin produces a more sedating and relaxing high that can last several hours. In contrast, methamphetamine produces an intense, energetic high that lasts only a few minutes. Additionally, heroin has greater potential for long-term addiction due to its potency and effects on the user’s brain.

Differences in Long-Term Effects & Health Risks

Long-term heroin use can cause severe physical damage, such as respiratory problems, organ failure, and even death. It can also lead to intense physical and psychological dependence.

Methamphetamine has similar long-term effects on the body as heroin but is a much more potent drug. Long-term methamphetamine abuse can cause severe weight loss, anxiety, aggression, depression, and insomnia. Additionally, meth use can also lead to an increased risk of stroke or heart attack in some cases.


Both heroin and methamphetamine can be highly addictive. However, meth is considered more potent and has a higher potential for addiction. Methamphetamine is more addictive than heroin because it produces more powerful, faster effects that last for shorter amounts of time.

Additionally, meth use can cause increased tolerance and physical dependence. This makes it difficult for users to stop using the drug once they start and increases their risk of addiction.

Looking at heroin vs meth, the former has a greater risk of physical dependence due to its potency and effects on the user’s brain. Studies show that people addicted to heroin have a long history of regular use that can persist for many years.

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If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin or methamphetamine abuse, it is essential to seek care immediately. At Guardian Recovery, we are ready to help you immediately. We provide comprehensive treatment, including medically-assisted detoxtherapyspecialty programs, and reintegration support. Our caring and experienced administrative, medical, and clinical teams will guide you through every step of your recovery process from the first time you call. We provide a complimentary assessment and a free insurance benefits check and help coordinate local travel to our facility. All you or your loved one has to do is ask for help; we will take care of the rest. Contact us today.


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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.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821675/
  2. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf
  3. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adult-addiction-treatment-programs/most-addictive
  4. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/opioids
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/how-methamphetamine-manufactured

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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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