Is Heroin a Narcotic?

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As heroin continues to remain at the forefront of our nation’s drug epidemic, many remain unaware of what it is that makes this dangerous substance so popular. It is becoming more likely each year that you or someone you know will have an encounter with heroin. Equipping yourself with knowledge about this infamous substance can help our communities begin to overcome the disastrous effects this substance causes.

If you or a loved one find yourself in need of treatment for a heroin use disorder, thankfully there is help. Contact Guardian Recovery today. You will be able to speak with a trained substance use professional that can provide information and guidance towards your next step in your recovery journey.

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What Are Narcotics?

Often misclassified, the term narcotic (1) has become a general description for any illegal drug. To meet the true classification of a narcotic, a substance must be some sort of opioid. An opioid is any substance designed to suppress the central nervous system and is made from either the poppy plant, a poppy plant derivative, or a synthetically manufactured substance designed to mimic the effects of the poppy plant. From the Greek word for “stupor”, narcotics are known as downers and must meet one of these criteria to be appropriately classified as a narcotic. Some narcotics carry a medical use while others have none and remain illegal in all of their forms.

Natural Narcotics

Natural narcotics (2) are a classification of narcotics that are found in nature or able to be manufactured by substances found in nature. Though these substances carry the label of “natural”, they can be just as addictive and harmful to the user. These substances include opium, morphine, and codeine.

Synthetic Narcotics

Synthetic narcotics are those that are made entirely by a chemical process and with materials that are not found in nature. Manufacturers, both legal and illegal, will use specific combinations of compounds to produce a substance that interacts with the brain and body in the same way that a natural opiate would often with increased potency. Narcotics that would fall into this category would include methadone and fentanyl.

Semi-Synthetic Narcotics

The final class of narcotics, and one in which the majority of these substances fall, is semi-synthetic narcotics. In this classification, substances are a combination of both natural and non-natural materials. Depending upon the combination of the additives to a substance, the final product will have a wide variety of reactions with the brain and body both medical and recreational. Substances in the category include heroin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, and most other prescription narcotics.

What Is Heroin’s Drug Classification?

All drugs (also known as controlled substances), are classified (3) by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) into categories known as “schedules”. These determinations are made based on the substance’s possible medical uses along with its addictive qualities. Some narcotics carry a higher schedule due to their medical status, but heroin, however, is classified as a Schedule I drug. This means it is both highly addictive and carries no medical benefit recognized today.

What Are Narcotics Used For?

Narcotics are used for a variety (1) of medical and recreational purposes. Each substance carries with it different levels of potency and effectiveness in depressing the central nervous system. In medically prescribed substances this involves the suppression of pain, decrease in anxiety, or help with sleep. In recreational use, narcotics are used to release neurotransmitters in the brain and body producing a euphoria and a temporary escape from reality.

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How Do Narcotics Affect the Brain & Body?

Depending upon the dose, makeup, and route of administration, the effects of narcotics on the brain and body affects each person differently. Positive effects include suppression of pain, cough, and anxiety. Negatively, these often potent substances suppress breathing and heart rate. If this suppression happens too dramatically, the user will need to seek out medical treatment and even risk overdose.

Symptoms & Side Effects

Physically recognizable symptoms of narcotic use include:

  • Constriction of the pupils
  • Slowed physical activity
  • Nausea
  • Flushing of the neck and face
  • Constipation

Continued use (4) of narcotics can lead the person who uses to become physically dependent on these substances. Though this process does not happen quickly, a person’s body develops coping mechanisms to deal with the consistent presence of a narcotic substance. If the person using suddenly stops taking the substance, their body will go into a state of withdrawal. They will endure a period of extreme nausea, emotional imbalance, and intense physical discomfort as their body readjusts to functioning without the presence of the drug.

Overdose Symptoms

Recognizing an overdose early on is becoming increasingly more important as illicit opioid use continues to remain a worldwide crisis. The World Health Organization (5) reports that in the year 2017 more that 115,000 people died as the result of a narcotic overdose. Symptoms to look for in someone who is experiencing and overdose include:

  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Unconsciousness or unresponsiveness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Slow heart rate

As a person displays multiple symptoms, the likelihood of a narcotic overdose increases. The response time of medical professionals or the administration of overdose prevention medication such as Narcan, can mitigate some of the risk factors involved.

Other Commonly Abused Narcotics

Alongside heroin, other commonly abused (6) narcotics include:

  • Prescription Narcotics- These include substances like hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), oxymorphone (Opana), morphine, Codeine, and  fentanyl.
  • Natural Narcotics- Opium is a widely used and abused substance throughout many parts of the world. “Opium dens” are popular in regions of the middle east where the poppy plant is grown and harvested.

Why Do Narcotics Cause Addiction?

Much about the process of addiction remains a mystery, however scientists do agree that a major factor is the way that drugs, especially narcotics, interact with the brain’s chemistry (7). When large amounts of narcotics are consumed they mimic the same chemicals in the brain responsible for extremely enjoyable physical sensation and reward. This combination of chemicals leaves the person using these substances to not only enjoy the experience, but strongly desire to replicate it. In combination with the lifestyle and biological factors, this is a potent cocktail for addiction.

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To summarize, heroin is classified as an extremely potent and semi-synthetic narcotic. With its high risk for addiction, many find themselves struggling to stop using regardless of the negative impact it has had on their life. There is, however, hope. Guardian Recovery is a leading provider in substance abuse treatment for those fighting this battle. With a highly trained staff of medical professionals and clinicians, we understand the complex factors that can lead toward the path of addiction. We also know the joy and personal freedom found on the path of recovery. Contact Guardian Recovery today for a free no obligation insurance check to see which treatment options may be right for you.


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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.


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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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