Heroin is an opioid drug that comes from the potent painkiller known as morphine. It’s a natural substance taken from the seed of opium poppy plants. These plants grow through Mexico, Southeast and Southwest Asia, and Colombia. Heroin may come in two different forms, such as a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin and brown or white powder. The most common names include smack, horse, big H, or hell dust.
Heroin is one of the contributing factors behind the opioid crisis the United States faces. The current estimates show that opioids like heroin take 128 lives each year. Between 1999 and 2018, more than 67,300 Americans lost their lives from drug-involved overdose. Drug overdose deaths rose from 38,329 in 2010 to 70,237 in 2017, and opioids caused 31,335 deaths in 2018 alone.
The opioid crisis stems from prescription opioids in the 1990s, with overdose deaths caused by the stroke of a doctor’s pen increasing since 1999. The government started cracking down on doctors who overprescribed, which led to the second wave in 2010 and an increase in overdose deaths involving heroin. The third wave began in 2013 due to the rise in overdose deaths involving fentanyl.
Since heroin has such a deadly stigma attached to it, you might wonder about the heroin high and what brings people coming back for more. How long does it last? What makes it so addictive? Let’s explore that further below.
An estimated 75 percent of people who use heroin started taking prescription opioids. For many people who use heroin, it’s more about numbing pain they’re experiencing rather than feeling good. When you compare it to marijuana, cocaine, meth, or alcohol, heroin is used less as a recreational drug and more for self-medication.
After a single hit of heroin, various chemicals flood the brain and provide an instant boost of intense pleasure. The euphoria is important for someone who doesn’t feel good in the first place. Although the rebound effect can actually worsen unpleasant feelings over time, that rush is enough to keep users coming back for more.
A heroin high causes a change in feelings, thoughts, and sensations, which are caused by the drug’s effects on the nervous system and in our brain. Other changes will depend on the expectation of someone taking it and their personal background. For this reason, someone might experience pain relief and pleasure, while someone else finds the effects to be overwhelming and make them sick.
When someone is looking to get high on heroin, it’s because they seek euphoria, a pleasurable sensation from changes in the brain. Heroin appeals to those struggling with depression or anxiety, and it’s also common among those living in poverty or struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Heroin users describe the sensation as warmth and safety when they’re under the influence. However, they’re anything but warm or safe when using heroin. This is why the drug is so appealing to those in unsafe surroundings, like the homeless. If you’re sleeping outside on a cold night, heroin will help you relax and get some rest.
Lower doses of the drug bring on a sense of calmness and reduce feelings of loneliness. It can also reduce anxiety someone feels in certain settings. In higher doses, it’ll cause someone to disconnect from others around them. Users report feeling like they’re in a dream-like state or that they’re floating, which may be unpleasant for someone who is more grounded.
Opioids are used to treat chronic and severe pain, so it makes sense why someone will seek out heroin to reduce pain. The first few times it’s used, it can provide exceptional pain-relieving effects. Someone dealing with an injury and can’t get proper medication for their illness will resort to the drug. It shows you how desperate pain can make a person in need.
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Depending on the method of administration, the length of time a heroin high lasts will vary. Heroin is one of the quickest highs, but the feelings will continually change throughout the stages. A person will feel nauseous the first 20 seconds after using before experiencing the high, which lasts anywhere from ten to 20 minutes. The higher the tolerance, the shorter amount of time they’ll feel it.
Someone who smokes heroin might not experience the effects for several minutes, and someone who snorts it could feel the effects immediately. However, someone who injects the drug will feel the rush instantly. Again, the length of time it lasts will depend on the user’s tolerance and quality of the drug.
Those who use the drug long-term are prone to experiencing some severe effects that can cause permanent damage. If you’re using heroin, you should seek help before the following occurs:
Since heroin accumulates in your fat tissue, it’ll show up in a drug test if someone is a frequent user. Fur urine tests, heroin will be detected for up to a week after use, while hair tests can see heroin use in the past three months.
In very rare cases, people can manage their heroin use. For those with a history of trauma, long-term emotional issues, chronic pain, or a disadvantaged lifestyle, heroin addiction is a serious threat. If this describes your situation, you should avoid experimenting with the drug. If you’ve already started, you must seek help. Heroin addiction can be fatal without the proper help, and looking for treatment centers could be the difference between life and death.
As was mentioned above, there’s a high degree of comorbidity and substance use. Getting therapy to address these physical or emotional issues can help if you’ve developed an addiction. Avoiding the use of drugs for self-medication purposes will help you build a better life and healthily work through the issues.
You’re only a phone call away from getting the help you need. You shouldn’t try to abstain from heroin without help. Withdrawal alone is enough to cause someone to relapse, which can be fatal. Seek professional help and get on the right path.
NIDA (January 2021) Heroin from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/heroin
NIDA (January 2021) Short-Term Effects of Heroin from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-heroin-use
NIDA (January 2021) Prescription Opioid Abuse Factors in Heroin Use from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/prescription-opioids-heroin/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use
NIH (January 2021) Overdose Death Rates from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates
CDC (January 2021) Opioid Overdose from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html