What Are the Effects of Heroin

Would you recognize heroin addiction in yourself or a loved one? It’s easy to think that you’d know, but the signs can be deceptively hard to spot. 

In 2016, 170,000 people started using heroin in the United States. Yet, most of these people keep living with their addiction because they aren’t spotting the signs. 

Heroin is an opioid drug that causes effects like euphoria, sleepiness, and slowed breathing. It can cause addiction in just a few uses. 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction means you can finally get help and recover. Here’s what you should know about the signs and symptoms of heroin use.

What Are the Signs of Heroin Use?

If you’re using heroin, there are some short-term signs that people around you might notice. These effects last as long as you’re under the influence of heroin, which is typically less than 30 minutes: 

  • Cognitive changes, including slowed thinking or confusion 
  • Drowsiness
  • Euphoria, or the feeling of being high
  • Nausea
  • Pain relief
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart rate

Someone who is under the influence of heroin may look sleepy or even appear to be completely asleep. 

They may “nod” off or have periods where they jerk between brief wakefulness and sleep. If they’re too high, they may vomit or have trouble breathing. They will have trouble carrying on a conversation. 

What Are the Behavioral Signs of Heroin Addiction?

Heroin addiction can cause behavioral changes as your priorities change. Your behavior begins to center on getting and using heroin, and nothing else is as important. Behavioral signs are an important part of recognizing heroin addiction. 

The behavioral signs of heroin addiction include: 

  • Lack of interest in activities that used to be important 
  • Neglecting mental and physical self-care, including hygiene, nutrition, and rest 
  • Secretive behavior, such as lying about who you’re with or what you’re doing 
  • Trouble maintaining a job, relationships, or responsibilities

What Are the Physical Symptoms of Heroin Addiction?

If you’re addicted to heroin, you have probably felt physical symptoms. Heroin is a powerful opioid drug that has strong effects on your body’s nervous system. 

Those symptoms include: 

  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Tolerance, or a need to take larger doses to feel the same effect
  • Increased sleeping
  • Malnutrition and dehydration
  • Withdrawal when you aren’t using heroin 

It’s hard to notice these symptoms on your own because denial is a part of addiction. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical detox and treatment: 

More Signs of Heroin Addiction

If you’re looking for heroin addiction in a loved one, you might see signs related to the way they use the drug. These include: 

  • Evidence of heroin, which ranges in appearance from a white or brown powder to a sticky black rock
  • Odor of heroin smoke, which smells like vinegar
  • Items used to smoke heroin, such as bongs and tinfoil
  • Items used to inject heroin, such as syringes and needles
  • Items used to snort heroin, such as razor blades
  • Physical signs of heroin use, such as a bleeding nose from nasal use, or injection marks from intravenous use

Most people who use heroin are secretive about it, but you might notice these signs if you look for them. 

You might also notice a person’s living space becoming more and more messy and chaotic as they stop caring and tending to their responsibilities. Physical appearance may change as they start neglecting hygiene, haircuts and clothing standards. 

What Are the Signs of Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal is a sure sign of addiction. Withdrawal happens when you stop using heroin after developing dependency. 

The signs of heroin withdrawal include: 

  • Insomnia
  • Mood changes, including anxiety, agitation, panic, and depression
  • Muscle pain
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning

Later in withdrawal, you might experience severe symptoms that include: 

  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting

The symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be very uncomfortable but they aren’t life-threatening. Still, you should seek help if you’re in withdrawal because that’s when you’re more likely to relapse. 

What Are Signs of Health Problems From Heroin?

When you use heroin for months or years, you can develop permanent health problems. Heroin affects many parts of your body, from your immune system to your endocrine system and more. 

Some common signs of long-term health problems from heroin include: 

  • Brain problems such as reduced executive function and trouble with regulating your behavior 
  • Blood vessel problems such as heart valve infections, blood vessel infections, scarred veins, and blood clots 
  • Immune system problems such as arthritis.  
  • Lung problems from smoking, including tuberculosis or pneumonia

Heroin can cause long-term damage to your body. Talk to your doctor if you have frequent infections, behavior problems, or other signs of long-term damage. 

What Are the Symptoms of Heroin Overdose?

Anyone who uses heroin or spends time around people who use heroin should know the symptoms of an overdose. 

Heroin overdoses can be deadly in minutes. It’s vital to know how to recognize one so you can take action.

The signs of a heroin overdose include: 

  • Blue skin, lips, gums, or fingernails
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Slow or labored breathing
  • Stopped breathing
  • Unresponsiveness

Call 911 right away if someone is experiencing an overdose. If you have it on hand, administer Narcan using an injection or nasal inhaler. This medication can reverse a heroin overdose for long enough to get medical attention. 

What Are the Signs You Need Treatment for Heroin Addiction? 

You need treatment for heroin addiction if it’s affecting your quality of life. 

The signs you need treatment for heroin addiction include: 

  • Desire to get heroin and use heroin at any cost
  • Using heroin at the cost of your relationships, job, or finances 
  • Using heroin even though it affects your health
  • Trouble admitting that there’s a problem with your heroin use

Search our directory to find evidence-based treatment for heroin addiction. If heroin is affecting the course of your life, then treatment can bring it back on track. 


  1. What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?
  2. Signs of Heroin Addiction
  3. Heroin Addiction: Symptoms, Causes, Treatments, and Outlook
  4. Opiate and opioid withdrawal
  5. Signs of Heroin Use
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Heroin
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Francine Mends, MD