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How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

October 11, 2023

Table of Contents

Heroin, an illicit opioid, is categorized as a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States due to its highly addictive nature, harmful effects, and lack of approved medical utility. Heroin is consumed by smoking, snorting, or intravenous injection, triggering a rapid, euphoric high, often followed by feelings of contentment, relaxation, and drowsiness.

A drug test for heroin will show positive in urine for approximately 48 hours, in blood for 5 to 6 hours, in saliva for 5 to 6 hours, and in hair for 3 months or more. That said, these detection times may vary depending on the specific test used and whether the drug has been used over an extended period.

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This guide explores issues that include:

  • How long do the effects of heroin last?
  • How long does heroin last?
  • How long does heroin stay in your system?
  • What does heroin show up as on a drug test?
  • How long does heroin stay in urine?

Heroin’s Half-Life

For those wondering, “how long do the effects of heroin last” or “how long does it take heroin to leave your system”, this hinges on the elimination half-life of heroin. The half-life of a drug refers to the time it takes for half of the substance to be eliminated from the body. Heroin half-life is short at just 30 minutes. This means that within half an hour after consumption, 50% of the drug’s concentration in the system is cleared.

The short half-life of heroin contributes to its intense and immediate effects. It also explains why those who use heroin may feel the need to take repeated doses to sustain the desired high. Frequent usage can lead to a higher risk of addiction and dependence.

The actual duration of heroin’s effects can vary depending on the individual’s metabolism, the amount taken, the purity of the drug, and other individual factors. Understanding the half-life of heroin can be crucial for healthcare professionals when determining appropriate treatment plans and managing withdrawal symptoms for those seeking recovery from heroin addiction.

A man stands on a California beach looking down to represent the half life of heroin.

Heroin Effects Timeline

The effects of heroin can vary in intensity and duration depending on the route of administration and individual factors. Here is a general timeline of the typical effects experienced by someone using heroin:

Immediate effects (shortly after administration)

  • Euphoria: Heroin rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier, prompting an intense and immediate sense of euphoria.
  • Relaxation: People may experience deep relaxation and a sense of calmness after ingesting heroin.
  • Pain relief: Heroin is known for its analgesic properties, which can provide relief from physical pain.

Short-term effects (within the first hour)

  • Nausea and vomiting: Some individuals may experience nausea and vomiting as initial side effects of heroin.
  • Dry mouth: Heroin use often causes a dry mouth.
  • Heavy limbs: Users may feel heaviness or weakness in their arms and legs.

Intermediate effects (after the first hour)

  • Drowsiness: As the initial rush wears off, drowsiness and sedation become more prominent.
  • Constricted pupils: Heroin use typically causes the pupils to become noticeably small.
  • Impaired cognitive function: Individuals may experience confusion, clouded thinking, and difficulty making decisions.

Long-term effects (after repeated use)

  • Tolerance: With continued heroin use, the body builds tolerance, leading to the need for higher doses to achieve the same effects.
  • Dependence: Prolonged use can lead to physical and psychological dependence, making it challenging to stop using the drug without experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
  • Health risks: Chronic heroin use can lead to various health issues, including respiratory problems, infections, and damage to vital organs.

Withdrawal (after last use)

Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically present within a few hours after the last dose and may include intense cravings, sweating, muscle aches, insomnia, and anxiety. Any use of heroin poses severe risks to health and well-being. The immediate pleasurable effects are outweighed by the potential for addiction, overdose, and long-term negative consequences.

A woman sits near mountains to represent heroin half life.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from heroin can be a challenging and uncomfortable experience, making it difficult for people to quit the drug on their own. The severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the extent of heroin use and individual factors. Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Many individuals experience feelings of nausea and may even vomit during the withdrawal process.
  • Pain and discomfort in the muscles and joints are common withdrawal symptoms.
  • Digestive issues, such as diarrhea and abdominal cramps, can occur during withdrawal.
  • Profuse sweating and cold chills are typical physical reactions during heroin withdrawal.
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a common withdrawal symptom, contributing to fatigue and irritability.
  • Feelings of anxiety, restlessness, and irritability are common during the withdrawal process.
  • Flu-like symptoms, including a runny nose and watery eyes, can occur.
  • The term cold turkey is often used to describe the appearance of goosebumps on the skin during withdrawal.

Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal

Seeking professional treatment is vital for safely managing heroin withdrawal and increasing the chances of successful recovery. Medically supervised detox is the safest way to manage withdrawal symptoms. Detoxification takes place in a controlled environment under the care of healthcare professionals who can provide necessary medications to ease discomfort and ensure the individual’s safety.

MAT involves the use of FDA-approved medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. These medications can be prescribed as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to support long-term recovery.

Behavioral therapies like CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy), CM (contingency management), and MI ( motivational interviewing), can help address the underlying factors contributing to heroin use and help individuals develop healthier coping strategies.

Engaging with support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and ongoing counseling can provide emotional support and guidance throughout the recovery journey.

Depending on the person’s needs and severity of the heroin addiction, inpatient or outpatient treatment programs may be recommended. Inpatient programs provide 24/7 care in a residential setting, while outpatient programs offer more flexibility and affordability for those who have family or work commitments.

Some treatment centers incorporate holistic therapies like yoga, meditation, art therapy, and acupuncture to support overall well-being during recovery.

Overcoming heroin addiction is a challenging process, but with the right support and treatment, it is possible to achieve lasting recovery and improve overall quality of life. Seeking help from healthcare professionals and addiction specialists is the first step towards a healthier, drug-free future.

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Get Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal and Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you have been using heroin to the extent of addiction developing, we can help you initiate your sustained recovery here at Renaissance Recovery in Southern California. While heroin addiction can be aggravating and disruptive, it is also treatable.

For those who require assistance with heroin withdrawal, we can connect you with licensed medical detox centers throughout Southern California. After addressing the issue of physical dependence on heroin, transition into one of the following treatment programs at our facility:

All treatment programs at Renaissance combine science-based and holistic treatments for a whole-body approach to recovery from heroin addiction. Options include:

Call 866.330.9449 for immediate assistance combating heroin addiction.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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