How long Does a Heroin High Last? The short answer for most heroin users is ‘not long enough.’ We’ll look at the biochemistry of heroin use in just a bit, but this three word answer might tell you more than aPET scan ever could. Yes, heroin does act on the opioid receptors in the brain. But the lived experience that lurks behind the answer ‘not long enough’ is where you can find the truth about heroin addiction that really matters.
Not long enough. Nope, it never is. Anyone who’s shot up or smoked heroin will tell you there’s no better feeling in the world. This may or may not be true, but we know for certain that the wonders of a heroin high will never last. In fact, the fun part of using heroin becomes a horror story once you’ve chased it a few times. The stories heroin addicts tell are full of pain and heartache, but they’re also something we desperately need to hear. No matter why you clicked on this article, we’re sure glad that you’re here. Stick around if you’d like to how long a heroin high lasts.
How Long Heroin Lasts
Heroin is a powerful opioid drug that delivers an intense euphoric high and suppress the central nervous system. Typically, heroin users snort, smoke, or inject this highly addictive substance. You can also consume heroin orally, but that’s probably pretty rare. Most people judge IV drug users pretty harshly, but heroin use takes to the same place no matter what hole you stick it in.
But how long does heroin last? Okay, we hear you. Heroin’s duration of action depends on the method of administration. Heroin use by injection produces a high within 20 seconds, peaks around 2 hours, and lasts for up to 4 hours or longer. For people who snort it or smoke it, the effects of heroin hit you in about ten minutes, with the nodding aftermath lasting as long as 4-5 more hours.
Heroin hits you with an intense euphoria that usually lasts less than ten minutes. Over time, the intensity and duration of this euphoria are reduced significantly. The primary desired effect is a sense of euphoria, which peaks early at onset and may last several seconds to several minutes. Drowsiness and a sensation of a disconnection from the world may also occur.
The stages of a heroin “high” are somewhat unique for each individual but all follow a similar process. In the beginning – sometimes only seconds after administration – comes nausea followed by a “rush.” Depending on a user’s tolerance level, the rush may last up to 20 minutes. During this time, the user may have the sensation that his or her body is made of liquid, a heavy feeling in the extremities, and burning hot skin with heat originating from inside the body.
Less pleasant effects may include a dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, and severe itching. After the initial rush, mental functioning becomes foggy, and heart rate and breathing are profoundly slower, possibly to the point of being life-threatening, and can result in coma, permanent brain damage, and death.
Heroin’s Effects On The Brain
Heroin, as an opiate, simulates a naturally-occurring brain chemical that is responsible for perceptions of pain and pleasure. Once heroin has transferred through the blood-brain barrier, it changes into morphine, which attaches to the opiate receptors.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) synthetic or semi-synthetic chemicals, such as heroin and other drugs, can cause the body to release as much as ten times the average amount of dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for pleasure and reward.
As the brain is inundated with heroin, it releases an inhibitory agent, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is the signal to the brain to restrain the creation of dopamine, so that our feelings and reaction remain at a normal level.
If GABA is blocked, however, the brain cannot determine when to stop releasing dopamine. Moreover, GABA has opiate receptors itself, and as opiate drugs attach to GABA, it becomes unable to inhibit the production of dopamine, which is likely responsible for many of the euphoric feelings that heroin users seek.
Increased Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction
Tolerance is characterized by the need to take increasing amounts of a drug to achieve the desired effects. Tolerance develops due to the brain’s inclination toward “repeated exposure = diminished effects,” and happens after the regular, prolonged use of a substance. Tolerance increases the risk of overdose, as users continue to administer more and more of the drug trying to produce the high they formerly experienced.
Chemical and psychological dependence occurs when the brain has grown so accustomed to the drug’s presence that it is unable to function normally in its absence. When the user tries to quit or cut back, they will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which are essentially a manifestation of the brain and body attempting to regain equilibrium without the drug’s presence.
Withdrawal symptoms from heroin can be severe but are rarely life-threatening. These symptoms include:
- Sweats and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Generalized aches and pain
- Cold-like symptoms (e.g., runny nose and headache)
- Chronic itching
- Cravings for more heroin
Addiction to heroin is characterized by both the development of tolerance and the onset of dependence. Addictive behavior generally consists of an obsession to obtain and use heroin by any means necessary, as well as a lack of concern for other responsibilities such as work, school, and family.
Once addiction has developed, if the heroin abuser does not seek help in an addiction treatment program, there is a high potential for more damage and even death to occur.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Heroin addiction is a devastating disease that wreaks havoc on the person suffering it, as well as those around him or her. Those who are abusing heroin should immediately seek help before it’s too late.
Treatment begins with a medically-supervised detox and is immediately followed by a transition to a long-term residential stay at our center. We offer a comprehensive, evidence-based approach that includes psychotherapy, psychoeducation, individual and family counseling, and group support.
We also offer intensive outpatient treatment and aftercare planning services, as well as organize alumni activities for all of our clients to foster long-term support.
Please contact us immediately to find out how we can provide you with the tools you need to achieve abstinence and restore long-lasting happiness and wellness to your life!