Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

How long does heroin stay in your system? We answer this and more about heroin, a dangerous addictive opioid drug. Heroin addiction is treatable.

Heroin: How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System? We Answer This & More

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

July 5, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

How long does heroin stay in your system, anyway? It’s not an idle question. For some, it’s a way to know how long they have before opioid withdrawal kicks in. For others, it’s an estimate of how long a hit of heroin will last. Finally, for some, it’s a way to determine if it’s the right time to get help for heroin addiction.

Fundamentally, heroin stays in your system long enough to cause damage. In this blog, we’ll answer questions about how long heroin stays in your system, drug tests, and more.

Stats About Heroin Overdoses:

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), in the US, the amount of deaths caused by heroin overdose has more than doubled since 2010.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is derived from morphine, a natural opiate harvested from the opium poppy's seed pod and processed into a highly addictive medication. Thebaine, another opium constituent, undergoes a chemical transformation into morphine and then heroin.

Heroin comes in many forms, including powder (white or brown) and black tar (sticky) heroin. However, heroin is highly addictive, and its repeated use can lead to physical dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and numerous health complications, including respiratory depression, liver and kidney damage, and infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Long-term use can also lead to overdose and death. It is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act due to its high potential for abuse and lack of accepted medical use.

How Does Heroin Work?

Heroin is an opioid drug, meaning it works by binding with opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord, and other parts of the body. When heroin reaches the brain, it is converted back into morphine, which then affects the opioid receptors, producing the characteristic effects of the drug.

The opioid receptors are primarily located in brain areas involved in pain perception, reward, and motivation. When heroin binds to these receptors, it activates the brain's reward system, producing euphoria, pleasure, and relaxation. It also reduces pain signals transmitted from the body to the brain, relieving pain.

However, repeated use of heroin can lead to changes in the brain's reward system, causing physical dependence, tolerance, and addiction. Over time, the brain adapts to the heroine's presence, and users need to take higher doses to experience similar results. If heroin use is stopped abruptly, it can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, and anxiety.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

How long heroin remains in the body after usage is affected by factors such as dosage, frequency of use, route of administration, and metabolism. However, as a general guideline:

Heroin Blood Test

Heroin can typically be detected in blood for up to six hours after use.

Heroin Saliva Test

Heroin can be detected in saliva for up to 24 hours after use.

Heroin Urine Test

Heroin can be detected in urine for up to two to four days after use.

Heroin Hair Test

Heroin can be detected in hair for up to 90 days after use.

Drug tests are typically designed to detect the presence of heroin's metabolites, compounds produced when the body breaks down the drug. These metabolites can linger in the system for longer than the drug itself. Additionally, the effects of heroin can last for several hours, even after the drug has been eliminated from the body. 

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How Long Does It Take for Heroin to Take Effect?

Heroin is a highly potent and fast-acting opioid drug. As a result, the onset of its effects can vary depending on the route of administration. Here are some common methods of heroin use and their corresponding timelines for the drug to take effect:

Intravenous (IV) Injection of Heroin

When heroin is injected directly into a vein, the effects are typically felt within seconds or minutes. The drug rapidly enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, producing an intense and immediate high.

Snorting or Smoking Heroin

When heroin is snorted or smoked, the effects are usually felt within a few minutes. The drug is absorbed through the mucous membranes or the lungs, respectively. Then it enters the bloodstream, eventually reaching the brain.

Heroin produces a euphoric rush, followed by relaxation and sedation. However, it also carries a high risk of addiction, overdose, and various health complications. If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin use, seeking professional help from healthcare providers or addiction specialists is crucial.

How Long Do Heroin Effects Last?

Intravenous (IV) Injection of Heroin

The effects of heroin typically peak within a few minutes after injection and may last for around 3 to 5 hours.

Snorting or Smoking Heroin

When heroin is snorted or smoked, the effects are usually felt within a few minutes and may last 3 to 4 hours.

After the initial intense rush, the effects of heroin gradually transition into a state of relaxation, sedation, and mental cloudiness. Individual factors and drug-related variables can also influence the intensity and duration of these effects.

Heroin Half-Life: What is the Half-Life of Heroin?

The half-life of heroin is the amount of time it takes to eliminate half of the substance from the body. The half-life of heroin varies from one person to the next and from the route of administration to the presence of other substances. In general, the half-life of heroin is just about two to six minutes.

While the half-life of heroin may be relatively short, the effects of the drug can last longer due to the presence of active metabolites. Heroin is rapidly metabolized into morphine, which is known to have a slightly lengthier half-life and contributes to the overall duration of its effects. \

People need to remember that discussing the half-life of heroin should not be interpreted as a safe or recommended time frame for drug use. Heroin is a highly addictive and dangerous substance with significant physical and mental health risks. 

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How Is Heroin Tested in Urine, Blood, Saliva, And Hair?

Heroin and its metabolites can be detected in different biological samples such as blood, urine, saliva, and hair through various drug testing methods. Here is an overview of how heroin is typically tested in each of these samples:

Urine Testing for Heroin

Urine testing is the most often used procedure for determining whether someone has recently abused heroin. The test is designed to detect the presence of morphine, a key metabolite of heroin. The detection window for heroin in urine is typically 2 to 3 days after usage. However, it can be observed for a significantly longer period in chronic users.

Blood Testing for Heroin

Blood testing for heroin detection is less prevalent. Nonetheless, it may be used in some situations, such as medical crises or forensic investigations. Heroin and morphine can be detected in the bloodstream quickly after use. However, the detection window is often limited to a few hours daily.

Saliva Testing for Heroin

Saliva testing, also known as oral fluid testing, can identify the presence of heroin and its metabolites in a person's saliva. This method is likewise less popular but can be useful in some circumstances, such as roadside drug testing. The detection window for heroin in saliva is similar to that of blood, ranging from a few hours to a day.

Hair Testing for Heroin

Hair testing has a broader detection window than other procedures. Heroin can be integrated into the hair shaft as it develops, enabling the identification of drug usage in the past over a more extended period. Generally, a 1.5-inch (3.8-cm) segment of hair can provide a detection window of 90 days or greater, depending on the pace of hair growth.

Different drug testing techniques and laboratories may vary their specific detection limits and methodologies. Suppose you have concerns about drug testing or need specific information for a particular situation. In that case, it's advisable to consult with a medical or testing professional who can provide accurate and up-to-date information. 

What is Heroin Abuse?

Heroin abuse refers to the use of heroin in a manner that is harmful to your physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being. This can include using heroin in more significant amounts or more frequently than prescribed for non-medical reasons or despite adverse consequences.

Heroin abuse can lead to various physical and mental health problems, including addiction, overdose, infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis, respiratory problems, heart problems, liver and kidney damage, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

People who abuse heroin may experience a range of signs and symptoms, including:

  • Drowsiness or nodding off

  • Slurred speech

  • Poor coordination

  • Constricted pupils

  • Itching or scratching

  • Sudden changes in behavior or mood

  • Neglect of personal hygiene

  • Social withdrawal or isolation

  • Financial problems or legal issues

Suppose you suspect you or someone you know is showing signs and symptoms of heroin abuse. In that case, seeking professional help as soon as possible is essential. Treatment options may include medication-assisted therapy, counseling, and behavioral therapy.

Reasons for Heroin Abuse & Addiction

The causes of addiction to heroin are complex and can vary from person to person. However, some of the factors that may contribute to heroin addiction include:


Research has shown that there may be a genetic component to addiction, meaning that some individuals may be more susceptible to developing an addiction to heroin than others. 

Environmental Factors

Trauma, stress, and exposure to social and environmental cues that promote drug use can increase the risk of heroin addiction. These can include factors such as childhood abuse, poverty, social isolation, and living in areas with high rates of drug use.

Mental Health Issues

Individuals suffering from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be more vulnerable to addiction to heroin as they may use the drug as a coping mechanism.

Social and Peer Pressure

Heroin use may be influenced by the people you spend time with, such as friends or family members who use the drug or have a history of drug use.

Prescription Drug Use

Individuals prescribed opioids for pain management may develop a tolerance to these medications, leading to the use of heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative. Prescription drug abuse is often a gateway into heavier drugs

Addiction is an intricate and deadly disease; many factors can often contribute to its development. Therefore, effective treatment of heroin addiction typically involves addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of the disease and identifying and addressing any underlying factors that may have contributed to the addiction.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

In the US, several effective treatment options are available for heroin addiction, and the treatment choice will depend on the individual's specific needs and circumstances. Some of the most common treatment options for heroin addiction include:

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT involves using medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to help manage withdrawal signs & symptoms as well as reduce cravings for heroin. These medications are usually prescribed to help you gradually taper off heroin use and reduce the risk of relapse.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy can help you recognize and transform patterns of thinking and behavior that may have contributed to your addiction. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management can help individuals to develop coping strategies, build resilience, and reduce the risk of relapse.

Residential or Inpatient Rehab

Residential or inpatient treatment programs offer people a safe and reassuring setting to receive treatment for heroin addiction. These programs typically involve a combination of medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapy, as well as counseling, support groups, and other services.

Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient recovery rehab centers permit folks to have easy access to addiction treatment, stay in the comfort of their homes, and maintain their daily routines. Outpatient treatment plans may comprise medication-assisted treatment, individual counseling sessions, family and group therapy, and other services.

Self-Help Groups

Self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer peer support and a community of others in recovery. These groups can help individuals to build a sense of belonging, share their experiences, and receive support from others who have gone through similar challenges.

An effective treatment plan for heroin addiction typically involves a combination of approaches, and it should be tailored to your unique requirements and conditions. Fortunately, by receiving support and care from family members and peers and quality treatment from rehab facilities, individuals with heroin addiction can achieve lasting recovery and improve their overall health and well-being. 

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The Forge Recovery Center Provides Expert Care for Heroin Addiction

The Forge Recovery Center is dedicated to helping people overcome addiction to heroin. We understand that addiction is a serious issue and requires specialized care and support. Our team of healthcare experts is trained to provide evidence-based treatments and therapies that help individuals manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and ultimately achieve long-term recovery. 

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, don’t risk a drug overdose. Reach out to The Forge Recovery Center today and learn more about our evidence-based program for heroin addiction.

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