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How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

You may be wondering, “how long does heroin stay in your system?” Learn the effects of heroin and the treatment options here.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal drug that’s processed from a natural substance that’s extracted from the pods of certain poppy plants. It is most commonly sold as a brownish or white powder. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that the pure white heroin imported into the United States is predominantly from South America and Southeast Asia.1

Less pure heroin, known as “black tar,” is mainly imported from Mexico. The dark color of this type of heroin is the result of crude processing methods and impurities.

how long does heroin stay in your system

Heroin Classification and Consumption

Both types of heroin are classified as Schedule I drugs, which means heroin is a controlled substance with no approved medical use. Long-term heroin effects on the body can be severe, resulting in illness, respiratory problems, and death.

Ways to use heroin include injecting it into veins, muscles, or under the skin, as well as smoking and snorting.

How Long Do the Effects of Heroin Last?

The answer to this question is a complex one. Heroin has a longer duration than many other substances, but a fairly short half-life of 30 minutes. This means it will take approximately 30 minutes for half of the drug to leave a person’s system after a single dose.2

This does not mean a heroin high only lasts 30 minutes. The effects of heroin in body systems can be felt for up to five hours after taking the drug. However, it takes much longer for heroin to completely exit the body.

How Is Heroin Processed in the Body?

The human body contains receptors in the brain’s reward center known as mu-opioid receptors (MORS). When MORS become activated, they release the neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Opioids such as morphine, heroin, and oxycodone are formulated to react with the brain’s reward center.3

The heroin in body systems activates MORS receptors artificially, forcing the brain to release dopamine and other “feel good” endorphins. It is this overload of endorphins that creates the heroin high. There are several side effects of heroin. Constricted pupils are one such symptom. 

Heroin Metabolization

Like other drugs, heroin in systems of the body is metabolized after the substance has been distributed using the bloodstream. Most of the work of metabolizing is done in the liver and kidneys.4

Once the substance is completely broken down into metabolites, it is excreted through urine and waste, though some trace metabolites can still show up in drug tests for heroin. Before and after metabolizing, heroin still has a negative impact on health, especially on the body’s natural filtration system.  

Drug Testing for Heroin: How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Different types of drug tests can detect morphine, heroin, and other opioids in the system at different stages. The main types of heroin testing that are used to find heroin in systems of the body include:

  • Urine Test: No longer detectable after 48 hours of last dose (testing for heroin in urine is a common method)
  • Blood Test: No longer detectable after five to six hours of last dose
  • Saliva Test: No longer detectable after five to six hours of last dose
  • Hair Follicle Test: No longer detectable after three or more months

Heroin in urine and other fluids can be detected by heroin drug tests for much longer periods when heavy use leaves large amounts of heroin in systems like the circulatory system.5 

Factors that Affect Detection Time in Heroin Testing

Exactly how long heroin stays in a person’s system depends on several factors, including:

  • Drug quality
  • Metabolism rate
  • Height and weight
  • Age
  • Hydration levels
  • Physical health, especially liver and kidney health
  • Amount of body fat
  • Genetics

The duration of drug use and the amount of heroin ingested on a daily basis also influence how long it takes for the drug to fully exit a person’s system.

The Fastest Way to Get Heroin Out of Your System

People who are concerned about heroin testing for work or legal purposes may want to flush the substance from their system quickly. However, individuals who have become physically and psychologically dependent on heroin can experience uncomfortable and even unsafe withdrawal symptoms when detoxing.6 

Medically Supervised Detox

Medically supervised detox is the safest and fastest way to detox from heroin. Pills and other medications can be provided to help ease withdrawal symptoms, which include:

  • Nausea and other flu-like symptoms
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty breathing

The most dangerous heroin withdrawal symptom may be severe cravings. Strong cravings can lead to relapsing, which increases the risk of accidental overdose. Even if the detox process is not complete, tolerance can be reduced. The body may be unable to metabolize the same dose of heroin as before. This can lead to a fatal overdose.

Indications of Heroin Overdose

The symptoms of heroin overdose include:

  • Shallow, slow, or difficulty breathing
  • Discolored tongue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Weak pulse
  • Coma
  • Heroin constricted pupils
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements

During a heroin overdose, body systems begin to shut down quickly. If you suspect an overdose on heroin has occurred, call 911 immediately. Fast action can save a life.

How Do I Know If I am Addicted to Heroin?

Heroin is an especially dangerous drug because of the high rate of addiction or overdose. The effects of heroin addiction can begin to occur rapidly after ingestion of an average dose of heroin, even if it’s the first time. 

Signs of Heroin Addiction

These effects include:

  • Avoiding friends and family members
  • Financial difficulties that lead you to sell valuable items or borrow or steal cash/valuables from others
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Chronic dry mouth
  • Unhealthy skin, including cuts, scabs, and bruises
  • Chronic constipation
  • Extreme mood swings
  • A willingness to do almost anything to get more heroin

Trying to Quit

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of a last dose of heroin is also a sign of addiction. Feeling sick, shaky, or experiencing pain when trying to stop heroin use, followed by relief with an average dose of heroin, means your body has become dependent. 

If these symptoms apply, reach out for help sooner rather than later.

What Happens in a Heroin Addiction Treatment Program?

Medically supervised detox is the first step in treating heroin addiction. The goal of a detox center is to keep patients safe and comfortable as they withdraw from heroin. Pills to treat the symptoms of withdrawal and any physical or mental health disorders that require care are part of the medical protocol. 

Heroin’s effects on the body can leave people in poor health. The need for medical care and supervision during detox is common.

heroin in system

Therapies Available to Help Overcome Heroin Addiction

During treatment, patients participate in several evidence-based therapies. Counseling practices often include:

  • Educational sessions
  • Family therapy and family support
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Trauma therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Dual-diagnosis treatment

Relapse Prevention

Relapse prevention is an essential component of any treatment or recovery strategy. If relapse does occur, a prevention plan will provide a strategy for recovery.

Holistic therapies such as meditation, yoga, nutritional therapy, and breathing techniques are great ways to manage stressors and prevent relapse.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction

If you’re experiencing heroin addiction or withdrawal, you’re not alone. Heroin addiction can be life-threatening because of the high risk of overdose or severe withdrawal symptoms. This is why it’s critical to reach out for help immediately if you or a loved one are suffering. 

Heroin addiction is not insurmountable, but the odds of beating addiction increase when a person has a strong and trustworthy support system in place.

Why Alta Centers?

Because everyone’s addiction and recovery journey is different, our caring team at Alta Centers is here to help develop a treatment plan so that you can return to full health and find joy in living. 

Our comprehensive treatment helps identify the possible causes of and potential triggers for addiction while creating a clear plan for recovery.

Reach Out Today

If you or someone you care about needs the professional care and support programs available at Alta Centers, call us today to receive guidance and resources. 

Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.