How Long Does Heroin Stay in the Body?

The damage to the body that comes from substance abuse is often aggravated by how long it stays in the system. This is a sobering fact that more people should take to heart, as the answer to the question of how long heroin stay in the body should scare more people into not trying it at all.

Heroin is a powerful narcotic and one of the most abused substances to be illegally circulated. It comes from morphine, derived from the poppy plant’s resin. As it comes from morphine, it also possesses the same potent painkilling properties, which is why so many are hooked on it.

What Is the Process Involved in the Body Breaking Down Heroin?

how long does heroin stay in the bodyAs an abused substance, one of the biggest concerns with chronic heroin use is that once it breaks down, it stays within the body longer than most other substances. The body breaks down or metabolizes anything taken in, so the components are better processed.

Technically, heroin is not too difficult to flush out of the system. What makes heroin so problematic is that once it is metabolized, the broken-down components tend to stay in the body for much longer than other substances.

Once broken down, heroin is often not detected in drug screenings or blood toxicology tests. Unless a specific test is conducted, the metabolites are not found and are processed by the body. The body metabolizes heroin rather quickly, breaking it down into morphine and 6-monoacetylmorphine.

Once these metabolites are absorbed into the bloodstream, the effects of heroin would peak at four to six hours, depending upon the body mass and health of the user. During these hours, the user is observed to either be in a constant state of stupor or even in a trance-like state.

How Long Does the Heroin High Last?

The length of time that heroin affects a person could be based on several factors, including:

There are people with metabolic rates that are slower than others, meaning they take longer to process and absorb substances into their bloodstream. This, however, does not really guarantee that a high achieved from any drug would last longer.

Pure heroin could prove to be quite fatal to most people. This is why it is typically “cut” with other substances. Heroin doses with higher purity will definitely give a longer high and kick in faster than doses with lower purity.

Some people have been taking either drugs or prescription medication for so long that their system builds a higher tolerance for any kind of substance. In some cases, low amounts of heroin or heroin with low purity will barely give a high to those who have been using it for quite some time.

Taking potent narcotics such as heroin with other substances such as alcohol is immensely dangerous. There have been cases where it proved to be fatal. The presence of other substances could also play a role in how long, or short, a high could be.

Binging on heroin is not unheard of. There have been cases where some users had enough heroin in their system to make their hearts stop. This could be because some believe the more heroin they take the quicker and longer their high would be. The truth here is at some point, taking more than the usual amount would only lead to death rather than a quick and long high.

There are people who do not require taking a lot of any substance to feel its potency. Some people could get drunk on a small amount of alcohol or get so high from just a small amount of drugs.

Users have generally been observed to maintain a high from heroin anywhere between four to six hours. The state of being high on heroin also causes a person to have slowed breathing and heart rate, and to be in this state for longer than six hours would definitely put a person in critical condition.

How Do People Use Heroin?

Different people often have different ways of taking heroin, and some methods have proven to be more effective in achieving a high than others, albeit in a more potentially lethal manner.

Smoking or Snorting

how do people use heroinSome take in heroin intranasally, or by snorting it into their nose, much like how cocaine is typically taken. This allows the substance to be absorbed gradually, reaching peak blood volume in about 5 minutes. Many agree the high takes longer to achieve this way, but when it hits, it stays longer.

Others burn the substance or “smoke” it, inhaling the smoke that comes from it to achieve their high. There is a common belief that this is safer as it does not result in nosebleeds, which is common amongst those who snort drugs. The truth is that smoking heroin is just as dangerous as any method and is no less addictive than any other.

Users usually experience the peak effects of heroin 10 to 15 minutes after snorting or smoking it.


Others prefer to use needles to inject heroin directly into the bloodstream. Dubbed “mainlining,” many believe this will give a faster high as it is absorbed faster. The rate of getting high is indeed faster when injected, as an intramuscular heroin injection would have a peak effect in five to eight minutes, and taken intravenously, it would only take seconds.

The danger of taking heroin by a needle is that because it is introduced directly into the blood instead of allowing the body to process it into its metabolites, many often take greater quantities to achieve a greater and longer high.

People who take powerful narcotics such as heroin aren’t exactly the type who would care what diseases they get while doing it. This is why needle users are the most vulnerable and likely to pick up contagious diseases by sharing syringes.

What Are the Tests Used To Determine Heroin Use?

Unless specifically ordered, heroin drug testing is usually done as part of a broad screening panel. The result of this initial test will then determine if there is a need to conduct a second, more specific test.

Testing for possible opioid abuse involves samples of a person’s urine, blood, saliva, and sometimes even hair and sweat. Opioid testing is a more specific type of drug test, as it checks for opioid metabolites in the testing sample.

Still, typical drug screenings detect mostly natural opioids like heroin and morphine but fail to detect the more widely used synthetic and semi-synthetic opioids. Add to this that opioids and their resulting metabolites could only be detected inside their “detection window” or when they could still be identified chemically.

Why Is Heroin Detox Essential

how long does heroin stay in the bodyDetoxification from abused substances is necessary if one wishes to have a life outside of addiction or, in severe cases, if one wishes to live at all. Heroin addiction is almost certain to lead to overdose at some point, and the statistics of heroin-related deaths are simply too high to ignore.

Heroin detox is also quite difficult, as the withdrawal symptoms of heroin addiction are quite severe. Once the patients are out of the induced stupor from prolonged use of heroin due to initial detox, they immediately seek it out once more.

For the first few days, the patient experiences agonizing pain as nerve endings and pain receptors made dull by heroin use now become active again. The pain is typically followed by days full of nausea, shivers, intense sweating, and vomiting.

The severe withdrawal symptoms are not usually expected to subside until after a full week. This is when depression, anxiety, and fatigue set in.

Considering just how severe the withdrawal symptoms are, it shows how dependent the body is on heroin and how close it is to shut down permanently. This is why it is essential to undergo detox at the soonest opportunity.

The following treatments aim to ” shore up” a person’s ability to stay the course and not relapse, as they will seek a way to calm their nerves and remove the phantom pains they feel.


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  1. Schiller EY, Goyal A, Mechanic OJ. Opioid Overdose. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 1, 2023.
  2. Perekopskiy D, Kiyatkin EA. 6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM), Not Morphine, Is Responsible for the Rapid Neural Effects Induced by Intravenous Heroin. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2019;10(8):3409-3414. doi:10.1021/acschemneuro.9b00305
  3. Peppin JF, Raffa RB, Schatman ME. The Polysubstance Overdose-Death Crisis. J Pain Res. 2020;13:3405-3408. doi:10.2147/JPR.S295715
Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Infinite RecoveryAscendant NY, The Heights Treatment, New Waters RecoveryGallus DetoxRecovery Unplugged,  Ocean RecoveryRefresh Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 1, 2023

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