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 stays in the body should scare more people into not trying it at all. Heroin can be detected in urine for 48 hours (and sometimes up to 7 days) and in blood and saliva for up to 2 days. It can be detected in hair follicles for up to three months from the last date of use.

Learn more about what heroin is, the side effects associated with it, and which treatments are available.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive 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. Since heroin is an opioid, it binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, which are responsible for feelings of pleasure and pain.

What are the Effects of Using Heroin?

Individuals with a heroin addiction will experience a combination of the below side effects:

  • Intense itching
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm skin
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slowed breathing
  • Changes in sleep
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Mental health issues
  • Risk of potential diseases, such as liver and kidney disease
  • And others
how long does heroin stay in the body

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How Long Does Heroin Stay in the Body?

Heroin can be detected in the body for several days or months, depending on the test used to detect it:

  • Urine: 48 hours, with some tests showing up to 7 days
  • Blood: Anywhere from 5 to 6 hours or up to 2 days, depending on the specific test
  • Saliva: 5 to 6 hours or up to 2 days with specific tests
  • Hair Follicles: Up to 3 months

The half-life of heroin is only 30 minutes, so after a person takes a single dose, half the drug will be flushed out of their system within 30 minutes or less. But the remaining amount of the drug can last for much longer (as mentioned above). As 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 stay in the body for much longer than other substances – oftentimes for days.

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.


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

Metabolic Rate of the Person

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.

Effects of Meth on the Brain

As previously mentioned, methamphetamines increase the amount of dopamine in the brain. This neurotransmitter is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward, which is why meth users feel euphoric when they use the drug. However, meth also affects other neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine.

These two transmitters are responsible for regulating mood, sleep, and appetite. That’s why meth users often experience drastic mood swings, insomnia, and decreased appetite.

Concerningly, long-term meth use can cause serious damage to the brain, including memory loss, mood swings, and psychotic symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations. Meth also damages the heart, liver, and kidneys. In some cases, meth use can lead to death.

Purity of the Heroin Taken

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.

Tolerance Level of the Person

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.

Use of Other Substances

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.

Quantity Taken

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.

Genetic Predisposition

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

Some 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.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Options: Why is Heroin Detox Essential

Detoxification 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 during heroin medical detox, the patient experiences agonizing pain as nerve endings and pain receptors made dull by heroin use 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 shutting down permanently. This is why it is essential to undergo detox at the soonest opportunity.

Heroin Detox Is a Monumental Task – Get Help Today

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Medically Reviewed By

Nicole Rettino-Lambert LCSW, LCADC, CCS, CCTP, CSTIP

Nicole Rettino-Lambert is a dually licensed clinician with over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults in both addiction treatment and mental health treatment. Along with extensive experience in clinical work, she has held leadership roles in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatments centers in New Jersey. Throughout her various leadership positions, Rettino-Lambert has developed clinical programming, assisted staff in their growth and development in the clinical field, and had the privilege of helping numerous individuals on their path to recovery.

As a clinician, Rettino-Lambert specializes in addiction trauma, mental health, self-harm behaviors, anxiety, intimacy issues, sex addiction, and personality disorders. She holds certifications as a clinical trauma professional and sex informed professional. Her passion and purpose as a clinician are to help individuals find their voice, purpose, and motivation through their recovery. She takes pride in being part of the process that helps those who are fighting for their lives to achieve both sobriety and wellness.In her role as a Clinical Director at Achieve Wellness and Recovery, Rettino-Lambert works tirelessly to ensure that her staff feels supported in their roles, continues their clinical growth and development, and is empowered to become the best versions of themselves. She firmly believes that all the staff are an essential part of clients’ recovery journey and that they deserve continuous compassion, empathy, acknowledgment, and support from leadership.

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