If you’ve never used heroin, you may wonder what a heroin high is like. The fact is, heroin highs are short-lived compared to the deadly impacts of heroin use.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Curiosity is what leads many people to try heroin, and then they quickly get hooked on the drug.  
  • A heroin high starts off with a rush of euphoria and false sense of escape.  
  • Some people have adverse first reactions to heroin, or the positive effects are short-lived. 
  • A heroin high typically lasts 15 to 30 minutes. 
  • After the first few minutes of a heroin high, a person often feels drowsy and sluggish for a few hours. 

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is one of the most deadly, potent and addictive drugs in the U.S. Many people who experience a heroin high say they became addicted after only one use. Heroin is a part of the opioid epidemic currently impacting the U.S. — about 15,000 people die every year from heroin overdoses, making it a key contributor to overdose deaths in the United States. Heroin also can lead to other health risks, such as an increased risk of contracting HIV through contaminated needles.

Those who have never used heroin may wonder what a heroin high is like, or a person who has a loved one that struggles with heroin may wonder about the symptoms and effects of a heroin high.

What Does Heroin Feel Like?

Curiosity about the effects of heroin use can lead someone to try the drug. People who misuse prescription opioids sometimes transition to heroin because it could be cheaper, more available or more potent.

So, what is the “heroin high” like? What is it that causes an addiction to develop so easily?

When someone first uses heroin, the high is often pleasurable. A rush of euphoria and a false sense of well-being can also come with a relief of pain, anxiety and depression. A heroin high can feel like an escape, and is often used as a recreational drug or a method of self-medication. Other feelings often associated with a heroin high include a sense of safety and well-being, despite the actual surroundings or environment.

Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in a release of endorphins that causes the high. This sensation leads to changes in feelings, thoughts and sensations. While most people feel the initial heroin high is pleasant, some may have negative experiences, but this depends on the individual.

The reason people want to experience a high from heroin is because of the euphoria it can bring, especially if they might not otherwise feel pleasure often due to depression or other conditions.

Heroin High Symptoms

If you know someone who is using heroin, you may wonder what the heroin high symptoms are. The main symptom of a heroin high is an unnatural sense of happiness or well-being. There are also many other symptoms of heroin intoxication that can accompany a heroin high. These can include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed, warm skin
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion or clouded thinking
  • Severe itchiness
  • Shifting in and out of semi-consciousness
  • Slowed breathing
  • Coma
  • Absent breathing, leading to death

Following the euphoric rush of using heroin, people will become sleepy while intoxicated, so they may seem extremely drowsy, or they could nod off. People who use heroin are often known to fall asleep anywhere at any time.

What Does Nodding Off Mean?

Nodding off can refer to falling asleep, but in the context of using heroin, it is much more serious. “Nodding off” refers to drifting in and out of consciousness. This is particularly dangerous as it indicates someone is on the edge of a life-threatening overdose. There is a possibility that someone may not return to consciousness when drifting into unconsciousness.

Heroin High Effects

Heroin intoxication that occurs during a heroin high can lead to overdose and death relatively easily. First, while someone is experiencing heroin high effects, they’re also experiencing changes in how their brain is functioning. This is what causes changes in mood and perception.

When heroin enters the brain, it is converted into morphine before binding to the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. That’s why the heroin high effects include euphoria and pleasure. When heroin binds to the opioid receptors, the rush of feel-good dopamine is much higher than what you could experience from natural pleasure.

The euphoric rush and other effects are short-lived, but during the high, heroin intoxication can cause extreme drowsiness, leading the person to slip in and out of consciousness or nod off.

Heroin High Feeling

The heroin high feeling begins with extreme euphoria and an unnatural sense of pleasure. As the high occurs and afterward, heroin intoxication can cause drowsiness and nodding off. It can also induce mental sluggishness, which can outwardly show as slow or slurred speech, and confusion. People who experience a heroin high may also feel warmth, relaxation and coziness.

The heroin high feeling that users describe as pleasurable is unlikely to continue with the same effects as a person builds a tolerance to the drug. Eventually, someone who uses heroin may continue to do so solely to avoid withdrawal, rather than to get high.

How Long Does a Heroin High Last?

So, how long do heroin highs last? A heroin high begins relatively quickly after the drug is used, but feelings of pleasure and euphoria usually peak within a few minutes and only last up to a couple of hours. The length of a heroin high is influenced by many factors and can be much shorter or non-existent for someone who is beginning to develop a tolerance for heroin. The feelings of drowsiness and sluggishness that follow the initial heroin high can last several hours.

The length of a heroin high can also depend on the method of use. For example, the high is more intense when someone smokes or injects heroin, but it lasts longer compared to when the drug is snorted. When heroin is snorted, the high may be less intense but could last longer.

However long it lasts, the heroin high is short-lived compared to the long-term, deadly outcomes of heroin use. If you or a loved one live with addiction or are using drugs recreationally and want to stop, The Recovery Village can help. Reach out to one of our representatives today to learn how you can start your path to recovery.

Erica Weiman
Editor – Erica Weiman
Erica Weiman graduated from Pace University in 2014 with a master's in Publishing and has been writing and editing ever since. Read more
Dr. Obianuju Helen Okoye
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Obianuju Helen Okoye, MD, MBA, MS-Epi
Dr Helen Okoye is a highly accomplished and sought after American Public Health Physician with a medical degree (MD), an MBA in Healthcare Management, and a master's in Epidemiology/Public Health. Read more
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Habal, R. “What are the mortality rates of heroin toxicity?” Medscape, December 31, 2020. Accessed February 9, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin.” Accessed February 9, 2022.

Weiss, L; Gass, J; et al. “Understanding Prolonged Cessation From Heroin Use: Findings From a Community-Based Sample.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. June 2014. Accessed February 9, 2022.

National Library of Medicine. “Heroin.” MedlinePlus, August 2, 2021. Accessed February 9, 2022.

Gottås, A; Øiestad, EL;  et al. “Levels of heroin and its metabolites in blood and brain extracellular fluid after i.v. heroin administration to freely moving rats.” British Journal of Pharmacology, October 2013. Accessed February 9, 2022.

Tschacher, W; Haemmig, R; et al. “Time series modeling of heroin and morphine drug action.” Psychopharmacology, January 2003. Accessed February 9, 2022.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.