How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

Heroin has been one of the most abused substances in the United States, with rates of use nearly tripling in recent years. 

Table of Contents

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illegal opioid often abused for its ability to decrease pain and increase feelings of pleasure. It is one of the most abused substances and most abused opioids, with an estimated 33% of opioid overdose deaths resulting from heroin abuse.1 For those looking to overcome a heroin addiction, it is essential to understand the facts behind this drug and discover the answer to “how long does heroin stay in your system?” 

Is Heroin Addictive?

As an opioid, heroin is highly addictive. Most addictions and substance use disorders in the United States involve heroin. Heroin impacts natural brain chemistry and can cause feelings of euphoria and pleasure that can be addictive.1   

Statistics on Heroin Use

In 2019, nearly 50,000 overdose deaths occurred due to opioid abuse, which was a significant increase from previous years. Over 14,000 of these deaths occurred due to heroin abuse – an estimated 28% of all opioid deaths for that year. This number includes heroin abuse alone and heroin abuse in tangent with the abuse of additional opioids.1  

How Addictive is Heroin?

Since heroin affects the brain directly, it is an extremely addictive substance with a high rate of abuse and addiction. A 2016 government survey showed that 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the year prior, with the number of inexperienced users doubling that reported in 2006.2  

Details About Heroin

Drug Class

Heroin is classified as an opioid, a drug made from the natural substance morphine which is derived from distinct types of poppy plants. While heroin is a natural opioid, others within this class are made synthetically, such as fentanyl.

Opioids include both legal and illegal substances, with many of the most common types being used as prescription pain relievers. They work by traveling through the body to attach to receptors in the brain, thus alternating pain perception and boosting feelings of euphoria or pleasure. 

Drug Schedule

Heroin is a Schedule I substance. Schedule I substances are illicit substances or those that are not approved for any form of medicinal use. These substances have a high risk for abuse, which can lead to severe physical and psychological addiction.

Other Schedule I substances include

  • LSD
  • Marijuana
  • Ecstasy
  • Peyote 

Street Names

Opioids are one of the oldest substances in the world, with a long, complex history dating from over three hundred years ago. Due to this fact, along with its Schedule I status, it has developed a long line of street names used to discreetly identify the substance. While heroin slang names may vary by region, some of the most common terms include

  • Dope
  • Smack
  • Junk
  • Snow
  • China white

If heroin is mixed with other substances, which is becoming a common and dangerous occurrence, it may have other names. One of the most common mixtures comprises heroin and cocaine, which may be referred to as “speedball” outside of professional settings.  

Signs of Heroin Addiction

While heroin is abused due to its ability to impact the brain, it can cause signs of addiction to manifest in other parts of the body and mind as well. Signs of heroin addiction may also appear in day-to-day life, however, such as:

  • Possession of items used in heroin abuse such as burnt spoons or needles
  • Various drug stashes
  • Wearing long-sleeves or pants even in warm weather
  • Unusual avoidance of loved ones or social events 

How Heroin Affects Your Eyes

One of the most noticeable symptoms of heroin addiction is a phenomenon known as heroin eyes. Heroin will affect the appearance of the eyes in many ways, especially with recent abuse. Some of the most common features of heroin eyes include:

  • Drooping eyelids
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Constricted (smaller) pupils 

Other Physical Symptoms

While heroin can cause a variety of issues with the eyes, other parts of the body may be affected too. These physical heroin symptoms can be either short- or long-term, and they may vary in severity based on the individual and the dose.

Other physical symptoms of heroin use include:

  • Weight loss
  • Skin irritation as a result of damage
  • Scabs
  • Dry mouth
  • Signs of injection wounds or “tracks”
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Constricted pupils
  • Extreme itching
  • Shortness of breath 

Behavioral Symptoms 

Chronic heroin abuse and heroin addiction can also influence an individual’s behaviors. Often, behavioral and personality changes will be highly notable, especially in situations with close relationships.

The behavioral symptoms of heroin addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Decreased personal hygiene
  • Inability to fulfill responsibilities
  • Increased sleeping
  • Apathy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decline in performance 

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

How long heroin stays in the system determines how long it will be able to be detected and which heroin detection test may work best. Duration varies between individuals due to the many factors that determine the longevity of heroin in the body. 

Heroin Half-Life

A half-life is the amount of time it takes for the body to eliminate exactly half of the concentrated substance present in the body. Since different parts of the body may eliminate different substances and wastes at different rates, the half-life of heroin can vary depending on the region tested.

While heroin’s effects may impact the body and mind longer than other substances, its half-life is only thirty minutes. This fact means that thirty minutes after use, it can be expected for the body to have eliminated half of the original dose. 

Factors that Affect Detection Time

Outside of the half-life of heroin, many factors can affect how long the substance is detectable within the body. These tend to cause variations in individuals.  

Body Fat Content

Studies have shown that individuals with higher body fat content will retain the presence of a substance longer.3

A higher body fat content indicates a larger amount of adipose tissue, which acts as insulation in the body. When this type of tissue is in higher amounts, it can increase the time needed for the substance to absorb, which increases the period that heroin is detectable. 

Weight and Height

Higher weights tend to maintain a larger amount of tissue, meaning that it can take longer for the substance, which is traveling through the blood to fully absorb into the tissue. If the rate of absorption is slowed, so is the rate of elimination, as it will take longer for the body to process the substance.

This aspect is the same for height, as there is a larger distance for blood to travel to allow the substance to fully saturate into all tissues compared to those with shorter heights. 

Age

Age can impact the body’s ability to process and eliminate substances, which is one reason why pathophysiology in the liver, blood, and other key transportation systems is so common with older ages. It can also impact the speed at which heroin is processed, making it detectable for longer.  

Metabolism Speed

Metabolism dedicates many other important factors and their efficacy. A slow metabolism can impact how long heroin lingers in one’s system. 

Size of the Last Dose Taken

The body operates at a single speed of metabolism that is unique to each individual and their overall physiological makeup at. As a result, larger doses will take more time to process than smaller doses as the body processes the substance. 

Timeline of Abuse 

Chronic heroin abuse and addiction can change the way the body functions. It can impact liver health and reduce metabolism speed by impacting overall health, which causes the body to retain substances for longer. Regular abuse with larger, frequent doses will also take additional time to eliminate. 

Liver Health

The liver is one of the key aspects of waste removal from the body. A healthy liver will be able to remove waste, including substances, more efficiently than a liver with significant damage.

Liver damage is also a negative effect of regular heroin abuse, however, so chronic use can impact the liver’s ability to eliminate the substance.4  

Heroin Detection Test

There are several tests available that can detect the presence of heroin in the body at different points in time. While some tests only offer a brief window of detection, usually a few hours after the last dose, others may be able to span months.

  • Urine: Urine drug tests are common detection methods. They can detect the presence of heroin up to seventy-two hours from the last dose.
  • Hair: Hair tests have the longest period of detection and can show heroin usage up to ninety days after the last dosage.
  • Blood: Blood tests will only demonstrate the presence of a substance a few hours after the last dosage.
  • Saliva: Substances are eliminated from blood and saliva at the quickest rate compared to other tests. Saliva tests are rapid, inexpensive detection tests but will only detect the presence of a substance a few hours after the last dosage.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction at Blueprints for Recovery 

Long-term drug abuse as a result of heroin addiction can introduce several negative effects that impact the daily quality of life through both physical and psychological side effects. However, quality of life can be restored by seeking treatment for heroin addiction. Blueprints for Recovery offers several treatment options for individuals with substance abuse disorders, including inpatient and outpatient care. 

Detox

For many patients, detoxification, or detox, is the first step to treating heroin addiction. Detox allows the body time to fully metabolize and eliminate all traces of the substance in the body without any additional doses being administered.

Detox should take place in a medical setting under the guidance of a health professional. Not only can detox lead to a period of discomfort known as withdrawal with various psychological and physical symptoms but it can also be dangerous if not completed correctly. Some substances required a tapering dose during withdrawal, as a sudden stop in usage can lead to seizures. 

Therapies

Therapy and counseling can be a beneficial form of treatment when treating substance use disorders. While formats and focus may vary between different types of therapies, all share the ability to approach heroin addiction from a multifaceted perspective.

One of the most common therapies utilized in the treatment of addiction is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, also known as CBT. CBT helps correct the reward pathway rewiring that occurs with drug use by reestablishing the connection between thoughts and behaviors.

There is also an integrative treatment that combines multiple forms of treatment to maximum multifaceted benefits. In integrative recovery, various therapies can provide the utmost mental care available. 

MAT

Medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is a form of treatment for substance abuse and heroin addiction that uses prescription medication as directed by professional guidance to boost the rates of a successful, long-term recovery.

While medication may help alleviate the discomfort associated with withdrawal, it can also be used to reduce the addictiveness of heroin by reducing its ability to impact the brain and body. 

Inpatient Care

Inpatient care involves seeking treatment in a rehabilitation center. This stay can be either long-term or short-term stay and provides a safe, secure environment with immediate access to medical opportunities. Inpatient care is often followed by outpatient care. 

Outpatient Care

Outpatient care provides regular access to treatment while still allowing the patient to continue with their daily life. This care is essential as it makes treatment more accessible by reducing how much rescheduling is needed to fit appointments into an everyday routine. It also allows for the immediate exercise of learned skills and coping mechanisms.

Outpatient care can consist of many forms of treatment, including therapy and support groups. 

Resources

If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
(888) 744-9969 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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