Heroin Overdose

Heroin addiction is on the rise and understanding how to recognize the symptoms of heroin overdose can save lives. Keep reading to learn more about overdosing on heroin.

Understanding the Dangers of Heroin

Heroin is a highly addictive and dangerous opioid substance. In fact, an overdose can be fatal. When someone becomes addicted to heroin, they might develop a tolerance for the drug and a dependence on heroin over time. When this happens, the risk of an overdose increases.


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What Does a Heroin Overdose Look Like?

While an overdose does not always look the same for everyone, there are some common signs of heroin overdose. Someone who is experiencing an overdose from opioids may exhibit bluish skin, a limp body, a lack of full consciousness, vomiting, slow breathing, paleness, and clammy skin.1

What Happens During a Heroin Overdose?

When an individual is experiencing an opioid heroin overdose, the large dosage of heroin depresses their heart rate and breathing rate to a point where the person cannot be revived without medical treatment. This can have damaging effects to the brain and body. In the most severe of circumstances, an overdose will result in death.

How Long Does It Take to Overdose on Heroin?

It does not take long to overdose on heroin. In fact, someone can overdose in as little as ten minutes after the individual uses heroin. If an individual notices overdose symptoms, they should call 911 immediately.

Is a Heroin Overdose Painful?

An overdose caused by heroin can impact a person’s ability to breathe for a long period of time. In fact, an overdose might cause fluid to flow into a person’s lungs, resulting in pain when they breathe. This issue can lead to even more symptoms of a heroin overdose, like becoming unconscious, falling, and hitting their head.1

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

An opioid heroin overdose is one of the many signs and symptoms of heroin addiction, but it’s not the only one. There are many other symptoms of a heroin addiction, all of which are generally categorized as either short-term or long-term effects of heroin.

Short-Term Effects

One of the most recognized short-term effects of heroin is the feeling of pleasure, also known as a rush. The intensity of a heroin-induced rush will typically depend on how much of the drug is taken and how quickly the drug binds to the opioid receptors after it passes into the brain.

The rush usually causes feelings of internal warmth that flushes across the skin. Dry mouth and a heaviness in a person’s arms and legs often coincide with the rush as well. Nausea, vomiting, and severe itching can also occur.

After these immediate effects set in, an individual may experience other effects that take place a couple of hours later. These issues include the following:2

Long-Term Effects

The side effects of long-term heroin use cause severely negative consequences. In fact, repeated use of heroin can change structures in the brain. From there, irreversible imbalances can take present themselves.

For instance, some studies have shown that repeated heroin use can deteriorate white matter, which is a type of tissue in the brain. From there, a person’s decision-making abilities will be impacted, as well as their ability to regulate behavior or respond to stressful situations.

Tolerance is also an issue stemming from long-term heroin use. People develop a tolerance to heroin when they need to take more of a substance in order to experience the same rush that they felt the first few times that they used it. Tolerance can also play a role in overdoses because people will take more heroin to reap the sensation that they initially enjoyed, but this increase in dosage can result in them taking more than their body can handle.2

Heroin Overdose Statistics

Heroin overdose

In 2016, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 948,000 Americans used heroin within the past year. The rate of heroin use and the heroin addiction rate have both been on the rise lately. The drug is most popular amongst adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five.2

In 2019 alone, more than 14,000 people died from a drug overdose that involved heroin. While overdose death rates have decreased by over 6% between 2018 and 2019, nearly one-third of all overdose deaths from opioids are caused by heroin in particular.3

Heroin Overdose Statistics by State

While overdose statistics differ from one state to the next, it is important to recognize that there has been an increase in overdose deaths in California, New Mexico, and Mississippi. In more than half of the remaining United States, the rates of overdose have remained stable.

Thankfully, the death rates have not increased within the past couple of years for those states. Even so, the rates of heroin overdose deaths are seven times greater than it was in 1999.3

Factors that Affect Heroin Use

There are many factors that affect heroin use, including protective factors and risk factors. Some factors that may increase the risk that an individual misuses heroin include the following:

However, there are factors that help protect against the misuse of substances:4

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Overdose

It’s important to know how to recognize the signs of an opioid heroin overdose because doing so could help you save someone’s life. Overdosing on heroin can be fatal, so knowing what to watch for and how to help is important.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin overdose effects can be severe, and sometimes, they can even result in a fatal heroin overdose. However, many people choose to quit taking heroin and save themselves from the possibility of an experiencing an overdose.

However, withdrawing from heroin is not an easy feat to tackle. While heroin withdrawal will be different for everyone who endures it, the experience is often difficult. Some of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include the following:4

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Heroin withdrawal typically starts anywhere from eight to twenty-four hours after the last time a person uses heroin. However, the symptoms of withdrawal stick around four to ten days on average.

In certain instances, heroin withdrawal effects can transpire for a couple of weeks on end. While the onset of short-term heroin withdrawal symptoms may start immediately, psychological and digestive problems typically begin within seventy-two hours after taking the drug.4

Factors That Affect Heroin Withdrawal

Not everyone experiences withdrawal in the same way. Certain factors will affect the way that heroin withdrawal feels, like how many years the individual has been smoking heroin for, their tolerance level, and how often the individual uses heroin.5

Heroin Overdose Common Symptoms

There are a handful of specific signs that point to a potential overdose stemming from too much heroin. These opioid heroin overdose symptoms include the following:6

Heroin Overdose Death Symptoms

A smoking heroin overdose, which is a drug overdose linked to a specific way of consuming heroin, shares similar characteristics with a typical overdose caused by heroin. However, the death symptoms are much more serious for an overdose because more of the opioid overdose symptoms are fatal.

Symptoms often include the following:
If overdose symptoms are present, it is important to remain calm and call 911. Luckily, there is a heroin overdose medicine called naloxone. This heroin overdose antidote works quickly, and it’s known to reverse the opioid overdose if administered in time.

Overdose Causes and Effects

Opioid overdose is generally caused when the amount of heroin that enters the body is too much for the brain to process or handle. The effects that an overdose-level of heroin has can be fatal, and long-term consequences will likely follow the consumption of that much heroin.

What Causes an Overdose?

Opioid overdose is dangerous, primarily because it is a deadly consequence of using heroin. A large dose of heroin can depress the heart rate and lower the breathing rate to the point where an individual cannot survive without medical intervention. Without immediate administration of the overdose medicine, drug overdose is more likely to be fatal.

Effects of Overdose Heroin

If an individual is experiencing the effects of overdose heroin, it is important that they receive medical attention or life-saving medication immediately. By seeking the assistance of medical professionals, the individual has a greater chance of making a recovery.
However, without treating the cause of the overdose and the behavior that led to the overdose, the outcome may be fatal. Overdose effects can be very scary, and the long-term effects of a heroine overdose can result in lifelong damage to the liver, heart, and lungs.

Treatment for Heroin Abuse

Treatment for Heroin Abuse
There are several treatment options for people experiencing heroin abuse. Not only is medication a main player in the treatment process of heroin abuse, but a professional detox and behavioral therapy are great options. These additional treatment options can help the individual learn how to cope with the behaviors that perpetuate their heroin addiction.


While medications are not necessarily used as a treatment method, they can help an individual who is going through heroin withdrawal period. Since heroin withdrawal comes with several physical and psychological impacts, the use of medication can mitigate those effects and assist the individual as they recover from a heroin addiction.


Also known as detoxification, a heroin detox refers to the stage in the recovery process where heroin leaves someone’s body. Heroin detox can be an unpleasant experience as it causes several negative side effects. However, by visiting a heroin rehab center, people can receive the help they need directly from psychological professionals.


Therapy is a way for individuals to learn how to cope with their heroin abuse. Two common types of therapy that can help people with heroin addictions include contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy. Attending any of the therapies out there can give individuals the skills they need to cope with daily life. Plus, they will better understand the scope of their heroin addiction and how to help themselves.

Need Help?

If you or a loved one are seeking treatment for heroin addiction, it is best to attend a heroin addiction treatment center and seek out heroin overdose treatment. Since treatment is the best way to prevent heroin overdoses in the first place, finding the right heroin rehab center is crucial.

People in search of treatment for heroin abuse can expect to attend behavioral therapies and work with professionals whose goal is to help them overcome heroin withdrawal. Ultimately, people will learn how to cope with their addiction so that they can seek out healthy coping mechanisms and avoid furthering their heroin addiction.