What Are the Effects of a Heroin High?

Quite often, people who have experimented with other drugs are curious about what the heroin high feels like. The high comes with feelings of euphoria, which is one of the main reasons people who use heroin give for taking this dangerous drug. However, it comes with many adverse effects as well, which many who use it for the first time find very unpleasant.

Effects of being high on heroin
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell

The Heroin High

For many people who take this substance, heroin is more about avoiding or numbing pain than feeling good. Compared to other drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and meth, heroin is taken less for recreational and social reasons and more for self-medication.

Heroin has a high association with co-morbid anxiety and depression, which may suggest that people take this substance to help them cope with the symptoms of a mental health condition.

After a hit of heroin, a variety of chemical changes flood the brain, instantly giving people a feeling of intense pleasure. This rush of euphoria feels very important to those who do not feel good in the first place. This is despite the rebound effect, which actually worsens unpleasant feelings over time.

The heroin high creates changes to thoughts, feelings, and sensations as well. These are caused by the drug's effects on the brain and nervous system. Other changes are dependent on the personal background and expectations of the person taking it. For this reason, one person might find the effects to be unbearable, while another might feel relief and pleasure from the same effects.


Often when a person who takes heroin seeks a high, they want to feel euphoria, a pleasurable sensation caused by changes in the brain. For this reason, heroin can appeal to people with depression or anxiety. It's also common among people dealing with unhappy circumstances, such as those living in poverty or someone who had an abusive childhood.

False Feelings

People who use heroin describe sensations of warmth and safety while they are high. This may be despite the fact that, in reality, they are anything but safe or warm.

This is why heroin can be so appealing to people living in unsafe surroundings, including those who are homeless. When sleeping on the streets on a cold night, a hit of heroin can make it possible to relax and get some rest. However, the risks of developing hypothermia or pneumonia will still be present.

At lower doses, heroin can make a person feel calmer, less tense and lonely, and more accepting of those around them. It may help reduce the kind of anxiety that is natural to experience in certain settings.

At higher doses, people often disconnect from those around them, experiencing a kind of floating, dream-like state. This can be a relief for someone with a high level of anxiety or depression, or those who feel alienated from the people and world around them.

For someone who is more grounded, this state can be unpleasant and disorienting. They may not want to repeat the experience.

Pain Relief

Heroin is an opiate and can offer pain-relieving properties, just like a prescription opioid medication. The first few times heroin is used, it is very effective in reducing or eliminating both physical and emotional pain.

This aspect can make it particularly appealing to people who have chronic pain. For instance, someone who has ongoing pain from a current or former injury or is unable to obtain proper medication for an illness might resort to heroin use for relief.

The same is true for individuals who are dealing with or have dealt with, severe emotional trauma. People in desperation might use heroin as a form of self-medication as a way to decrease the emotional and mental distress associated with past abuse or painful experiences.

Dangerous Effects

Many people find heroin very unpleasant the first time they take it and never do it again. The effects that heroin has on the nervous system can cause immediate vomiting. When combined with suppressed breathing and the coughing reflex, this increases the risk of choking. Heroin can also cause constipation.

Heroin tends to reduce sex drive and the ability to have an orgasm.

Fillers and other drugs are often mixed with what is sold as heroin. The amount of actual heroin is unpredictable, so it is impossible to know whether any given dose will be strong or weak. This significantly increases the chances of overdose.


Heroin always carries a very high risk of death by overdose. This risk does not decrease with experience because the body develops a tolerance to it very quickly. Changes in body weight, the route of administration, and periods of abstinence or reduced use also affect how much the body can cope with.

Recently, the risk of dying from an overdose of heroin has risen greatly. This is because heroin and other street drugs are often cut with fentanyl, another opiate that is 50 to 100 times stronger.

A heroin overdose can be reversed if treated quickly. Call 911 if you think you or someone else has overdosed on heroin, and ask for an ambulance. Keep the user awake and tell the paramedic that heroin has been taken. Administer Narcan (naloxone) if available.

Harm Reduction

The harms associated with heroin use are potentially deadly. If you inject heroin, find a needle exchange and use clean ones every time. Do not share needles, even if you feel you know the other person well. Always use a condom when you have sex.

Heroin Addiction

Some people are able to manage controlled heroin use. For those with long-standing emotional problems, a history of trauma, chronic pain, or a disadvantaged lifestyle, the risk of addiction to heroin is very high.

If this describes your situation, and you are experiencing peer pressure to try heroin, it would be wise to avoid it. Instead, try to find connections to other people, perhaps through shared interests. You can also reach out for support through community agencies and look for opportunities to move somewhere else.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

There is a high degree of comorbidity between substance use and other mental health conditions. Getting therapy can help with any emotional or physical issues you may have, even before you develop an addiction.

Avoiding the use of drugs for self-medication purposes can lead to the ability to build a better life and work through these issues in healthy ways. This is something that is very difficult for people who are addicted to heroin.

A Word From Verywell

There is a lot of help available to people who use heroin. Treatments exist and others are being developed that lessen the distress of heroin addiction and withdrawal. Talk to your doctor or a local health agency to find out what is available to you.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Misailidi N, Papoutsis I, Nikolaou P, et al. Fentanyls continue to replace heroin in the drug arena: the cases of ocfentanil and carfentanil. Forensic Toxicol. 2018;36:12. doi:10.1007/s11419-017-0379-4

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  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Comorbidity: Substance Use Disorders and Other Mental Illnesses.

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. American Psychiatric Association. 2013.

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.