Heroin addiction is an extremely harmful and destructive disease. But how long does heroin stay in your system after you use it? And how long after use can it be detected using a drug test?

A Brief History of Heroin

Heroin, a powerful opiate-based drug, has been around since the 1890s and has an interesting history. Opium poppies have been grown in the Middle East for thousands of years, and opium, made from the seeds of the poppy plant, spread throughout the world more than five centuries ago.

In the 1800s, a French pharmacist named Friedrich Serturner was able to isolate one of the active ingredients of opium, morphine and turn it into heroin. Initially, this was a widely used medication for the treatment of pain. It was also used to treat opium addiction before people realised how addictive the morphine itself could become.

In the 1870s, an English chemist named Charles Romley Alder Wright experimented with combining morphine and various acids. His work produced a chemical called diacetylmorphine, alternatively known as heroin.  It has a similar structure to morphine but is more than twice as strong. The drug that Alder Wright produced may be very effective for pain relief, but it is highly addictive and causes a multitude of mental health problems, including depression.


The Impact of Heroin Addiction Today

Heroin addiction today is a significant problem many countries face, and the dangers of heroin are more pronounced than ever, meaning that understanding heroin’s history and its lasting effects on the body is more essential than ever.

This increase in heroin use has had a significant impact on communities everywhere. Families face heartbreaking situations, with loved ones struggling with addiction or losing their lives. Towns and cities across the UK, no matter how big or small, are feeling the effects. It’s a reminder of how one drug, discovered actually to help people, can lead to widespread challenges that society has to address. Efforts are ongoing to find ways to help those affected, be it through heroin addiction prevention, support, or treatment.


How Long Do the Effects of Heroin Last?

Heroin is an extremely powerful opiate-based drug, which means that it produces an intense high. The intensity of the high might not last that long, but a fix’s full physical and mental health effects can last for several hours. When you inject heroin directly into your body, it produces a feeling of euphoria within seconds, but when you smoke heroin, the euphoric feeling takes about 10 to 15 minutes to develop.

Other than euphoria, addicts using heroin regularly will experience a number of physical sensations like warm flushes, heavy limbs and a dryness of the mouth. As your heroin intake increases and your body becomes more addicted to the drug, you will need to take increasingly higher doses to experience the euphoric effects of the drug, but if you take too much, you will overdose.

Those who suffer from severe heroin addiction usually reach a point in their drug addiction where their bodies are so physically dependent on the drug that they have to keep taking it not to feel euphoric but to avoid suffering from the terrible symptoms of heroin withdrawal.


How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System, and How Is It Detected Through Testing?

Heroin has an extremely short half-life, and it only stays in your system for approximately 30 minutes or less. Heroin rapidly breaks down into morphine and 6-monoacetylmoprhine (6-MAM). This makes drug testing for heroin difficult. But while it is difficult for most drug tests to detect heroin in your system, the presence of heroin metabolites in the body is an indication of recent heroin use.

Morphine and 6-MAM can be detected in the body by most standard drug tests for up to three days. 6-MAM can be identified in a urine test for approximately 2 to 7 days after heroin was last administered. Heroin can also be detected in saliva for 24 to 36 hours. For blood tests, heroin can typically be detected for at least 1 to 2 days.

Heroin contains trace amounts of acetyl codeine, and testing for a combination of morphine and codeine in your urine can be an indicator of recent heroin use. The ratio of morphine to codeine in the urine can help lab technicians ascertain whether an addict has taken heroin or codeine.

Hair samples are also used to test for heroin and opioid drugs in a person’s system. Hair sample tests can detect long-term drug use, with detection possible in certain hair samples for approximately 90 days or longer, depending on when the hair was cut last.

So, to summarise the above:

  • Hair – 3 months or more.
  • Saliva – 1 to 2 days.
  • Blood – 1 to 2 days.
  • Urine – 1 to 7 days.


Factors That Can Interfere With Drug Screening for Heroin

Opioids are metabolised differently by different people and will remain in some people’s systems for a longer period than others. Your weight, height, body fat percentage, age, overall health and levels of physical activity all play a role in how your body metabolises drugs.

Besides your physicality, the time that it takes your body to metabolise heroin can vary depending and also depend on a number of other factors, including the amount of the drug that you took, the length of time that you have been abusing heroin, the frequency of your heroin use and the severity of your addiction to heroin.

The method of using heroin, whether it’s injected, snorted, or smoked, also affects its detectability. Consuming multiple drugs or having impaired liver or kidney function can extend the presence of heroin in the system. Additionally, as mentioned above, the method of testing matters. For example, hair tests can detect drug use for much longer durations than urine tests.

External factors, such as the sensitivity of the drug test and how the biological samples are stored, play a role in test accuracy. Hydration levels, where being either too dehydrated or drinking excessive water, can influence test results. Also, while rare, passive exposure to drugs, like being in a room where heroin is smoked, might lead to trace detections.


An Overview of Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

One of the hardest things about drug rehab is the detox and withdrawal process. Heroin withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, and the symptoms usually last for approximately a week. Heroin withdrawal typically follows a predictable pattern, and since the drug has a short half-life, withdrawal symptoms are typically experienced within 6 to 12 hours of the last fix.

They are at their worst within 2 to 3 days, lasting between five and ten days. The severity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on a number of factors, including the length, severity, and frequency of your heroin addiction. During detox from drug abuse, your withdrawal symptoms can include sweating, muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia.

Heroin detox often means that the withdrawal symptoms can be severe and intense. Because detoxing from heroin is so difficult, it should never be done cold turkey or without some form of medical help or support.

Most residential rehab facilities offer medically assisted detox for heroin addicts. During this process, you will be under 24-hour medical supervision and will be administered prescription medications to lessen the severity of the withdrawal symptoms and help wean your body off heroin. For most heroin users, medically assisted detox is the most effective way to start the rehab process.


Find Help and Support for Heroin addiction Today

The most effective way to overcome addiction and substance abuse is to seek professional help and enter a residential rehab programme. At Ocean Recovery Centre, we combine comfortable accommodation with a carefully developed therapy programme. Using this approach, we have helped thousands of people rebuild their lives and achieve lasting recovery. Contact us today to find out how we can help you.

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John Gillen - Author - Last updated: October 18, 2023

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.