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Snorting Heroin: Effects, Risks, and Treatment

Snorting heroin poses numerous dangers to your health and well-being.1 If you or someone you care about snorts heroin, knowing the risks and effects can help you make an informed decision about your health and substance misuse. This article will help you learn more about the risks and effects of snorting heroin and how to find treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD).

Snorting Heroin

There are several ways to take heroin, including injecting, smoking, and snorting the drug. People can also mix heroin with cocaine, a practice known as speedballing.1 As with other opioids, people snort heroin by inhaling the powdered form of the drug into their nasal passages.2

Compared with other methods of administration, snorting heroin leads to a slower onset of effects, which typically occur within minutes, as opposed to the almost instant effects that occur when heroin is injected or smoked.3

Why Heroin Is Snorted

People may snort heroin for different reasons. Some people perceive snorting heroin as safer than injecting or smoking the drug and view this method as an easier way to use it.3 Others may think they have a reduced chance of getting an infection by snorting heroin or that snorting heroin carries less stigma than injecting.3

Effects and Risks of Snorting Heroin

Snorting heroin can cause the drug to be rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream, resulting in more intense intoxication compared to other routes of administration.3, 4 While the signs of snorting heroin may not always be obvious, chronic heroin use can lead to several complications, including:2, 4

  • Sinusitis (e.g., inflammation of the nasal tissue).
  • Damage to the nasal mucosa.
  • Perforated nasal septum (e.g., the tissue separating the nasal passages).

Snorting heroin may also increase the likelihood of an escalating pattern of substance use, potentially leading to physical dependence and withdrawal.4 Heroin withdrawal can occur when a person physically dependent on the drug abruptly reduces or stop use.2 Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:4

  • Low mood.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Teary eyes or runny nose.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Sweating.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Yawning.
  • Fever.
  • Insomnia.

No matter how heroin is used, all heroin use can increase the risk of overdose, which can be life-threatening.2 Heroin is highly addictive, and its use can lead to the development of an opioid use disorder (OUD), characterized by loss of control of opioid use, risky opioid use, impaired social functioning, tolerance, and withdrawal.5

Other Ways Heroin Is Used

Any heroin use is dangerous and can cause harmful effects. However, the effects of heroin misuse often can be influenced by the method of administration.5 Risks and effects of injecting heroin can include sclerosis (e.g., scarring of the veins) and needle marks, which can occur wherever heroin is injected. Injecting heroin can cause edema (e.g., swelling due to fluid accumulation) in the feet and hands, abscesses, and cellulitis, and can increase a person’s risk of heart and liver problems and infections such as HIV/AIDs and hepatitis B and C.4, 5 Smoking heroin can increase a person’s risk of respiratory problems, such as bronchitis, chronic cough, and pneumonitis.4

Heroin Addiction Treatment

Opioid use disorder (OUD) is often treated with a combination of behavioral therapy, counseling, and medication.1 Many patients start the recovery process with supervised medical detox, which provides 24-hour care, monitoring, and support during this difficult time.6 Patients may receive medications (e.g., methadone or lofexidine) to ease withdrawal symptoms while medical professionals can address any potential complications. This can help patients stay as comfortable and safe as possible while their body returns to a substance-free state.2, 6

After detox, patients are encouraged to participate in ongoing treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting to optimize their recovery efforts and address the issues that may have contributed to their addiction.7 Ongoing treatment for OUD may include relapse prevention medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone. Medications can reduce drug-seeking behavior and deter a return to substance use, which can support a person’s recovery and help them stay sober.7

Behavioral therapies that have been proven effective for treating OUD include:2

  • Contingency management (CM), which provides positive reinforcement and tangible rewards when people meet behavioral targets.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which works on identifying and modifying a person’s behaviors and expectations related to substance use and helps them develop healthier and more appropriate coping mechanisms.

Check Your Insurance Coverage for Heroin Rehab

Looking for heroin addiction treatment can feel overwhelming. As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind. For more information, call the number on the back of your card or fill out the form below to verify your insurance.

Get Help for Heroin Addiction

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of inpatient and outpatient rehab treatment services. AAC is committed to supporting those struggling with addiction on their journey to recovery. If you are looking for information on heroin addiction treatment, you can contact us 24/7 at to speak to an admissions navigator.


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