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Snorting Heroin: Dangers, What Happens and Side Effects

Snorting heroin may be perceived as less dangerous than injecting the drug, but the health risks and potential for addiction are significant.

Heroin is a highly addictive illicit drug in the opioid family.1 It is made from morphine, which derives from the opium poppy plant.1 Heroin enters the brain quickly and binds to opioid receptors on cells in various locations, especially in areas responsible for controlling breathing, heart rate, and sleeping, as well as pain and pleasure.1 Heroin can be injected, smoked, or snorted. Each of these methods induces an intense high shortly after administration.

Why Heroin Is Snorted

Snorting involves either inhaling powdered heroin or heroin dissolved in small amounts of liquid through the nose. The drug enters the bloodstream through the nasal tissues and is usually snorted by using rolled-up paper or with a straw. Those who snort heroin might not feel the full initial euphoric “rush” that intravenous users do, but the ensuing effects are largely indistinguishable.

It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to feel the effects of heroin when snorted, as opposed to injecting, which can produce effects as quickly as seconds after administration. People who have allergies or congested sinuses might need more time before they feel the effects.

Those who snort heroin also carry the risk of asthma attacks, breathing problems, nosebleeds, and damage and irritation to the cartilage of the nose, nasal passages, sinuses. People who share straws also run the risk of contracting various bacterial and viral infections from other users.

Injecting Vs. Snorting Heroin

Heroin is highly addictive and people who use heroin can easily develop a tolerance to the drug.1 This means that the body needs more of the drug to get high.2 The addictive properties of heroin are augmented by the fact that it is a short-acting drug, meaning the effects do not last long. Once the high disappears, many users use heroin repeatedly in a binge pattern.

Other Ways Heroin Is Used

Heroin can be administered into the body through various delivery methods, including:3

  • Injection into a muscle (intramuscular or IM).
  • Injection into a vein (intravenous or IV).
  • Injection under the skin (subcutaneous administration).
  • Inserting heroin into the rectum (“stuffing”).
  • Smoking.

Effects of Snorting Heroin

Heroin use affects each person differently. A person’s reaction to snorting heroin depends on several factors such as their overall health, the purity of the drug, how much heroin they take, and how often they take it.

Generally, the effects of snorting heroin are similar to the effects of injecting heroin.4 Common side effects of heroin include:5,6

  • Abscesses.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Cold flashes.
  • Constipation.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Heaviness in the limbs.
  • Itchiness.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Sleep issues.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms tend to be uncomfortable and unpleasant. People who reduce their usage of heroin or stop using it altogether may start experiencing withdrawal symptoms in as little as a few hours after the last time the drug is taken.6 The symptoms generally peak 1 to 2 days after the last use and dissipate after about 1 week. However, some people experience persistent withdrawal symptoms for months.6

Getting Heroin Treatment Help

Addiction is a complex disease, but it is treatable. Effective treatment should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs and may include the following elements:

  • Patient assessment: Incoming rehab patients generally undergo a complete medical and psychiatric evaluation by a team of professionals to determine what level of care is needed.
  • Detox: If necessary, a patient’s continuum of care may include detox. The detox process can vary in both ease and duration depending on the substance and whether the patient is physiologically dependent on it. Detoxing from certain substances can produce intense, and sometimes dangerous, withdrawal symptoms. Detox professionals can help ease the symptoms, getting the patient through detoxification as comfortably and safely as possible.7
  • Addiction treatment: Rehab treatment will typically involve a combination of behavioral, group, and individual counseling, which can take place in inpatient or outpatient settings. Patients may also participate in 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Aftercare: Following the steps above, patients will generally continue working with their therapist to create an aftercare plan. The goals of aftercare are to maintain recovery and prevent relapse.

Specific treatments for heroin addiction may include:8,9

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. You or your loved one can do the work of getting and staying sober without worrying about unexpected costs. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call the number on the back of your card, or fill out the form below.

Getting 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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