Heroin is an addictive, illegal opioid. Due to its highly addictive nature and illegal status, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has classified it as a Schedule I Controlled Substance.[1] Heroin comes in the form of a powder or a sticky substance known as ‘black tar heroin.’ It can be smoked or snorted but is often injected to give users a powerful and euphoric high.

Factors that Affect How Long Heroin Stays in Your System

The length of time heroin stays in the body can vary greatly depending on a few key variables, including:

  • Frequency of heroin use – Using heroin more frequently or for longer periods of time causes it to build up in your body’s tissues, causing it to stay in your system longer.
  • Dose and potency – Higher doses of heroin or more potent batches may stay in the body longer.
  • Genetics – A person’s genetics and biological makeup can influence metabolic processes, speeding up or slowing down the elimination of substances.
  • Metabolic rate – People with faster metabolisms, including younger individuals and those with lower body fat percentages, eliminate heroin from their bodies at a faster rate.
  • Kidney and liver health – Impaired kidney or liver function can slow down the elimination of drugs and alcohol from the body.[2]

Hydration levels and dietary habits can also influence heroin elimination rates. However, heavy, long-term heroin users are more likely to have traces of the drug in their system for longer periods of time than someone who used heroin once or twice. It’s important to note that using heroin at all is incredibly dangerous and may result in a life-threatening overdose.

Heroin Half-Life

The length of time a drug stays in the body depends on its half-life, which describes the amount of time it takes a person’s metabolism to break down and reduce the concentration of the drug in your system by 50%. It takes about 4-5 half-lives for a drug to leave the system completely.

Heroin is an illegal drug, so medical guidelines and research regarding the pharmacokinetics of heroin are largely unknown. However, the half-life of heroin is estimated to be between 7.6 and 21.8 minutes.[3]

Heroin is metabolized primarily by the liver and then excreted from the body via urine.

Heroin Detection Windows for Drug Testing

How quickly heroin leaves a person’s system affects the length of time it will show up on drug tests. While various factors can affect how quickly your body metabolizes and reduces heroin, detection can also vary based on the type of drug test.

Heroin may show up on a urine test for just 1-4 days, but can show up on a hair follicle test for up to 90 days.

Additionally, newer or more advanced tests may be able to detect traces of heroin and its metabolites for longer periods of time. Metabolites are traces of heroin that are the leftover products from the liver’s metabolic processes.

Heroin’s primary metabolites are morphine and 6-acetylmorphine.[4] These metabolites stay in the body for longer periods of time than the actual drug itself, leading to longer detection times on drug tests.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Urine?

A urinalysis test can detect heroin in urine for 1-4 days after the last dose. Urine tests are the most popular type of drug test and they are often used by prospective or current employers to screen for illicit substance abuse.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Saliva?

Saliva tests can detect heroin for up to 24 hours after the last dose. Saliva tests are not as common as urine tests, but when they are ordered, individuals must either spit into a test tube or provide a cheek swab.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Blood?

A blood test can detect heroin for up to two days. However, blood tests are only administered in healthcare settings, and they are typically used to detect current intoxication or for medical purposes.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Hair?

With the longest detection window of all, hair follicle tests can detect heroin and other substances for up to 90 days after the last dose. A hair test is administered by a technician who collects a small amount of hair from a person’s head and then sends it off for laboratory testing.

Understanding the Nature of Heroin Addiction

Heroin is thought to be one of the most addictive drugs known to man. National surveys conducted in 2021 reveal that 1.1 million people ages 12 and older tried heroin in the U.S., and 1.0 million were addicted to it, indicating that nearly everyone who tries heroin ends up getting hooked.[5]

People who get addicted to heroin become mentally and physically dependent on it. They lose control over how often and how much heroin they use, often leading to mental, physical, and social health problems.

In the long term, heroin addiction can cause numerous health issues, including:

  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Lung complications
  • Mental health conditions
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Cardiovascular disease

One of the reasons heroin is so difficult to quit is because of the painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that appear when someone stops using it. However, detox is an essential step in getting heroin out of your system and beginning recovery.

What Happens When You Detox From Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid. Like other opioids, it is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that slows down functions such as breathing, respiration, and heart rate. When these effects occur, the body responds naturally by working harder to overcome the depressant effects.

Over time, the body gets used to having heroin in the system, and it gets accustomed to functioning in this way. Then, when heroin use is abruptly stopped, the body is left in a state of imbalance. With the sudden absence of heroin, the central nervous system, which has been suppressed by the drug, rebounds.

This rebound effect leads to a surge of activity in the CNS, causing symptoms known as withdrawal. Withdrawal is a sign that the body is attempting to readjust to functioning without heroin.

Withdrawal from heroin can be intense and highly uncomfortable, both physically and psychologically. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Body aches
  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Drug cravings

Although heroin withdrawal is usually not life-threatening, it can be so uncomfortable that individuals feel driven to use heroin for symptom relief. As a result, the most effective way to detox and get heroin out of your body is to attend a detox program.

Medical Detox for Heroin Withdrawal

Drug and alcohol detox centers provide a safe and supervised environment for enduring the side effects of heroin withdrawal. During medical detox, individuals receive comprehensive care and support from healthcare professionals who specialize in addiction medicine. This can include doctors, nurses, therapists, and counselors who work together to manage the symptoms of withdrawal and ensure the safety and comfort of the individual throughout the detoxification process.

One of the primary goals of medical detox for heroin addiction is to alleviate the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms while also addressing any underlying medical or psychiatric issues that may be present. Healthcare providers may administer medications such as buprenorphine, methadone, or clonidine to help manage specific symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, muscle aches, and insomnia. These medications can help ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms and make the detox process more tolerable.

Medical detox programs often incorporate therapeutic interventions to address the psychological aspects of heroin addiction. Treatment often includes individual counseling, group therapy, and behavioral therapies aimed at helping individuals understand their addiction, develop coping skills, and prevent relapse.

After detox, individuals should transition to an inpatient or outpatient treatment program where they can continue their recovery.

Get Treatment Now

If you or someone you love are struggling with a heroin use disorder, it’s time to seek help. At First Step Behavioral Health, we offer multiple treatment options and a full continuum of care to help individuals regain control over their lives.

We are a licensed dual-diagnosis long-term addiction treatment facility that is accredited by the Joint Commission. Our team of addiction specialists focuses on the physiological rebalancing of the individual through medical, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual care.

Starting with detox and continuing with step-down levels of care, we’ll be with you every step of your recovery journey. To learn more about our heroin addiction treatment programs or to get started with a confidential, risk-free assessment, please contact us today.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Heroin
  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Drug Elimination
  3. National Institutes of Health (NIH): Population pharmacokinetics of heroin and its major metabolites
  4. Oslo University Hospital: The prodrug heroin: Studies of heroin´s active metabolites and immunotherapeutic approaches to block heroin effects

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?

Jump to a Section

Call (855) 425-4846