Alcohol & Drugs
A picture of Heroin

What’s the deal with heroin?

 Heroin is categorised as a depressant. Substances which fall under this category have similar effects on the body. Depressants slow down rate in which the brain sends information throughout the rest of the body. Heroin belongs to the group of drugs known as opioids.

How does it work?

Heroin is most commonly injected or otherwise it is smoked.


There is no such thing as a SAFE level of drug use. Substance use carries risk. It’s important to be careful when taking any form of drug, especially those that may be manufactured illegally. If injected, the effects of heroin are felt almost immediately. Smoking may vary the length of time it takes for the effects to be felt. Heroin may affect people differently based on:

  • A person’s body weight
  • General state of health
  • Regular use of substance
  • If taken in combination with other drugs including prescription medication
  • The amount that is consumed
  • Quality of the drug (this varies from batch to batch for most illicit drugs)

Short Term Effects

The following effects may be experienced when heroin is consumed and generally last for 3 to 5 hours:

  • Intense feelings of pleasure and pain relief
  • Relaxed drowsiness
  • Slurred or slowed speech
  • Slowed breathing and reduced heart rate
  • Constricted pupils (pinned)
  • Reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased libido

Long Term Effects

Like any substance, regular use of heroin or opioids may result in the following effects to your health:

  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Depression
  • Loss of libido
  • Reduced function in the reproductive system –for both men and women
  • Damage to the heart and lungs
  • Reduced kidney and liver function
  • An increased risk of stroke
  • Drug Dependency


The safest thing you can do is to not do any drugs, m'kay? But let's be realistic, people use drugs. Some people really enjoy it, but for others it can become really problematic either for their health and wellbeing, their relationships, their jobs, their financial security or all of the above. Not only this, but some people can also develop a dependance and this can lead further problems if it isn't addressed early or easily managed.

If you are going to use drugs, it's best to be safe about it. It's your choice to determine what you put in your body, but whatever you do remember to be safe and responsible - with yourself and with others.

We've got some helpful tips to consider.

  • Set limits for yourself, and stick to them.
  • Don’t let other people pressure you into doing drugs.
  • Try to avoid mixing drugs with other drugs or be informed about the risks.
  • Try to be aware of exactly what you are taking and how much you are taking.
  • Eat before you party and stay hydrated with water.
  • If you are going out for a big night, leave your bank cards at home and set a cash limit for yourself, leaving enough to get home by taxi.
  • Tell some trusted friends what you're planning to do.

Safer Injecting

If you are injecting, it’s important to use clean injecting equipment and to avoid sharing needles or other injecting equipment. Blood borne viruses such as Hepatitis B, C and HIV can be transmitted through sharing equipment.  So with that being said it’s important to be aware of where blood can end up. Blood may not only remain on or in needles and syringes but also on other equipment and surfaces such as your skin, on your hands or the top of a table. You can’t always see blood so don’t assume that just because you can’t see it that it isn’t there.

Make sure you wash your hands and clean the area where you are preparing to inject.Injecting drug use and the sharing of equipment with others put you at increased risk of:

  • Vein damage and permanent scarring
  • Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Tetanus and HIV transmission
  • Deep vein thrombosis and clots – this may result in the loss of limbs, damage to organs, stroke and possibly even death


Large doses or a strong batch of heroin may result in overdose. Drugs that are manufactured illicitly and sold on the street may vary in strength. They are also likely to be cut or diluted with other substances that are otherwise considered harmful to the body. If you, or someone you know is feeling any of the following effects - call for an ambulance immediately. You do this simply by dialling triple zero (000). Ambulance officers are not obliged to involve the police.

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Nodding off or falling asleep
  • An irregular and reduced heart rate
  • Slowed rate of breathing, blue lips, finger and or toes
  • Unconsciousness

Naloxone (also known as Narcan®) reverses the effects of heroin particularly in the case of overdose. Naloxone is administered by authorised medical personnel.Peer administered naloxone is available for friends and family as well. More information is available at Harm Reduction Victoria.

Mixing with Other Drugs

The effect of taking amphetamines in combination with other drugs including over-the-counter or prescribed medication is unpredictable and dangerous.

Heroin + Amphetamine or ecstasy will place an enormous strain on the heart and kidneys. This will increase the risk of overdose.

Heroin + Alcohol, Cannabis or Benzodiazepines will slow breathing and may eventually cause the lungs to stop.

Be careful when mixing heroin with drag.

Living with HIV

All recreational drug use whether it's with a legalised substance or not is likely to interact and maybe even interfere with your ARV's. Those drug interactions are the very thing that can lead to ARV treatment failure. By all means go hard on the weekend - just make sure that you are checking in regularly with an experienced HIV medical practitioner.

Interactions with HIV Medications

We don't know of any negative interactions between heroin and HIV medication. This does not mean that it is safe to use heroin in combination with any HIV medication though. Extreme caution should be exercised.

Taking Hormones

For trans, gender diverse or intersex people who are taking some form of hormone therapy, it's important to be aware and informed of how your body processes these treatments.

Currently, there is limited information into the interactions and cross interactions of hormone therapy and recreational drug use but that doesn't mean we'll stop asking for it. Whether your hormones are prescribed by a doctor or you've sourced them yourself from the internet, make it a priority to get regular health checks. Sometimes, a change in dosage or preparation of hormones is needed and a qualified medical practitioner is the person best placed to advise you of this.

If you're not comfortable talking about your gender, gender identity or bodily difference with your doctor, get in touch and we can make recommendations for a service that is best placed to support your needs.

Interactions with Hormones

We don't know of any negative interactions between heroin and hormone treatments. This does not mean that it is safe. Exercise caution when mixing any form of drugs.


Been going a little too hard lately? If your heroin use has begun to have a negative impact on your overall health or your relationships with family and friends, your ability to focus on work or study or perhaps even the bottom line on your bank account - it's time to TouchBase with somebody who can help.

There are a number of treatment options and support services available for you, for your family or friends if they need it.

Whatever your recovery goals are, if it is to control, reduce or stop heroin use, reach out for some support.

Counselling & Support

Counselling can be provided individually or in a group situation, and is available to people who use alcohol or other drugs, and to their family members or support people. A support service can offer counselling or direct you to a service appropriate for you. Speak to your doctor, alcohol and other drugs treatment service or local community health service.

Find help and support services.


Rehabilitation programs take a long term approach to treatment to help you achieve your goals with your alcohol or other drug use. Residential withdrawal is also available from some treatment services.

Find out more about withdrawal.

Complementary therapies

These include treatments such as massage and relaxation therapies, which can be useful to help you manage withdrawal symptoms. 

Peer support 

These programs are provided for people who use alcohol and other drugs, and their family members or support person/s. 


Substitution pharmacotherapy is the use of medication to replace a harmful drug. This is given as a legal, measured, prescribed dose of a drug, and helps take away cravings so that you can work on other issues that will help you to recover.

Pharmacotherapy is only available for withdrawal from heroin. Buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone are used in the treatment for opioid dependence. Your doctor or treatment service can give you more information about what is available to help you.

Withdrawal & Rehab

Giving up after using heroin for a long time is challenging. Just watch the film trainspotting and you'll get a sense of how hard it can be. The body needs to adjust to a life of functioning without it. Symptoms of withdrawal usually start within 6 to 24 hours after the last dose and can last for about a week. Day 1 to 3 will be the worst. Symptoms can include:

  • Restlessness, irritability and cravings
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Muscle cramps and stomach pain
  • Restless, disturbed sleep
Important notice

Please note: The information given on this page is not medical advice and should not be relied upon in that way. Individuals wanting medical advice about Heroin should consult a health professional.