Heroin Overdose: The Signs, Dangers and Myths


Heroin is a very dangerous drug that produces potentially life-threatening consequences. One of the biggest dangers of heroin addiction is overdose. Even those who have used heroin for years are at risk for overdosing every time they take a hit.

Signs of Heroin Overdose

The human body rapidly begins to shut down when it consumes an excess of heroin. In fact, this process of ceasing bodily functions can begin faster than you think—even 10 minutes after you’ve taken the overdose. Just as you would expect from an overdose of any depressant, an overdose of heroin slows body functions down so significantly that they are in danger of stopping altogether, and this is why overdoses can be fatal.

You might think that if you overdose you’ll be too high to notice, but this isn’t actually always the case. In fact, most people who overdose on heroin do report a range of common symptoms. Because it is possible to diagnose symptoms of heroin overdose yourself, and because the risk of “waiting to see what happens” is so high, don’t do it. Instead, if you take heroin and then experience any sensations that are uncomfortable or abnormal, seek medical attention right away.

Heroin overdose is extremely dangerous. If you recognize any of the following signs of heroin overdose, seek immediate medical help.

  • Shallow breathing
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Bluish skin, fingernails and/or lips
  • Weak pulse
  • Low blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Cold/clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Tongue discoloration
  • Stomach spasms
  • Coma
  • Disorientation
  • Muscle spasms/rigid muscles

Surviving a Heroin Overdose

Especially for those who do not use opiates, it’s a common question: what is it like to survive a heroin overdose? For people heroin overdose survivors, the answer is complicated. The experience of being addicted and feeling like your life is out of control is painful, and some overdose symptoms are also painful. However, heroin overdose itself may feel like an extremely intense high.

Of course, how your body and mind react to a heroin overdose will vary, and it depends greatly on your use history, genetics, and health. Pain is certainly a possible component of your overdose experience, and this is augmented by the fact that you may be treated with naloxone, an opioid-reversal medication, while you’re overdosing.

Some heroin overdose survivors feel that the day they took too much was just like any other—a disturbing truth about the dangers of overdosing. Some users say they felt nothing at all, really. In any case, the addictive, potent high that heroin affords users means that addicts are always chasing the next high—and overdose is always a risk, lurking around the corner.

And for one group of people, heroin overdose is invariably emotionally draining, costly, painful, and terrible: the family, friends, and other loved ones of people who experience the overdose.

Dying from Heroin Overdose

While it’s no fun discussing heroin overdose symptoms, the alternative is unacceptable: the risk of dying from a heroin overdose. Deaths from overdoses of this powerful drug are sadly a common experience. In fact, the tendency humans have to quickly become addicted after building dependence is what fuels much of the inherent danger in heroin.

After a single use, heroin binds to the brain’s opioid receptors. Each new use of heroin means that the body needs more and more to achieve the same high. This leads to the vicious cycle of the addict, chasing the next, better high—and this cycle significantly increases the likelihood of heroin overdose.

Moreover, you can’t avoid risk by limiting your dose of heroin, even if you have the willpower to do it, because how much heroin is a fatal dose can vary from person to person and therefore isn’t definitively understood. Frequency of use, foreign additives, the user’s health and wellness, the user’s size and weight, the drug’s purity, and a general level of unpredictability determine the fatal dose for every person, and every batch of drug, every time.

Dangers of Heroin Overdose

Heroin attacks the central nervous system, causing a person’s breathing and heart rate to slow down to a point where it ultimately stops altogether. Sometimes people who overdose will pass out or slip into a coma or death without anyone even noticing, because it appears as if they’re experiencing a “normal” high. Other times, an overdose is more obvious. Since heroin overdose varies, you never know if you’ll have time to receive medical help or if you’ll slip into coma or death before help arrives.

The other danger of heroin overdose is the long-term physical and mental effects an overdose can have your body. Brain damage can occur if the brain is deprived of oxygen for any length of time; infections or viruses can permanently stay in the blood or organs; and combining heroin with other drugs can bring about long-term psychosis and create fundamental changes in the brain.

Myths of Heroin Overdose

If someone you know is experiencing a heroin overdose, the number-one thing you should do is seek medical help. Do NOT attempt to do any of the following misconceptions about how to handle a person overdosing:

  • Don’t let the person sleep it off.
  • Don’t put them in the shower (they could go into shock).
  • Don’t inject them with anything else, including water, salty water, coke, speed, milk.
  • Don’t try to induce vomiting or get them to walk around. This only wastes valuable time.
  • Don’t put anything in their mouth if they’re having a seizure.
  • Don’t force them to eat or drink anything.
  • Don’t leave them in the street hoping that someone else will help them. Take them to the emergency room.

Treating Heroin Overdose at Casa Palmera

At Casa Palmera, our goal is to help you overcome your addiction to heroin and avoid the dangers of heroin overdose. The skills you learn at our heroin addiction treatment program will help you return to the world healthy, strong, and able to avoid the temptations of drug use.

We understand that addiction is a complex disorder and that there are many reasons why a person uses drugs in the first place. That’s why we focus on individualized treatment based on a holistic program that treats not only the physical dependence on heroin but also the emotional and mental issues that have fueled the drug use. In addition to traditional methods of heroin addiction treatment, we also offer a variety of holistic methods such as acupuncture and yoga to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and return you to a balanced state of well-being.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.