Smoking vs Snorting Heroin: Effects & Dangers

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that can be injected, smoked, or inhaled by sniffing or snorting it. Heroin is converted into morphine when it reaches the central nervous system. When morphine connects with opioid receptors, it activates them to diminish pain signaling. Opioid receptor activation may also be accompanied by a pleasant rush, which may reinforce patterns of compulsive use.1,2

In addition to dependence and addiction, heroin use can seriously affect a person’s health and well-being. Some of these adverse effects are unique to certain methods of use. Read on to learn more.2,3

What are the Health Effects of Smoking vs Snorting Heroin?

Smoking and snorting heroin may not have the same stigma that needle drug use carries. However, any heroin use—regardless of the path of administration—can be very dangerous, with the potential to kill people in overdose situations.4,5

Snorting and smoking heroin also have their own unique negative impacts on the body in addition to the effects listed above.

Long-Term Health Effects of Smoking Heroin

Smoking heroin can damage the respiratory system. Early, progressive emphysema and chronic respiratory symptoms are common among people who smoke heroin.8

For example, several case studies found examples of bronchospasm and potentially deadly asthma exacerbations as a result of inhaling heroin. Another study found that smoking heroin is associated with a decline in lung function among people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and higher rates of respiratory illnesses.8,9

Long-Term Health Effects of Snorting Heroin

Over time, snorting heroin can inflame and damage the mucosal surfaces inside the nose. People who snort heroin may erode the delicate nasal tissues to the point of perforating their septum (i.e., a hole in the tissue that separates the two sides of the nose) or suffer from chronic nosebleeds and other upper respiratory health issues.3,10

Signs of Heroin Addiction

Drug abuse can have devastating effects not only on an individual’s physical and mental health, but also on their functioning and behavior. Addiction is characterized by the compulsive seeking and use of a drug like heroin, despite the negative consequences. Heroin addiction is a complex and chronic mental health disorder diagnosed by medical professionals.11

Additionally, unusual changes in mood and sleeping patterns, lapses in performance in work or school, and sudden changes in friends and hobbies can all be warning signs that someone’s drug use has become problematic.12 

Getting Help for Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction can be a devastating illness. However, it is treatable. While addiction treatment is a highly individualized process, there are various evidence-based methods that can help someone down the path of recovery and long-term sobriety.13

Often, the first step is medical detox. Physiological dependence to opioids like heroin can result in powerfully unpleasant withdrawal symptoms as people adjust to functioning without the drug.14

Detoxing From Heroin

Opioid withdrawal is seldom life-threatening, but the symptoms can be painful and uncomfortable enough to lead some people to relapse. A supervised medical detox can make the heroin withdrawal process safer and more comfortable by administering medication that eases cravings and acute withdrawal symptoms and providing 24/7 supervision and monitoring in case of emergency.11,14

In many cases, treatment medications used during detox will continue well after detox ends to help patients sustain long-term recovery.14

Heroin Addiction Treatment in Tampa, FL

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, our inpatient rehab near Tampa is here to help.

At River Oaks, we offer different types of rehab and personalized treatment plans designed to meet the individual needs of each patient. We also provide various evidence-based treatment approaches, including medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD).

We are advocates for our patients and work with insurance companies to obtain the best coverage available for each person. Call to learn more about how to pay for rehabinsurance coverage for rehab, and more.

Our admissions navigators are available around the clock to help you start the admissions process and begin the path to recovery today.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

The Price of Not Getting Help
When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of insurances. Learn more below.