What Does Heroin Look Like?

people in the rain

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.

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I realized then that I would die and lose everyone I loved over this drug. That day, I decided to get help. I look back on that day and realize that my family saved my life even if at the moment I felt as if I hated them for making me get help.

The different types of heroin

Heroin, like many other drugs, comes in many different forms or types. The types of heroin are white powder, brown powder, and black tar.

White Powder Heroin

White powder heroin is one of the most common forms and is often cut with other substances to increase its potency. This type of heroin usually is referred to as “China White.”

Brown Powder

Brown powder heroin is very similar to white heroin, though it usually has been cut more with other powders.

What does powder heroin look like?

Source: DEA.gov Galleries

Black Tar

What does black tar heroin look like?

Black tar heroin looks like a black, sticky substance that gets its name from its tar-like consistency.

photo of black tar heroin

What does black tar heroin smell like?

Black tar heroin has a vinegar sweet smell that’s very odd but distinctive.

How is each type of heroin used?

Powder Heroin (White or Brown)

Powder heroin can be snorted, injected, or sometimes smoked.

Black Tar Heroin

Black tar heroin is usually injected, snorted, or smoked.

Paraphernalia associated with Powder Heroin

Intravenous Use:

Needles, syringes, ties, and lighters can signify IV powder heroin use. Also, the use of spoons is heavily associated with heroin use.

Are Spoons a Sign of Heroin Use?

When heroin is being injected, it’s common that spoons will be left lying around and have a burnt black residue on the bottom from holding a lighter to heat it. It’s also possible that the spoons have a small cotton ball left in the middle to filter the heroin and ensure that only liquid is brought into the syringe before being injected. If your spoons disappear in your house and never return, yet all other utensils are still around, this can be another clue.

burned spoon from drug use
Source: NZ Gov.

Snorting Heroin:

Snorting requires a small piece of metal or glass to use as a snorter, often referred to as a “tooter.” A straw or rolled-up paper can also be used for snorting. If you find dollar bills or other types of paper rolled up and left lying around frequently, this can be a huge sign of heroin use. However, other drugs are also snorted similarly. Another sign is mirrors or flat surfaces with powder residue.

Smoking Powder Heroin:

Powder heroin is not normally smoked, but some may try to do so. In this case, look for tinfoil with burn marks, lighters, and straws used to inhale the drug. Smoking heroin may require a metal, wood, or glass pipe.

Paraphernalia associated with Black Tar Heroin


Someone injecting black tar heroin may leave behind needles, syringes, ties, and lighters. Spoons lying around or missing from the silverware drawer are also a huge indicator of IV drug use (see above reference: Are spoons a sign of heroin use?)

Smoking Black Tar Heroin:

Black tar heroin is commonly smoked with a piece of aluminum foil. The user will light the bottom of the foil and then the drug will melt along the tinfoil. If you’re finding random pieces of tin foil around with black marks on them, it’s possible that it’s from black tar heroin smoking.

How Do I Know if Someone is Using Heroin?

To know if someone is using heroin, you will also want to look out for the physical signs.

General Physical Signs of Heroin Use:

• Pinpoint pupils

• Slowed breathing

• Flushed skin

• Sweating/itching

• Nausea and vomiting

• Lack of coordination or balance

• Slurred speech/drowsiness


Signs of IV Heroin Use:

  • Track marks or dark markings on the arms, legs, or other parts of the body.
  • Abscesses and infections on the arm
  • Bruising on the arms or legs
  • Pronounced veins

Watch this informative video interview on heroin addiction.

If you notice these physical signs, your loved one may be using heroin. In addition to physical signs, check for paraphernalia (as listed above) associated with heroin use.

If you notice anything suspicious or have questions, you can ask the person to take a drug test.

If the person refuses to take a drug test or fails it, the next step is to seek a heroin addiction treatment program.

An Anonymous Recovering Heroin User Tell Her Story

How I hid my heroin addiction

“In the beginning, I hid my heroin use from my family using several strategies. The first thing I did was make sure to be super careful about where I went and who I was with when I was using.

I avoided picking up in places that my family or friends would frequent, which was difficult because sometimes I’d end up driving across town.

I also made sure to keep my stash away from my family and out of sight. I always carefully dispose of needles and other evidence of drug use.

When I started injecting, I would always wear a hoodie or a long-sleeve which I must admit looked weird in the summer months. 

I tried to keep up my routine and be as normal as possible to keep my use a secret for as long as possible.

There was always that nagging sense that it would eventually come out.”

I wasn’t able to hide my heroin addiction any longer

“My family noticed a significant change in me, and eventually when they saw direct evidence, I was confronted about it.

I’ll never forget the moment that I knew I was caught. I having a conversation with my dad. I was sitting at the table in front of him and was absent minded of the fact that my arm was extended and uncovered. I noticed that he glimpsed at my track marks, but I quickly tried to divert his attention.

Later that week, I left alone to pick up a gram of black tar heroin from my dealer.

When I came back, I opened the door to find about 10 members of my family standing there waiting to talk to me. I was told that I needed to get help and that I was destroying myself.

I realized then that I would die and lose everyone I loved over this drug. That day, I decided to get help. I look back on that day and realize that my family saved my life even if at the moment I felt as if I hated them for making me get help.”

How to get someone into heroin treatment

If your loved one is struggling with heroin addiction, the best way to get them the help they need is to schedule a professional evaluation at an addiction treatment center.

The sooner someone receives treatment for heroin addiction, the better their chances of recovery will be.

A professional intervention specialist can also help you and your family plan an effective intervention for your loved one.

Heroin addiction is a serious problem that can lead to health complications and even death.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin use, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.

With the right treatment, people can find recovery from their addiction and live productive and fulfilling lives.

Let us help you start your journey to recovery.

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Susana is a recovery, mental health, and addiction education enthusiast with 8 years of experience in addiction recovery herself. Susana holds a Bachelor of Arts from the GCU College of Theology. She is anti-addiction stigma and believes accurate and factual information is essential to beginning the recovery process.
lionel estrada lisac clinical director



Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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