Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline
If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin abuse, one of your major concerns may be how to stop using heroin and manage the withdrawal symptoms after stopping use. In fact, the fear of heroin withdrawal symptoms is the primary reason why people don’t seek the help they need.1 This page will help you understand what happens during heroin withdrawal, what types of heroin detox are available, how to find help for heroin addiction, and how to choose a treatment program for heroin withdrawal so that your symptoms are manageable.
What is Heroin Withdrawal?
Heroin use is a serious problem in the United States. Heroin, also known as Horse, Smack, or H, is an opioid drug that has no valid medical uses and is highly addictive and dangerous. Heroin is derived from morphine, which is a substance found in certain types of opium poppy plants that are grown primarily in Asia, Columbia, and Mexico. When you use heroin, whether by smoking, snorting, or injecting it, it attaches to the opioid receptors in the brain, which leads to drowsiness, slowed breathing, and a euphoric rush.2
Taking heroin over time can lead to tolerance, which occurs when your body adapts to the effects of heroin and you need more of it to achieve the same desired results. Tolerance can lead to physical dependence, which means that your body needs the drug to function normally; if you stop using heroin, you will experience withdrawal symptoms.1
Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
Given that heroin withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, many people fear stopping use of the drug. Physical signs and symptoms of heroin withdrawal include body aches, chills and fever, high blood pressure, racing heart, chattering teeth, excessively runny nose and eyes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, and overall weakness. Mentally, you may experience agitation, irritable moods, cravings, anxiety, depression, or feelings of isolation and detachment from others. The risk of relapse is very high, as people tend to use heroin again just to stop feeling such unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.1
Withdrawal from heroin generally starts about 12 hours after the last use. The most severe symptoms occur between 36 and 72 hours after stopping heroin. Withdrawal generally takes 6 to 10 days to cease completely. Heroin withdrawal duration varies from one person to another and is influenced by things like how much heroin you have been using and how often you have been using it. 1 Other factors that can impact the severity of your withdrawal symptoms and the length of time getting off heroin may take include if you are dependent on another substance, such as alcohol, stimulants, or benzodiazepines, your overall physical health, and if you have a co-occurring mental health diagnosis, such as depression or anxiety. 3 Some people might experience withdrawal symptoms for a longer period, with feelings of anxiety, depression, and continued cravings 30 days after they stop using heroin.1
Heroin withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable. However, heroin detox programs are available to help you or a loved one manage heroin withdrawal and significantly reduce the severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms. In general, there are 2 types of detox for heroin addiction:3
- Residential, or social detox, which involves receiving emotional support while you stop using heroin. You will be closely monitored in case of complications during detox, and will be seen by a physician if you have severe issues. Social detox programs might provide medications to ease nausea or diarrhea. Staff should be trained to recognize severe withdrawal symptoms and get you immediate medical care as needed. Some of these residential detox programs will allow you to self-administer some forms of medication. These programs tend to be less expensive than inpatient detox and might be a good alternative for someone who does not have health insurance or the means to pay for inpatient detox.
- Inpatient detox, which involves living at a treatment center and receiving 24/7 care by a physician, nurses, and licensed clinicians. These programs can provide immediate intervention for most people, aside from those with serious withdrawal complications, which would require transfer to a hospital. Many inpatient detox programs use various forms of medication. In some cases, these medications might be used for withdrawal symptom relief, such as giving you medications to stop you from feeling nauseous or having diarrhea. In some facilities, however, they will give you medication, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to ease your withdrawal symptoms and help you taper off heroin. Inpatient detox programs are located in a hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, and substance abuse treatment facilities.
In most cases, detox lasts about 1 to 3 days.
Can I Detox from Heroin at Home?
While you may have heard stories about people who quit heroin on their own, and talk of going “cold turkey,” this is not a good idea. You should not try to do this alone. You need to first speak to your physician about your needs. With numerous treatment programs available, there is no need to try to quit heroin on your own. In some cases, people have complications from withdrawal and, although these are rare, there is no reason to place yourself at unnecessary risk when help is readily available to help you safely detox from heroin.3
Heroin Addiction Treatment After Detox
Oftentimes, people believe that detox is a form of drug treatment and that once they go through detox, they are no longer addicted. However, it is important to understand that detox is not treatment, but only the first step on your road to recovery, as it gets a substance out of your body.3 Detox should then link you to ongoing treatment to help you understand the root cause of your addiction. Ongoing treatment can help you learn what triggers you to use heroin (e.g., certain situations and people) and how to avoid these triggers. Ongoing treatment will also help you learn other ways to cope with stress and frustration in your life instead of turning to heroin or other substances.
Ongoing treatment for heroin addiction can be either inpatient or outpatient. Inpatient treatment, which requires you to stay in a facility, is not necessary for everyone but may be best for some. For example, if you have attempted outpatient treatment several times, but relapsed, or if you live in an environment where those around are not supportive of your efforts to detox and get into recovery, then being in an inpatient facility may be a better option for you.
Outpatient and inpatient treatment both offer counseling and ongoing support, as well as frequent assessments of your mental and physical health. Counseling may be on a group or individual basis, and the counseling and groups are the same for inpatient and outpatient treatment. Most outpatient treatment programs meet 2 to 3 times per week, for 2 to 4 hours at a time, though some programs meet daily and for even more hours. Some people go straight into an outpatient treatment program after detox, while others may go to inpatient treatment for a while and then step down to outpatient treatment. Regardless of whether you go to inpatient or outpatient treatment, the most important thing is that you follow up detox with treatment. People who stay in treatment for at least 90 days have the best outcomes overall in terms of long-term recovery from heroin and other addictions.
Where Can I find a Heroin Detox Center?
If you or a loved one needs heroin detox, contact American Addiction Centers today at our free and confidential 24/7 helpline. American Addiction Centers is a leading provider of heroin detox in Nevada and nationwide. We offer individualized treatment that meets your specific needs for heroin detox and ongoing treatment. There is no need to go through heroin detox by yourself. Our caring and compassionate staff can work with you and support you as you take this journey to recovery.
We can be reached at 702-800-2682.
- Pergolizzi Jr, J. V., Raffa, R. B., & Rosenblatt, M. H. (2020). Opioid withdrawal symptoms, a consequence of chronic opioid use and opioid use disorder: Current understanding and approaches to management.Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 45(5), 892-903.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Heroin drug facts.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Types of treatment programs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Principles of effective treatment.
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