Heroin is a highly addictive opioid. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2016, about 948,000 Americans reported using heroin in the past year, a number which has been increasing since 2007.

Each time a person uses heroin, their tolerance will increase. When this happens, they need more of the drug to feel the same effects as they did when they started using heroin. Because heroin is a highly addictive opioid, many users begin taking the drug develop dependence, and later begin to experience withdrawal symptoms between uses. This withdrawal causes many people to keep abusing the drug to avoid experiencing withdrawal, which is part of the cycle of addiction. By detoxing in a clinical setting, medications can be given, which will mitigate these symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

Because heroin will leave a user’s body relatively quickly, heroin withdrawal symptoms will usually appear around 6-12 hours after the last dosage. Withdrawal from heroin can feel very similar to a bad case of the flu, with discomfort lasting about a week. The most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

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  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The duration and intensity of heroin withdrawal depend on the individual. The frequency, amount, and method of heroin use influence how long withdrawal lasts and how intense the withdrawal symptoms are. Any underlying mental illnesses and co-occurring disorders may also affect heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Timeline of Heroin Withdrawal

Even though it is different for everyone, the general timeline of heroin withdrawal includes:

Days 1-2

Within the first 6-12 hours after the last use of heroin, withdrawal symptoms may appear. Over the first 48 hours, the symptoms will become more intense, usually starting with muscle aches and developing into anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking, and diarrhea.

Days 3-5

Withdrawal symptoms will usually reach their peak, with the most common symptoms, including abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers, and nausea/vomiting.

Days 6-7

The most severe withdrawal symptoms will usually end after a week. However, users may continue to feel exhausted and worn down.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

The symptoms associated with post-acute withdrawal syndrome can linger after the last dosage of heroin. Because of the brain’s chemical changes, these long-lasting and inconsistent symptoms can include anxiety, depression, panic attacks, fatigue, irritability, mood swings, restlessness, and memory loss. The longer a person remains drug-free; the symptoms will continue to disappear.

Heroin Detox and Treatment Programs

Quitting heroin cold turkey can intensify the withdrawal symptoms and make stopping more painful than it needs to be. In extreme cases, individuals suffering from heroin withdrawal symptoms can become dehydrated and can inhale stomach contents after vomiting (aspirate), leading to choking. While this is not always the case, it is still important to safely deal with withdrawal symptoms. Through medically assisted heroin detox, patients can be monitored for any adverse and potentially life-threatening symptoms.

Medications Used in Heroin Detox

With heroin detox, doctors can prescribe medications to help mitigate symptoms. The most common medications include:

  • Methadone: This is a very low-strength opioid used to slowly taper an individual off of heroin to decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Buprenorphine: This is an opioid used to treat opioid use disorders, significantly reducing craving and physical symptoms like nausea.
  • Naltrexone: This is an opiate antagonist that blocks receptors in the brain to prevent the effect of heroin and other opiates/opioids and decreases cravings. This is usually given to people who have stopped heroin. It is given to people as a shot that lasts thirty days or by prescribing pills to be taken daily.

There are many options for treatment for heroin addiction, and heroin detox is usually the first step. Both inpatient and outpatient recovery programs can help break the cycle of addiction and overcome heroin withdrawal symptoms. An inpatient treatment center provides around-the-clock attention and care, which increases the chances of recovery, and outpatient programs require maintaining a treatment schedule.

Regardless of the recovery treatment program, acknowledging addiction and beginning detox is a huge step forward. An addiction treatment center can help prevent the chance of relapse and try to ensure a healthy and sober future.

Are you or a loved one struggling with heroin addiction? We are here for you, and we are here to help.