Heroin Withdrawal Duration, Symptoms & Treatments

Knowing about heroin withdrawal duration, symptoms, and treatments might help people understand what’s happening to them when they stop using the drug and how they can find assistance during withdrawal and beyond.

Heroin is among the most dangerous opioids in the world. While most people use it for recreational purposes, it has high addiction potential. If you try quitting, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Sadly, even first-time users tend to experience withdrawal symptoms too, though not as strong as those of chronic users.

For a chronic user, taking the opioid for long periods of time may result in your body developing tolerance to the drug, which means you will need to take more of the drug to get the same level of high as you would have before. In such situations, reducing your dosage might result in withdrawal too. The bad news is that untreated symptoms can result in heroin withdrawal death, especially since it is tough to manage the ensuing complications.
Heroin tends to have a grip on your physical and psychological well being, which is why you need to be careful with the withdrawal process. With the right heroin withdrawal guidelines and the attention of a medical professional, it is possible to make it to the other side of the struggle.

Why Does Heroin Withdrawal Happen?

Once you use heroin, it travels through the bloodstream to the brain, altering how the rest of the body and neurochemicals communicate. These are mood and mind-altering neurochemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and endorphins. Ideally, they have a significant role to play in a variety of the body’s physical and psychological functions, including sleep, mood, the brain’s reward system, and pain sensations.

Once it gets into the body, heroin manipulates the communication between the neurochemicals and the body, inducing a short-term feeling of sedation, pain relief, euphoria, and relaxation. The more you use the opioid; the more the brain starts getting used to depending on the drug in the regulation of the body’s neurochemistry. If you take the drug excessively, your body becomes tolerant to it.

With time, you will need to take more heroin to get the same level of high you want from it. Once your body cannot function without a boost from heroin, this should be an indication that you are dependent on it. Heroin withdrawal side effects are just the body’s way of trying to find a new normal without having to depend on the drug.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The heroin withdrawal journey is not the same for everyone. While one person might manage to let go of the drug with minimal disruption of their normal body function, others have to struggle through physical and psychological complications. Ideally, the opiate drug suppresses the central nervous system’s functions- such as blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and temperature regulations. It also tends to bind to opioid receptors, which leads to increased production of brain chemicals that result in feelings of pleasure. This explains why heroin addicts experience a rush of pleasure after using it.

While the withdrawal from heroin isn’t typically seen as life-threatening, the medical and psychological complications that come with the withdrawal tend to be life-threatening. For instance, the depression that comes with heroin withdrawal can make someone consider suicide. Also, diarrhea and vomiting that comes with it will result in the individual being dehydrated, which could lead to other health complications. Ideally, heroin intake should never be stopped abruptly without the supervision of mental and medical health professionals since they can help keep these symptoms from causing any kind of harm.

When trying to quit it, the reverse is felt. For instance, instead of feeling pleasure, enjoying a reduced heart rate, and sedation, you will experience anxiety, mood swings, and a rapid heart rate. Heroin withdrawal symptoms will depend on the duration of abuse and the level of dependence. If you only abused the drug for a short time, you will experience a more tempered withdrawal experience that won’t last for long. Here is what to expect:

  • Tearing
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chills
  • Bone and muscle aches
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Drug cravings
  • Muscle spasms
  • Impaired respiration
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

Heroin is a short-acting opioid by nature. This means that it will affect the body quickly and leave the bloodstream quite fast. The heroin detox timeline will depend on a variety of factors, including:

  • The length and severity of dependence
  • The biology and genetics of the victim
  • The amount of opiates in the victim’s system at the time of detox
  • Whether medical detox is being used or not
  • The physical and mental health state of the victim. For instance, a person with mental illness will experience a more intense withdrawal

Ideally, the withdrawal symptoms tend to take effect between 6 and 12 hours of the last heroin dose. It will then peak in 2-3 days and last to a total of 5-10 days. Detox simply acts as an intervention to help during the different heroin withdrawal stages. While the medical detox will typically start right after the heroin completely leaves the system and can last between 5 and 7 days, it will last a little bit longer for people who have been taking the opioid chronically.

In most cases, the detox will involve the use of therapies and medication to walk the body and the brain through the journey of recovering from heroin dependency. Throughout this period, your blood pressure, breathing, heart rate and temperature levels are closely monitored to keep you secure throughout.

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Why Medical Detox Is Essential

Although many people seek medical attention to help with their withdrawal, some don’t. For some, the belief is that nothing can relieve their distress other than more heroin. Sadly, anyone who has faced heroin withdrawal has a high chance of overdosing on the drug due to tolerance. It will typically take a larger dose to experience the desired effect from the drug, which can lead to an overdose.

Medication helps relieve the stress that comes with heroin withdrawal. For instance, since people in the withdrawal process can easily become dehydrated from diarrhea and vomiting, the medication will help relieve this. It can also be effective with providing emotional support throughout the withdrawal period, as well as reducing the timeline, which reduces the chances of a relapse. Most medical detox programs come with complementary therapies. These include massage, acupuncture, or restorative yoga for stress relief.

Medical Detox vs. MAT

Although both MAT (Medically Assisted Treatment) and medical detox may have similar aspects to some extent, they are distinct from each other. The former involves medically supervised programs for opiates, with medications taking center stage at managing the withdrawal process. Ideally, it is meant to rid the body of heroin, after which treatment can begin. This can last for a few days or a week.

On the flip side, MAT programs can last anywhere between a few months and years. The goal is to give the victim complete control over their cravings and help them achieve sobriety.

How Long Do Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Last, And How Does MAT Help?

Unfortunately, heroin withdrawal symptoms are likely to last long after the medical detox stage. For instance, it is quite normal for a person to feel irritable, anxious, or depressed for months, even after quitting the use of the opiates. With the help of drugs like buprenorphine and methadone, people facing these symptoms can get their brain activity, and cravings stabilized, instead of them turning to the drug for help and then dealing with the lasting psychological side effects.

These drugs are often combined with psychological interventions such as counseling. Counseling and psychoeducation arms those who are recovering with information on how to prevent relapse and deal with stressors and triggers. They can also help them have some level of control over the underlying issues such as mental health conditions, trauma, and abuse, which could have all contributed to the disorder. Although medication does have a significant role to play when it comes to lessening the physical symptoms of withdrawal, they don’t cure co-occurring psychological and emotional issues by themselves.

MAT programs are currently the golden standard when it comes to dealing with all these issues. They help address the issues behind the addiction and can be around for weeks and months later to help prevent relapse and keep the addict in control. MAT programs combine medication and therapy for a holistic approach to addiction.

Coping and Relief from Heroin Addiction

Generally, the journey to sobriety isn’t an easy one, with the worst symptoms passing within the first week. You just need to take each day at a time. However, there is a lot you can do to make yourself feel comfortable:

  • Ask For Help: Regardless of whether you are seeking the help of a medical professional or going through treatment at home, you need someone to hold your hand throughout this journey. Such people can ensure you are safe and offer a listening ear to your experiences.
  • Stay Hydrated: Vomiting and diarrhea tend to be among the withdrawal symptoms you will experience. Since they can easily lead to dehydration, be sure to stay hydrated by taking enough fluids.
  • Stay Busy: If you aren’t busy enough, the chances are that you might relapse. Keep yourself busy. For instance, you can watch some movies since you might not be in shape to do demanding physical activities. You can also ask a friend out for activities outside your house.
  • Try Acupuncture: Acupuncture will help to calm you both psychologically and physically throughout the entire withdrawal period.

While heroin withdrawal is the toughest part of heroin cessation, it is quite possible to let go of the drug as long as you are tenacious enough. Remember, you should seek treatment to help you walk through this path. Feel free to contact us today so we can help figure out a way to make your journey to recovery more manageable.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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