Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually persist for 5-10 days, and can be severe and include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle spasms
- Cravings for drugs
Heroin works by attaching to opioid receptors, increasing neurochemicals in the brain responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure.
Heroin Withdrawal and Detox Timeline
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the past decade, heroin abuse has doubled for Americans aged 18-25. Between 2010 and 2017, opioid-involved overdose fatalities increased from 21,088 to 47,600 in 2017 and remained steady in 2018, with 46,802 deaths.
Heroin is highly addictive, and due to its extremely unpleasant withdrawal effects, those who are dependent on the drug are encouraged to undergo medical detox to mitigate symptoms and prevent relapse.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin detox and withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. The longer a person uses heroin, how it was abused, and the amount taken each time will all be factors that contribute to the level in which the brain and body become dependent on the substance. Therefore, the intensity and duration of withdrawal will differ, as well. An individual with a history of mental illness or prior experience with opioid withdrawal may have a more severe withdrawal experience.
During withdrawal, the effects are precisely the opposite of heroin’s intoxicating effects. For example, instead of experiencing euphoria, the individual can suffer from low mood, anxiety, and rapid heart rate, among other symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms range in intensity, depending on the level of and length of abuse. For a person who didn’t abuse heroin in massive doses for months or years, withdrawal may be milder and not last as long.
Mild withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Excessive yawning
- Muscle and bone pain
Moderate withdrawal symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Impaired concentration
Severe withdrawal symptoms:
- Anxiety and depression
- Accelerated heart rate
- Muscle spasms
- Impaired respiration
- Difficulty feeling pleasure
- Drug cravings
Depression related to withdrawal may cause a person to commit suicide. For this reason and others, heroin use should never be stopped abruptly without the support of providers who can employ multiple methods for controlling the side effects of withdrawal and keeping individuals safe.
Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Duration
Heroin is a short-acting opioid, meaning that its effects onset rapidly but also leaves the bloodstream quickly, as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6-12 hours of the last dose, peak in about 2-3 days, and last 5-10 days.
Medical detox is a set of interventions employed to manage withdrawal symptoms. Since withdrawal generally peaks after a few days of the last dose, detox in an addiction treatment center is most often the most comfortable way to withdraw from heroin.
Medical detox should begin before heroin completely leaves the system and usually takes between 5 and 7 days. For an individual with a high level of dependence on heroin, detox may last a little longer, up to 10 days. Medical detox often includes medications and therapy to help the brain and body and recover from addiction. Blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and temperature levels are all monitored during this process to help keep people safe throughout the entire process.
Managing Withdrawal at a Detox Center
Heroin has been classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) as a Schedule I drug, indicating that it is considered to have a high potential for abuse and addiction, and no legitimate medical purpose.
There are several medications approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to address heroin dependency, many of which are used during detox to manage the unpleasant physical and emotional withdrawal side effects, as well as to relieve drug cravings.
Heroin may be substituted with a longer-acting opioid to alleviate symptoms and drug cravings, and other additional medications may also be used to treat specific symptoms. Anti-nausea remedies, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants are some examples of symptom-specific drugs.
During a medically-assisted detox, mental health providers are on hand to offer help and support. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that around half of all drug users also suffer from a mental health disorder. This can also affect duration and treatment methods during the stay in a detox program as well as throughout recovery.
Emotional withdrawal symptoms involving an addiction to heroin, such as depression and anxiety, are often common among those who also have a history of mental health disorders. When heroin stops being active in the bloodstream, people may notice a decrease in dopamine levels, which can lead to a “crash” of emotions. Vital signs and levels of anxiety can spike, ordinary things that used to be associated with pleasure no longer bring the same joy. Being in a calming and environment, however, can help individuals get through the process more efficiently.
What Causes Heroin Withdrawal?
Withdrawal from heroin can occur from first-time heroin use can be so severe that users decide to seek out drug use to relieve their symptoms. While individuals generally don’t become addicted the first time they use heroin, even the experience can trigger a hazardous pattern of use.
Moreover, most people become addicted to heroin over several weeks or months. Heroin affects regions of the brain that control pleasure and motivation. Repeated use results in changes in the body that make the brain rely on heroin to feel normal. This is called dependence, and it’s one of the main reasons why heroin is so addictive.
Heroin dependence can occur because opioids, such as heroin, are similar to naturally-occurring opiates that the brain produces, which control how we feel pleasure and pain. The main distinction between opioids and opiates is that opioids are human-made, while opiates occur naturally.
When it’s exposed to heroin or other opioids, an individual’s brain decreases or stops its own production of those same chemicals. Eventually, the brain begins to depend on heroin just to function normally. When an opioid-dependent individual stops using the drug, they go into opioid withdrawal.
The time that it takes to experience withdrawal depends on how long it takes for the brain to restore natural opiate production.
Heroin Dependence Treatment
We urge those who are dependent on drugs or alcohol to seek help before it’s too late. Heroin addiction is a remarkably devastating and life-threatening condition that often requires detox services and long-term treatment for individuals to recover.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offers customized, individualized programs in both residential and partial hospitalization formats. We employ highly-skilled, caring staff who facilitate services to those we treat with compassion and expertise.
If you are battling an addiction to heroin, other drugs, or alcohol, we urge you to call us today to discuss treatment options! We can help you get on the path to recovery and help you every step of the way!