Heroin Detox and Withdrawal

Heroin is an opioid that’s most commonly used recreationally for its euphoric effects. It can be very addictive, just as with many other opioids. Although ceasing heroin use can be very difficult, it IS possible, especially in a professional rehabilitation setting. A typical drug rehab center offers medical detox, inpatient care and outpatient care. One of the benefits of being treated at a rehab facility is that any heroin withdrawal symptoms can be carefully and safely monitored and managed by medical professionals.

While detox is never the same for any two people, most heroin detox programs closely reflect the heroin withdrawal timeline. Because it’s a fast-acting drug, heroin dissipates in the bloodstream relatively quickly. Therefore, it typically takes five to seven days before an individual’s body has completely filtered out any and all remains of the drug. In some cases where the individual may have abused heroin more heavily, detox can last up to 10 days for these patients. Going through heroin withdrawal is tough. While the highs of heroin are extreme, so are the withdrawal symptoms. To go through heroin detox safely, seek out medical assistance at a rehab center.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin, and you have concerns about heroin withdrawal symptoms, you can find the answers to many of your questions on this page, including the severity of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. You may also be wondering about at-home treatment or remedies for heroin addiction. It’s important to keep in mind that heroin withdrawal can be very dangerous without medical supervision, so it might be best to enroll at a rehab center that offers a detox program.

While undergoing detox and heroin withdrawal can be the toughest stages in beating heroin addiction disease, it’s not impossible, and you CAN live a clean and sober life. The Recovery Village completely understands the challenges associated with heroin detox and withdrawal, and mitigates these undesirable effects by making the process as comfortable as possible while keeping patients safe. When an individual completely ceases or decreases the amount of heroin, certain physical and psychological signs may arise. These symptoms are called withdrawal. This is especially true when an addiction regularly consumes high doses of heroin.
Initial heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin within the first day of detoxification. Physical and psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Runny nose
  • Excessive secretion of tears
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Irritablity
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate
After the initial symptoms subside, more intense and longer-lasting symptoms start to appear, including:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity

While this is the most difficult phase of withdrawal, such symptoms subside over time as the body adjusts back to life without heroin. These more intense and physical symptoms start to improve over the course of three or four days, and within approximately a week, you will start to feel normal.

heroin withdrawal
Although withdrawal is one of the toughest phases in beating heroin addiction, it can be done. It is important to understand what to expect during withdrawal to best prepare for the process. A withdrawal timeline can vary from individual to individual, depending on many factors, including the extent of use. Most withdrawal symptoms, however, steer along a similar trajectory. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as four hours after you take your last dose of the narcotic. For those who have been taking heroin for a long period of time, these symptoms may take longer to manifest because heroin is built up in your system. For most people, heroin withdrawal will last at least one week. Those who use heroin chronically may experience withdrawal for up to three or four weeks. When your symptoms begin to lessen, it’s time to begin creating a plan for entering drug rehab to continue your recovery from heroin addiction. The following heroin withdrawal timeline can help you understand

Phase 1: Days 1 – 3: Most symptoms of heroin withdrawal start within the first 24 hours after a person stops using the substance. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, or even painful. It’s important to remember, however, that the discomfort is only temporary. As a result, relapse is very likely to occur during the first two or three days of withdrawal. Symptoms of the initial phase of withdrawal include:

  • Aggression
  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Muscle pain
  • Sweating
  • Stomach problems
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks

Phase 2: Days 3 – 5: After the first phase of withdrawal, most of the intense symptoms have subsided. At this point, someone withdrawing from heroin is likely to feel:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Minor muscle aches
  • Shivers
  • Fatigue

Each person experiences heroin detox and withdrawal differently. For some, withdrawal symptoms may extend past five days. For others, the symptoms will subside after one week. It’s not unusual for some mild symptoms to linger. However, focusing on the goal of recovery and using tools like exercise and healthy eating can tremendously help during this challenging time. At The Recovery Village, our doctors will help you feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. Often, we help patients taper off of their drug so withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as quitting cold turkey.  

While withdrawal symptoms can seem extremely uncomfortable and even dangerous, choosing the right facility can put all signs of uneasiness to rest. Although it is very rare, withdrawal can lead to death on occasions. If the symptoms and signs of withdrawal are not monitored by medical professionals at an accredited facility, detox will be incredibly difficult and even harmful to the person using.

Therefore, it is highly advisable to find the best facility to undergo detox and withdrawal treatment. While detoxing at The Recovery Village, our skilled team of doctors and nurses will monitor you 24/7 to ensure your health and safety during detoxification.

There are several different ways to detox from heroin. Many people who try to quit heroin on their own stop cold turkey, or all at once. While withdrawal is one of the milestones to heroin addiction recovery, cold turkey withdrawal is not advised. Suddenly quitting heroin can create more dangers and harm than good. The main dangers of cold turkey withdrawal include dehydration and risk of relapse, which can easily lead to overdose if the person uses the same amount as before detox. Cold turkey withdrawal is one of the most dangerous and least effective ways to beat the disease; sudden cessation of heroin use can shock the body and result in dangerous symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations and seizures.

The costs of do-it-yourself withdrawal methods are not worth the risks and can lead to far more damaging effects on the body in the long run. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is a great and effective way to maintain your health and safety. When you detox from heroin at The Recovery Village, our doctors will help you feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. We help patients taper off of their drug so withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as quitting cold turkey.

Withdrawal can be very taxing and tiresome on the body. For this reason, staying at a facility is a great idea. Detoxification and withdrawal can be very painful processes (that can last for a long time) in which the body cleanses itself of heroin. Medical professionals can provide constant monitoring in any emergency case that may arise during the process. It’s highly advised to avoid facilities that offer so-called “rapid detox” as a standalone treatment. If it’s not integrated with mental health supports and other therapies, it’s rarely a long-term solution by itself. The good news is that our treatment options to fight addiction are increasingly sophisticated and effective. Medically-assisted detoxification makes the process less painful by helping to cleanse the body while the person is sedated. Also, medications are provided to ease the discomfort that comes with withdrawing from heroin. There are three major drugs that are approved for the treatment of heroin addiction. These medications can include:

  • Methadone — This opioid medication is used to treat severe pain, but it’s also commonly used to treat opiate addictions. It can be administered as a tablet, liquid or injection.
  • Buprenorphine — Also referred to as Suboxone and Subutex, these medications are ideal in treating withdrawal and future maintenance treatments, too. Moreover, methadone and buprenorphine are made in a way that discourages misuse and abuse.
  • Naltrexone — Naltrexone is the third FDA-approved medication ideal for treating heroin addiction because it’s not habit-forming. Naltrexone helps people avoid relapse by decreasing their cravings and preventing them from getting high if they were to take more heroin. After someone who used heroin has undergone detoxification, naltrexone is the next recommended step. Naltrexone can only be used after a person has been detoxified, so people must either successfully stop using heroin for several weeks or opt for medically-assisted detoxification if they want to use it in their recovery. 
  • Naloxone — Naloxone (sold under the brand name Narcan) is not a treatment for heroin addiction, but it can temporarily stop the effects of heroin use. Naloxone has recently been used by first responders and law enforcement officials to someone at the first sign of heroin and opiate abuse. If someone has been given naloxone for overdose, it’s very important to get them to an emergency room as soon as possible before the drug wears off.
heroin with spoon
Detox is only the first step toward recovery. While heroin addiction has no cure, it can be treated successfully in a drug addiction treatment program. The Recovery Village offers several recovery treatment options to best suit each patient’s unique needs. In our experience, most people who use heroin highly benefit from inpatient rehab, where they participate in individual therapy, group therapy, receive nutritionally balanced meals and benefit from living in a temptation-free, sober environment. Once rehab is complete, many people recovering from heroin also like to attend 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. For this reason, medically supervised detox is preferential. The following are some of the detox settings that are available: 

  • Inpatient detox: These programs may be offered at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility such as The Recovery Village. Drug rehab centers provide 24-hour supervision, pharmacotherapy and intensive monitoring during this time.
  • Outpatient detox: These programs may be offered at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or free clinic. Patients who choose outpatient detox only receive medical monitoring during business hours, leaving them vulnerable to relapse during the evenings and on weekends.
  • Holistic detox programs: These programs may be offered at naturopathic doctor’s offices. They rely on herbal medicines and alternative therapies to detoxify the mind and body. Such programs include spiritual counseling, yoga and acupuncture.

Professionals in the addiction space typically recommend that those who are addicted to heroin detox in a medically supervised setting because it can be a dangerous process. Complications can include aspirating vomit, or breathing it into the lungs, leading to lung infection or asphyxiation. Excessive vomiting, sweating and diarrhea can also cause dehydration, leading to chemical and mineral imbalances and possibly causing seizures. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility such as The Recovery Village mitigates all of these risks, however, as our team will monitor patients 24/7. Once detox is complete, patients can transition to further treatment.

While there are many settings for detox, one option many prefer for a variety of reasons is home detox. The process of detoxification involves removing all possible heroin and substances associated with heroin from the body. During this process, many adverse effects occur, including dehydration. More often than not, many people who are addicted to heroin are also addicted to another substance. Therefore, detoxifying a few substances can be extremely difficult to do under conditions monitored solely by the person using and their family members. If you are detoxing from these drugs at home, you could be running the risk of damaging your organs, leading to organ failure. While it’s rare to die from withdrawal or detox, death is a possible side effect. For this reason, it’s recommended you detox at a medical facility.  

If for whatever reason, you are unable to detox at an accredited facility, and home detox is the only option, it’s important to have a support system around to help you and call 911 if they notice extreme withdrawal symptoms. Home detox kits that contain vitamins, herbs and minerals are available at drugstores and online for purchase. Many individuals preparing for home detox purchase such kits with good intentions. However, they’re rarely successful in beating the disease because the kits don’t address the deep-rooted psychological and behavioral issues.

It’s highly suggested to seek professional help when undergoing something as serious as detox. How is detox at an accredited facility different from detox at home? The entire process is monitored by medical professions, including a team of nurses, physicians and other health care providers with specialized training in the drug detox process. If any problems arise during the detox process, a physician can monitor the conditions and prescribe safe, well-researched medications to minimize the pain and discomfort from symptoms and cravings. While it may seem like a “luxury” to some, the reason for staying at a detox facility is to stay on the road to recovery without getting lured craving and temptations.

AP. “Dying by Detox: Heroin-related Jail Deaths Raise Alarm with Advocates.” CBS News, 11 July 2016, www.cbsnews.com/news/heroin-withdrawal-jail-deaths-treatment-advocates/. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
Borrego, Ricardo. “Painkillers to Heroin: the Pros and Cons of Treatments for Opioid Addiction.” U.S. News and World Report Health Care, U.S. News and World Report, 1 Sept. 2015, health.usnews.com/health-news/patient-advice/articles/2015/09/01/painkillers-to-heroin-the-pros-and-cons-of-treatments-for-opioid-addiction. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
Cherney, Kristeen. “Opiate Withdrawal: What It Is and How to Cope With It.” Healthline, 14 Nov. 2016, www.healthline.com/health/coping-opiate-withdrawal#Symptomsandtimeline3. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Treatments for Heroin Addiction?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Nov. 2014, www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/what-are-treatments-heroin-addiction. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.
Sack, David. “What Are the Dangers of Home Detox from Drugs or Alcohol?” Psych Central, blogs.psychcentral.com/addiction-recovery/2014/02/home-detox-dangers/. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

Heroin Detox & Withdrawal
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Heroin Detox & Withdrawal was last modified: November 22nd, 2017 by The Recovery Village