Heroin Detox and Withdrawal

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Heroin is a hard drug to stop using, but quitting is possible. 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 into the bloodstream relatively quickly. It typically takes five to seven days for the body to completely filter out any remains of the drug. In cases of heavier heroin abuse, detox can last up to 10 days.

Going through heroin withdrawal is tough. While the highs of heroin use are extreme, so are the symptoms that follow the cessation of heroin use, or withdrawal. To go through heroin detox safely, it’s best to enroll in a medically assisted detox program at a rehab center like The Recovery Village.

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin use, 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 in a rehab center that offers a detox program.

Heroin Abuse & Withdrawal Statistics

Heroin use is a nationwide issue that affects people from all ethnicities, age groups and backgrounds. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States alone:  

  • 467,000 people use heroin regularly
  • From 2014–2015, heroin overdose deaths rose by over 20 percent
  • Heroin was responsible for 15,446 overdose deaths in 2016
  • Of people using heroin, 3 in 4 people report having abused prescription opioids prior to heroin

Heroin Rehabilitation & Detox Statistics

For people who are struggling with heroin addiction, rehabilitation and detox services are available.

  • An estimated 20.7 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment from 2016-2017, including for heroin addiction
  • Only 4 million people aged 12 or older received substance use treatment, including heroin detox care, from 2016-2017
  • Heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6–12 hours of the last use, peak after 2–3 days, and can last 5–10 days for most people
Heroin withdrawal is a difficult challenge for anyone to endure. There is generally only one cause of heroin withdrawal: stopping heroin use. Ending heroin use can be done abruptly (think cold turkey) or over time in a detox program. If a person has used heroin only on occasion, they might not experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

For people who have not been addicted for a long time, or who want to end their occasional heroin use, heroin withdrawal medications can help them overcome the painful side effects of withdrawal. For others with more severe heroin addictions, an inpatient program is beneficial for managing heroin withdrawal safely and effectively.

While undergoing heroin detox and heroin withdrawal can be the toughest stages in overcoming the disease of addiction, it’s not impossible, and you can lead a sober life. When an individual completely stops taking heroin or decreases the amount they use, certain physical and psychological effects will occur. Mental and physical symptoms range in severity depending on how much heroin someone has been using. These are generally referred to as heroin withdrawal symptoms.

The Recovery Village completely understands the challenges associated with detox and withdrawal. The clinicians and doctors work to mitigate these undesirable effects by making the process as comfortable as possible while keeping each client safe.

Cold Turkey Heroin Withdrawal

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 do more harm than good in many cases.

The main dangers of going cold-turkey include dehydration and risk of relapse, which can easily lead to overdose if the person uses the same amount as before detox. Cold-turkey is one of the most dangerous and least effective ways to overcome heroin addiction. Sudden cessation of heroin use can shock the body and result in dangerous physical symptoms.

The costs of do-it-yourself detox methods are not worth the risks and can lead to far more damaging effects on the body over time. Undergoing detox at an accredited facility is a safe and effective way to rid the body of drugs like heroin. When someone detoxes from heroin at The Recovery Village, a team of doctors helps them feel as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. This renowned center helps clients taper off their drug use so withdrawal symptoms are not as severe as quitting cold turkey.

Heroin Detox and Withdrawal

Short-Term Effects of Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as six to 12 hours after the last dose of heroin. The short-term effects of heroin withdrawal may range from mild to severe and are different for each person. Short-term physical and psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive secretion of tears
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Aggression
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate

As most of the short-term effects of heroin withdrawal are physical, it is important that detox be medically supervised to keep people safe. The initial phases of withdrawal can be made easier with heroin withdrawal medications that help stabilize the body and mind.

After the initial symptoms subside, more intense and longer-lasting symptoms start to manifest. The length of time these symptoms persist varies from person to person. These mental and physical effects may include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Hyperactivity
  • Drug cravings
  • Relapse

While detox is the most difficult phase of withdrawal, withdrawal symptoms subside over time as the body adjusts back to life without heroin. The more intense physical symptoms typically start to improve over the course of three or four days, and within approximately one week, most people start to feel well again.

Heroin addiction can be described as a malady of the mind and body. Withdrawal has both physical and psychological effects, but each individual experiences them differently. The side effects of withdrawal also vary in severity, depending on the length and intensity of addiction. Some of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:  

Physical Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Yawning
  • Muscle cramping
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Drug cravings
  • Excessive sweating
  • Overproduction of tears
  • Aches and chills   
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps  

Psychological Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mental illness like anxiety and depression
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure, a condition called anhedonia
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Restlessness
Although withdrawal is one of the toughest phases in overcoming 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 by the person and depends on many factors including the extent of use. Most withdrawal symptoms, however, steer along a similar trajectory.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

For most people, heroin withdrawal lasts at least one week. People who use heroin chronically may experience withdrawal for up to three or four weeks. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as four hours after someone takes their 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 has built up in the body over time.

Phase 1: Days 1–3: Most withdrawal symptoms start within the first 24 hours after a person stops using heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable or even painful. It’s important to remember, however, that the discomfort is only temporary. 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 from heroin addiction, most of the intense symptoms have subsided. At this point, someone experiencing heroin withdrawal is likely to feel:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Minor muscle aches
  • Shivers
  • Fatigue

Each person experiences detox and withdrawal differently. For some, withdrawal symptoms may extend past five days. For others, the symptoms 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, a team of doctors helps clients feel as comfortable as possible during the process of detox.

heroin with spoon
Detoxing from heroin is best done at a drug rehabilitation facility like The Recovery Village. This is the safest option, for both one’s mental and physical health. Medically assisted detox also has higher rates of success than other methods. Alternatives can be risky at best.

If someone is unable to detox at an accredited facility, and home detox is the only option, it’s important that they have a strong support system to help. It’s also important that they call 911 if they notice extreme withdrawal symptoms. Home detox kits that contain vitamins, herbs and minerals are available at drugstores and online. However, these kits are rarely successful. Additionally, home detox plans can’t address the deep-rooted psychological and behavioral issues that are tied to addiction.

It’s highly recommended to seek professional help when undergoing something as serious as heroin detox. In a detox program at a rehab facility, the entire process is monitored by medical professionals, including a team of nurses, physicians and other health care providers with specialized training in the drug detox process. If any problems arise, a physician can monitor the conditions and prescribe safe, well-researched medications to minimize pain and manage cravings. Staying at a detox facility helps many people start on the road to recovery in the best possible way.

Heroin Addiction Detoxification Process

Detox is only the first step toward recovery. Heroin addiction can be treated successfully in a drug addiction treatment program. The Recovery Village offers several treatment options to best suit each client’s unique needs.

Most people who use heroin greatly benefit from inpatient rehab, where they participate in individual therapy and group therapy, receive nutritionally balanced meals and live in a sober environment. Once rehab is complete, many people recovering from heroin also attend 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.

Medically supervised detox is preferential, and some of the detox settings that are available include:

  • Inpatient Detox: These programs may be offered at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility such as The Recovery Village. Drug rehab centers may provide 24-hour supervision, pharmacotherapy and intensive monitoring.
  • Outpatient Detox: These programs may be offered at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or free clinic. Clients 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 typically include spiritual counseling, yoga and acupuncture.

Professionals in the addiction space usually recommend that people 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 suffocating.

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 as our team monitors clients 24 hours a day. Once detox is complete, clients can transition to further treatment.

Withdrawal Medication & Drugs

When someone is detoxing from heroin, they need treatment options to fight their addiction that are both sophisticated and effective. Medically assisted detoxification makes the process less painful by helping to cleanse the body while the person is under constant supervision.

In addition, medications may be provided as appropriate to ease the discomfort that comes from heroin withdrawal. There are several taper medications and drugs that are approved for the treatment of heroin addiction. These include:

  • Methadone: This opioid medication is used to treat severe pain, but it’s also commonly used to treat opioid addictions. It can be administered as a tablet, liquid or injection.
  • Buprenorphine: Also referred to as Suboxone and Subutex, this medication is ideal for treating withdrawal and can be used for maintenance treatment after withdrawal ends. Moreover, methadone and buprenorphine act in a way that discourages heroin misuse and abuse.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is an approved medication ideal for treating heroin addiction as 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 therapy is usually the next recommended step. This medication can only be used after a person has gone through detox, so one 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: Sold under the brand name Narcan, naloxone is not a treatment for heroin addiction, but it can temporarily stop the effects of heroin use. Naloxone has been used by first responders and law enforcement officials to reverse opioid overdoses. If someone has been given naloxone for overdose, it’s very important to get them to an emergency room as soon as possible before it wears off.

Seek Help With Your Heroin Withdrawal

If you’re ready to leave heroin addiction behind for good, enrolling in an inpatient program at a rehab center is a wise choice. Medical professionals can provide constant monitoring throughout the entire process to help ease your withdrawal symptoms and ensure your safety, before and after detox.

To start on the path to healing and overcome heroin withdrawal, call The Recovery Village. An addiction specialist can answer your call and address any questions you may have about treatment. You deserve to live free from the painful effects of heroin withdrawal. Call today to get started with treatment.

Haupt, Angela. “One Man’s Story: How I Beat Addiction.” U.S. News, 2013. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

Cherney, Kristeen. “Opiate Withdrawal: What It Is and How to Cope With It.” Healthline, 14 Nov. 2016. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Heroin Overdose Data. Last updated December 2018. Accessed March 24, 2017.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin. June 2018. Accessed March 24, 2017.

Sack, David. “Home Detox: What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Psych Central, 2014. Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Published September 2018. Accessed February 2019.

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