Heroin Detox and Withdrawal

Heroin is a hard drug to quit, but it is possible. While detox is never the same for any two people, most heroin detox programs closely reflect the withdrawal timeline. Because it is 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 detox from heroin safely, seek out medical assistance at a detox center.
While undergoing detox and withdrawal can be the toughest stages in beating heroin addiction disease, it is possible and you can live a clean and sober life. The Recovery Village completely understands the challenges associated with 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 start to arise. These symptoms are called withdrawal. This is especially true when an addiction regularly consumes high doses of heroin.

Initial symptoms of withdrawal can begin within the first day of detoxification. Physical and psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Runny nose
  • Lacrimation, or tearing
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Uncontrollable yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to concentrate

After the initial symptoms subside, more intense and longer lasting symptoms start to appear:

  • 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 severity of abuse. 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. Chronic users 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.

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. 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, withdrawing heroin addicts are 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 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 user.

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 users take the amount that they were used to taking before detox. Cold turkey withdrawal is one of the most dangerous and least effective ways to beat the disease. Sudden removal of heroin can also shock the system and result in dangerous symptoms like convulsions, hallucinations and seizures.

The costs of do-it-yourself withdrawal methods are not worth it 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 a very painful process, in which your body cleanses itself of heroin that can last for a long time. Medical professionals can provide constant monitoring in case of any emergencies that may arise during the process. It is 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 is 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
  • 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 and Naloxone — Naltrexone is the third FDA-approved medication that is ideal in treating heroin addiction because it is 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 a user 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, also known as 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 is 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 use disorder 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 your unique needs. In our experience, most heroin addicts 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 recovering heroin addicts also like to attend 12-step groups like Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. For this reason, medically-supervised detox is preferential. You can undergo detox in many settings, including:

  • Inpatient detox, which may occur at a hospital, detox center or rehab facility such as The Recovery Village. Drug rehab centers will provide 24-hour supervision, pharmacotherapy and intensive monitoring during this time.
  • Outpatient detox, which may occur at a rehab facility, doctor’s office, medical center or free clinic. Patients who choose outpatient detox will only receive medical monitoring during business hours, leaving them vulnerable to relapse during the evenings and on weekends.
  • Holistic detox programs, which may occur at naturopathic doctor’s offices. These programs 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 will always recommend addicts 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 you 24/7. Once detox is complete, patients can transition to further treatment.

While there are many settings for detox, one option that users prefer for a variety of reasons is home detox. The process of detoxification involves the getting rid of 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 users addicted to heroin are also addicted to another substance as well. Therefore, detoxifying a few substances can be extremely difficult to do under conditions monitored solely  by the user and 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 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 are rarely successful in beating the disease because the kits do not address the deep-rooted psychological and behavioral issues.

It is 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 idea of staying at a detox facility is to stay on the road to recovery without getting lured away by craving and temptations.

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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 was last modified: April 4th, 2017 by The Recovery Village