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Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin

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Heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18–25 in the past decade. More than 9 in 10 people who used heroin also used at least one other drug. 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. A person who is physiologically dependent on this drug will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms of heroin if their drug intake is stopped or suddenly and significantly reduced.

What is Heroin Withdrawal?

People using heroin regularly (for example: daily) over a long period of time may experience heroin withdrawals when stopping or reducing their heroin intake. In 2018 in the United States, about 808,000 people reported using heroin during the past year [1]. In the same year, about 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers without a prescription. Careful planning can assist a person with heroin withdrawal, requiring professional assistance from experts like addiction specialists and therapists.

Heroin use can result in tolerance to and dependence on the drug. Individuals need more of the drug when tolerance happens to achieve the same effect. Dependence on heroin means the person must use heroin to stop withdrawal symptoms. The primary risk associated with heroin withdrawal is subsequent overdose due to loss of tolerance.

What causes heroin withdrawal to occur? All opioids, especially heroin, can become habit-forming. When you build a tolerance to heroin, you need to take more of it to feel high. Eventually, you can become physically and psychologically dependent on the drug. Chronic heroin use alters the nerve receptors in your brain. They come to depend on opioids, particularly heroin, to function. If you stop using heroin or reduce the amount you take, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms represent your body’s physical response to the absence of heroin.

withdrawal symptoms of heroin
The withdrawal symptoms of heroin is a result of various changes in brain activity caused by repeated heroin use. 

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Withdrawal Symptoms of Heroin 

Withdrawal symptoms of heroin usually last about a week. However, the experience is different for everyone. Several factors play a role in how the body reacts to heroin withdrawal. These may include the amount of heroin taken in each dose, how long heroin was abused, and how the person ingested the drug (snorting, smoking, shooting, or boofing). Withdrawal symptoms of heroin may also be influenced by underlying mental health problems or a prior history of opioid abuse.

One of the many reasons heroin can be damaging is that it suppresses the normal functions of the central nervous system (CNS). As a result, it can harm your breathing, body temperature, and blood pressure. Since opioids like heroin bind to opioid receptors in the brain, the person using the drug can end up with changes in brain chemistry that affect how they experience pleasure and pain. When someone goes through heroin withdrawal, they may experience sensations opposite the highs they previously enjoyed. For instance, the heart rate can slow, and they may feel anxious or depressed.

Here are some of the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms:

Heroin Cravings

Most people who are experiencing heroin withdrawal undergo a strong urge to take more heroin. This is known as “experiencing cravings” and is very common among people withdrawing from many addictive substances. Part of the craving is motivated by the desire to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and part of it is the yearning to re-experience the pleasure of the heroin high.

Heroin Mood Changes

Feeling depressed, anxious, or irritable, also known as having a “dysphoric mood”, is a common symptom of heroin withdrawals. Even without a traumatic past, it is expected to experience these mood changes, but many people who use heroin experience long-suppressed feelings connected to abuse or past trauma when they come off the drug. This is why it is crucial to have emotional support while going through heroin withdrawals. These feelings become less intense once the heroin withdrawal stage is over.

Heroin Fever

Body temperature differs from person to the next, as well as factors like time of day and menstrual cycle, but usually, a temperature of 99–99.5 F (37.2–37.5 C) is considered a fever in adults. A fever is one way your body combats infections and disease, but when a person goes through heroin withdrawals, the fever does not serve a practical purpose in fighting infection. Ask medical assistance immediately if your temperature goes above 103 F (40 C), and doesn’t come down with treatment. If you have a severe medical condition, such as a heart problem, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, HIV, or cystic fibrosis, or if you have a seizure, get immediate help.

Stomach Pain and Diarrhea 

Diarrhea or watery and frequent bowel movements are also common with heroin withdrawals. These withdrawal symptoms may be accompanied by stomach pain caused by spasms in the digestive system. The discomfort of diarrhea and stomach pain may make it challenging to go about your routine.

Vomiting and Nausea 

Although these are distressing symptoms, nausea and vomiting are normal to heroin withdrawals. It wears you out, makes you uncomfortable, puts you off your food, and keeps you close to the bathroom.

Restlessness and Sleep Problems

Individuals going through heroin withdrawals usually experience restlessness, which, coupled with insomnia and anxiety, can simultaneously make you feel agitated and tired. Heroin withdrawals often causes sleep problems, particularly insomnia. Yawning is also common.

Coping & Relief

While heroin withdrawals can be uncomfortable and intense, the worst symptoms usually pass within a week. During this time, there are some things that you can do to help yourself feel more comfortable.

Pains and Aches

One of the main roles of heroin works is to block the body’s pain pathways. When you go through heroin withdrawals, there is a rebound effect, and you feel achy, particularly in the legs and back, and feel more sensitive to pain.

Excessive Bodily Fluids

As you undergo heroin withdrawals, you may encounter an overproduction of bodily fluids, such as sweat, tears, and a runny nose. You may also notice your hair standing on end. As with other physical withdrawal symptoms, these responses are part of your body bringing itself into balance.

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When Does Heroin Withdrawal Start?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms begin within the first twenty-four hours (sometimes as soon as four hours) from the last use, peak within 36 to 72 hours, and last seven to ten days for most people. The duration and severity of withdrawal may depend on how long the person used heroin and the amount and method of heroin use. Individuals who use heroin may experience some withdrawal for up to 3 or 4 weeks. While withdrawal is necessary when addressing heroin addiction, options are available to detox in a comfortable and safe way.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal symptoms of heroin may develop rapidly. For instance, a person with a strong physical dependence might begin to experience them in hours. Over the following days, the withdrawal symptoms become more intense before peaking and then gradually subsiding. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that while heroin withdrawal symptoms tend to improve after a week, they may sometimes stay for months.

The terrible withdrawal symptoms may peak after about a week of no drugs and typically last up to 14 days. So you initially start feeling symptoms within a day, which is why someone with an addiction to heroin wants to have this drug in their system at all times. But the symptoms can get progressively worse for up to a week and then last up to two weeks until it’s totally out of their system.

withdrawal symptoms of heroin
Professional heroin withdrawal treatment may be necessary if you can’t stop using heroin without experiencing unpleasant heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Day 1

The body metabolizes heroin rather quickly, leading one to experience the onset of withdrawal symptoms within 8-24 hours of last use. The earliest symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include muscle aches, yawning, runny nose, insomnia, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, fever, and anxiety.

Day 2 to 3

People feel the worst symptoms between 48-72 hours after the last use – including severe muscle aches, excessive sweating, lethargy, anxiety, and restlessness. Cravings are usually very strong during this period too.

Day 4 to 10 

Withdrawal can last between 5 and 10 days, depending on the person and how long they used heroin, but some psychological symptoms can stay for months. The terrible withdrawal symptoms may peak after about a week of no drugs. After that, they typically last up to 14 days. So you initially start feeling symptoms within a day, which is why people with addiction want to have this drug in their system at all times. But the symptoms can get progressively worse for up to a week and then last up to two weeks until it’s totally out of their system.

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How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The initial comedown of withdrawal from heroin can vary in time and intensity. Typically, heroin withdrawal symptoms will begin six to twelve hours after the last dose, peaking within 1 to 3 days, and gradually subsiding over 5 to 7 days. However, some users experience weeks or months of withdrawal symptoms, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Post-Acute Withdrawl Syndrome (PAWS)

Unfortunately, when going through the heroin withdrawal process, some experience a condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, also referred to as PAWS. This occurs when a person experiences withdrawal syndromes over an extended period of time. Sometimes recovering heroin addicts have symptoms for a period of a few weeks to even months.

How Long Does It Take to Withdraw From Heroin?

Another common question is about how long heroin withdrawals will happen. Heroin leaves the body within a matter of days. The digestive system works to metabolize and remove it from the body over a few days. Yet, how long this takes often depends on the amount of the substance used and factors such as how healthy your body is and if it can metabolize substances quickly.

Heroin withdrawals will continue until your body and brain are forced to move beyond their dependence. This is a difficult period for some people. That is why most heroin addiction treatment centers offer a comprehensive treatment program incorporating medications that ease the brain off heroin. It takes less pain and frustration to get beyond that withdrawal then. For most people, you can start feeling better in a few days.

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Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

Withdrawing from any kind of opioid can be lethal. That is why the safest way to get rid of this drug from your body (detox) is under medical care. As uncomfortable as heroin withdrawal symptoms are, they aren’t usually life-threatening. However, they are painful and uncomfortable enough to make at-home detox dangerous. During an at-home detox, a person starts to crave heroin while also experiencing withdrawal symptoms. To ease their pain, they use heroin. However, now that they are clean, their body is no longer accustomed to the drug. They may return to using the same amount as they previously did, but it can be overwhelming for their body, causing an overdose and death.

Another reason why people die from heroin withdrawal is excessive vomiting and diarrhea. Untreated, these symptoms can rapidly dehydrate the body and cause dangerously high levels of sodium to accumulate in the blood (hypernatremia), and the heart can fail. Such incidents happen when people withdraw from heroin on their own. Such deaths can be averted by medical supervision in a professional detox facility.

Heroin Withdrawal Treatment

When people addicted to opioids like heroin first quit, they undergo withdrawal symptoms (pain, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting), which may be severe.

Medications can be helpful in this detoxification stage. This is to ease craving and other physical symptoms that can often prompt a person to relapse.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can be considered by all individuals seeking treatment for heroin addiction. Drugs such as Suboxone, Zubsolv, and Vivitrol may aid heroin addicts in their recovery.

  • Lofexidine. FDA approved a non-opioid medicine designed to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms. It is the primary medication for detoxification and heroin withdrawal symptoms.
  • Methadone (Dolophine or Methadose) is a slow-acting opioid agonist. Methadone is taken orally to reach the brain slowly while preventing withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is only available through approved treatment programs, where it is dispensed to patients daily.
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex). FDA approved. Buprenorphine relieves drug cravings without producing the “high” or dangerous side effects of other opioids. Suboxone is a novel formulation of buprenorphine that is taken orally and contains naloxone (an opioid antagonist) to prevent attempts to get high by injecting the medication.
  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol). FDA approved. It is a medication primarily used to manage alcohol or heroin addiction by reducing cravings and feelings of euphoria associated with substance abuse. Heroin addicted person should not receive naltrexone before detoxification.
  • Naloxone should be given to anyone who shows signs of an opioid overdose or when an overdose is suspected. It can be given as a nasal spray or injected into the muscle, under the skin, or into the veins.
withdrawal symptoms of heroin
Heroin withdrawal symptoms treatment has helped many people overcome heroin addiction safely.

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Heroin Addiction Treatment Near Me

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease and should be treated like other chronic diseases. Like those, it should constantly be monitored and managed. Heroin is a type of opioid. Opioid addiction treatment is different for each individual. The main purpose of opioid addiction treatment is to help the person stop using the drug. Opioid addiction treatment can also help the person avoid using it again.

The body does go through specific symptom stages known as the opioid withdrawal timeline. The opioid withdrawal timeline varies from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of opioid used, how long it was used, and any other substances that may have been used in conjunction with opioids. Medically managed withdrawal opioid detox ensures the individual remains safe and stays as comfortable as possible.

Detox Treatment

The first step in treatment is medical detox. It will help you navigate the complicated withdrawal process but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to heroin addiction. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can give necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression. 
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis programs treat both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. This strategy treats both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

If you or your loved one is suffering from Opioid withdrawal symptoms and addictions and at some point experienced opioid overdose symptoms, help is just a phone call away. Professional opioid addiction treatment is necessary for fast and effective recovery. Contact us today at We Level Up treatment facility. We provide utmost care with doctors and medical staff available 24/7 for life-changing and lasting recovery. We offer an enhanced opportunity to return to a fulfilling and productive life.

withdrawal symptoms of heroin
Heroin withdrawal symptoms treatment is available to help safely manage the impact of withdrawal and keep an individual as comfortable as possible during the process.