When heroin is used for a long period of time, a person will likely develop a physical and mental dependency on the substance.
If heroin is suddenly removed from the system, a person will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms.
The severity of withdrawal will be dependent on how long someone used heroin, as well as how much was taken, and how it was taken. People with a history of opioid abuse or mental illness may have more severe symptoms.
Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal
When someone takes heroin, it enters the brain and binds to opioid receptors which control the flow of pleasure-inducing chemicals to the body.
As a result, in the moments after heroin use, a person will feel intense euphoria, sedation, and slowed breathing.
During heroin withdrawal, the feelings of well-being and happiness are replaced with irritability, anxiety, rapid heart rate, and other physical and psychological discomforts.
Typically, heroin withdrawal symptoms last for approximately a week, and symptoms will vary based on the duration of use and level of dependency.
Learn more about heroin withdrawal symptoms.
Physical Signs Of Withdrawal
After a few hours of not taking heroin, a person with a physical dependence on heroin may begin to experience an array of uncomfortable symptoms.
Common symptoms of physical withdrawal include:
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal cramps
- body aches and tremors
- rapid heart rate
- impaired breathing
People who have gone through withdrawal describe the physical experience as a bad case of the flu, with the worst of the symptoms peaking around the third day of withdrawal.
Mental Signs Of Withdrawal
When the brain is deprived of heroin, the opioid receptors will initially not be capable of producing endorphins and other pleasure-inducing chemicals.
As a result, a person going through heroin withdrawal will feel intensely irritable and anxious, as well as experience memory loss, mood swings, insomnia, and more.
How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?
The physical and mental effects of withdrawal will be most acute in the first week or so, followed by less-severe residual symptoms that may last months.
Learn more about the timeline of heroin withdrawal.
The First Four Days Of Heroin Withdrawal
Withdrawal symptoms will start between four to six hours after the last dose of heroin. A person will experience body aches initially, followed by anxiety, insomnia, and tremors.
After the first two days without heroin, withdrawal symptoms typically get worse. They may include profuse sweating, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and intense abdominal cramping.
The Last Three Days Of Heroin Withdrawal
After four to five days of extreme physical and mental discomfort, withdrawal symptoms will begin to subside. People will start to feel physically normal again as if they have recovered from a bad flu.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
In the months after quitting heroin, many people still feel lingering symptoms such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia.
PAWS is due to the brain re-calibrating itself after prolonged opioid abuse. The neurological changes may take months or even years and may require medication and regular therapy to treat.
Dangers Of Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal will not be the same for everyone, but it can be dangerous, particularly in cases where people had an intense addiction to the drug.
The most common dangers of withdrawal are dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Deaths from heroin withdrawal are very rare, but may occur when people attempt to detox without the supervision of healthcare professionals.
See our page on whether you can die from heroin withdrawal.
Treatment Options For Heroin Withdrawal
Entering a medically-monitored detox program is key in avoiding complications from heroin withdrawal.
An inpatient program can help people overcome mental and physical complications while they go through the first phase of recovery.
There are specific medications used in the detoxification process that are designed to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
Common medications used for heroin withdrawal include:
- buprenorphine (Suboxone) — Buprenorphine reduces cravings and uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches.
- methadone (Methadose) — Methadone is a low-strength opiate that helps people who use heroin ease off the drug slowly, while also avoiding most withdrawal symptoms.
- naltrexone (Vivitrol) — This drug helps with PAWS symptoms by blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Naltrexone helps reduce cravings and is commonly prescribed after detox.
In addition to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for heroin, there is a range of other evidence-based services that will help people with long-term recovery.
Addiction treatment services may include:
- 12-step programs for alcohol and drug addiction
- individual, group, and family counseling
- dual diagnosis care for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders
- intensive outpatient programs (IOP)
- residential rehab
The first step in the addiction recovery process is typically detox, followed by an inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment program.
Learn more about heroin withdrawal treatment options.
Find A Treatment Center For Substance Use Disorder Today
If you, a friend, or a loved one are currently addicted to heroin, help is available at Bedrock Recovery Center. Call our helpline today to learn more about our inpatient treatment program.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) — Withdrawal Management https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Heroin DrugFacts https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) — MAT Medications, Counseling, and Related Conditions https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/medications-counseling-related-conditions