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What is Heroin Withdrawal Like?

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Heroin is an illicit opioid drug that causes a rush of euphoria and feelings of relaxation. The mind-altering effects of this substance can quickly become addictive. Unfortunately, abusing heroin is incredibly risky and often leads to overdoses.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 1.1 million people reported using heroin in 2021.[1]

Once you become addicted to heroin, your brain and body rely on it to function properly. If you suddenly stop using it, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. While heroin withdrawal is usually not life-threatening, it can be incredibly difficult to cope with, making medical detox vital to recovery.

Heroin withdrawal usually begins within 24 hours of your last dose and continues for about a week. You will experience flu-like symptoms, abdominal cramping, cravings for heroin, and more. During a detox program, medical professionals will keep you medically stable and offer medications to limit your symptoms.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What the symptoms of heroin withdrawal are
  • What is the timeline of heroin withdrawal
  • How each stage of heroin withdrawal feels
  • How medical detox centers treat heroin withdrawal

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

Most people describe heroin withdrawal as feeling like a severe flu, however, the cravings that come with withdrawal make it more excruciating than that. As a result, receiving medication in a detox center is vital to maintaining sobriety.

The acute withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin include:[2]

  • Agitation and anxiety
  • Flu-like symptoms such as teary eyes, runny nose, muscle aches, and shivering
  • Insomnia
  • Excessive sweating
  • Frequent yawning
  • Stomach pains and cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Cravings for heroin

While the symptoms of heroin withdrawal are not directly life-threatening, symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating can lead to severe dehydration. Without medical treatment, this could become fatal. Additionally, the cravings for heroin could cause you to relapse without the support of a detox center.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

When you develop a physical dependence on heroin, you will experience withdrawal symptoms at some point. It is best to be under the care of medical professionals in a detox center before they begin. Having access to withdrawal medication will make the process much easier and allow you to focus on other aspects of recovery, such as therapy and counseling.

While the length of heroin withdrawal can vary from person to person, most people follow a general timeline.

The heroin withdrawal timeline is as follows:

24 Hours

The physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal will begin within 24 hours of your last dose. While the symptoms are usually mild, you should be receiving care from a medically supervised detox center. It is common to experience symptoms like irritability, anxiety, cravings for heroin, and general discomfort.

24 to 36 Hours

Sometime between 24 and 36 hours after you last used heroin, your symptoms will peak and withdrawal will be at its most severe. If you are in a medical detox center, your symptoms will be controlled with FDA-approved medications like Suboxone or methadone.

During peak heroin withdrawal, you might experience flu-like symptoms, vomiting, diarrhea, intense cravings for heroin, and psychological symptoms like anxiety or insomnia.

4 to 7 Days

Around the 4th day, you will notice that your symptoms are becoming more mild. They will continue to taper off until it has been a week since your last dose. Most people overcome heroin withdrawal by 7 days.

It is possible to continue experiencing psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and cravings. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which can last for several weeks.[3]

How Does Heroin Detox Work?

The best way to achieve long-term recovery is to attend a heroin detox center. These programs offer 24/7 medical supervision, mental health support, and medications to control withdrawal symptoms. In other words, they make it easier for you to cope with heroin withdrawal, allowing you to move forward in your recovery journey.

Heroin detox centers use FDA-approved medications to manage heroin withdrawal symptoms. The most commonly used medications include:

  • Suboxone
  • Methadone
  • Clonidine
  • Lucemyra

Over time, the dose of your medication will be lowered until you no longer need it. Once your withdrawal symptoms have subsided, you will transfer to an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment center. These programs treat substance use disorders by addressing the root causes of addiction, offering individualized treatment options, and helping you develop vital relapse prevention skills.

Finding Help for Heroin Addiction and Withdrawal

Heroin is a highly addictive substance that can wreak havoc on your and your family member’s lives. If you are struggling with heroin addiction, you should seek professional treatment. Thankfully, the South Carolina Addiction Treatment Center is here to support you from medical detox to inpatient rehab.

Contact us today for more information on how medical detox and addiction treatment for heroin works.

References:

  1. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): What is the scope of heroin use in the United States
  2. Medline Plus: Opiate and opioid withdrawal
  3. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Post-acute withdrawal syndrome

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