Heroin is a highly addictive substance. Heroin withdrawal is uncomfortable. The desire to avoid withdrawal symptoms feeds into the compulsive drug-seeking behaviors that are consistent with heroin abuse and addiction. To successfully recover from heroin addiction, a person must rid their body of heroin and its metabolites. This process of clearing a substance from the body is called detoxification or detox.
Heroin detox is not easy. However, with the right support and care, it is the first step in achieving success, health and happiness in long-term recovery. Understanding the symptoms and duration of heroin withdrawal and detox can help prepare you for a successful first step toward long-term recovery.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin use and addiction cause tolerance and physical dependence, which result in negative symptoms when the drug is withdrawn or withheld from the body. The symptoms are also known as withdrawal symptoms.
Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle Aches
- Abdominal Cramping
- Heroin cravings
- Excessive tear formation
Heroin withdrawal symptoms are frequently described as being similar to having the flu. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on multiple factors, including how long the individual used heroin, the amount of heroin they have used and the method by which the individual used heroin.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
Heroin is classified as a short-acting opioid due the how quickly the body metabolizes and eliminates the substance after use. Typically, heroin withdrawal symptoms may appear within 8 to 12 hours following the latest use, with symptoms peaking in severity between 48 to 72 hours after the latest use. One of the most frequent concerns people have regarding heroin withdrawal is about how long heroin withdrawal lasts. Typically heroin withdrawal symptoms clear after 7 to 10 days.
Heroin Withdrawal Medications
Withdrawal from heroin and other opioids can be challenging but is usually not life-threatening. Treatment involves counseling, support and many times, the use of a specific heroin withdrawal medication to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Medications that are used in the management of heroin withdrawal include:
Methadone is an opioid that is approved for use as a long-term maintenance medicine for opioid dependence. It can help relieve withdrawal symptoms and can be helpful during detox but it carries a risk for dependence and misuse. The dose is generally decreased slowly to minimize withdrawal symptoms. Some people may stay on methadone for many years while being closely monitored by their doctor.
Buprenorphine is an opioid that is approved for use as a long-term maintenance medicine for opioid dependence and its use is more favorable over methadone. Buprenorphine is a commonly used medication in heroin detoxification because it can shorten the length of time required for detox. It is available for opioid withdrawal by itself or in combination with naloxone and it is viewed as having fewer side effects, greater benefit and decreased risk for misuse and dependence as compared to methadone.
Naltrexone works to block the effects of heroin at certain opioid receptors and it is used to prevent relapse. It is available as a pill or an injection. Naltrexone is associated with causing severe and sudden withdrawal symptoms if taken while opioids are still in your system. While it may not be a good option for initial detoxification, naltrexone can be helpful in maintaining abstinence from heroin use after initial detox.
Clonidine is a medication that is not an opioid. It is used to help reduce anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating and cramping symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal. It does not work to help reduce cravings. Clonidine can help decrease the severity of the most intense withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be managed through supportive care measures and can be mitigated by the use of certain medications. Heroin withdrawal should, ideally, be managed by an experienced healthcare professional to ensure that all the physical and psychological needs of the individual are met to achieve the best chance for a successful recovery.
Heroin detox or detoxification is the process necessary to completely clear heroin and its metabolites from your body. Heroin detox can be unpleasant. However, it is necessary for a successful recovery. Because of the unpleasant nature of heroin withdrawal symptoms, one of the most frequently asked questions regarding heroin detox is, “How long does it take to detox from heroin?” Based on laboratory studies, it takes about 7 to 10 days to completely clear heroin from the body.
Some possible complications associated with heroin detox include vomiting and diarrhea, leading to dehydration and electrolyte disturbances. Breathing in vomit can lead to a lung infection.
The biggest complication of heroin detox is the individual returning to drug use after a successful detox. This complication can be very dangerous because most opiate overdose deaths occur in people who just detoxed. Withdrawal from heroin reduces an individual’s tolerance to the drug making it possible for people who completed detox to overdose on much smaller doses or amounts of heroin than they had used before with no issues.
Detoxing From Heroin At Home
It is possible to complete a successful heroin detox at home. However, the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin detox require a proper support system from friends or family. It is recommended to involve a health care provider in the process of determining the most appropriate treatment plan. A doctor can help determine if a home environment can provide the necessary support to guide a person through heroin detox and achieve successful sobriety.
While a home may seem to be the most comfortable place to complete a heroin detox, it can remind the individual of routines that involved their heroin use. It is very important to include family, friends and a doctor in the decision to pursue treatment at home.
Tapering Off Heroin
Heroin withdrawal is challenging. Tapering off heroin may seem to be the most feasible approach to achieving recovery depending on the length of time of misuse and the typical amount of misuse. A tapering regimen involves gradually reducing the dose or amount taken to lessen tolerance and dependence over time.
Although this might initially seem to be a desirable way to lessen withdrawal symptoms, there are many inconsistencies in heroin batches because it is an unregulated, illegal drug. To maintain consistency in treatment, it would be advisable to involve a doctor and utilize certain approved medications appropriately to achieve heroin detoxification.
Finding A Heroin Detox Center
Making the decision to break the cycle of heroin addiction is a step toward living a healthier and happier life. There are many heroin detox centers available throughout the country that will offer you the individualized and comprehensive treatment you deserve. Heroin detox centers have specially trained health care professionals who can provide a personalized approach, including medication-assisted treatment, appropriate psychological support and effective treatment for conditions including infections or diseases, that may have developed during an individual’s use of heroin.
The main factor to consider when choosing a facility is typically location. Depending on the individual’s circumstances, it may be best to completely change their environment. Recovery from heroin addiction is possible and a heroin detox center can provide a strong foundation for long-term recovery.
If you or a loved one struggle with heroin addiction and are considering treatment for recovery, call The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative who can get you started on the path to recovery.
American Society of Addiction Medication. “The National Practice Guideline For The Use of Medications in the Treatment of Addiction Involving Opioid Use.” June 1, 2015. Accessed July 28, 2019.
MedlinePlus.gov. “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” Accessed July 28, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.