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What Is Heroin Withdrawal?
Heroin impacts the brain reward system, increasing the user’s tolerance to the drug’s effects over time.
The user eventually needs higher doses to reach the same “high” as before. When someone addicted to heroin stops using, withdrawal symptoms set in.
Withdrawal from heroin is often more intense than those of prescription painkillers.
Users begin experiencing withdrawal between 6 and 12 hours after their last heroin dose. Withdrawal from heroin may resemble those of prescription opioids. Because heroin leaves the user’s system faster than painkillers do, withdrawal comes about more quickly.
Withdrawal often feels like a horrible case of the flu. The worst pain and discomfort lasts a week — about as long as a bad flu — with withdrawal symptoms peaking during the second or third day.
Common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle aches
Duration of Withdrawal
The length of withdrawal from heroin depends on several factors. Some of the most important include:
- The length of time the user abused heroin
- The amount of heroin they took each time
- How frequently they used heroin
- The method by which they took heroin
- The presence of underlying medical or mental health issues
Depending on the level and length of use, recovering heroin addicts are likely to suffer post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), including poor sleep, poor concentration, increased anxiety, depression, panic attacks, fatigue, hypersensitivity, irritability, mood swings, restlessness, and memory loss. PAWS can last anywhere from 18-24 months. The effects on mood and behavior can last months after other withdrawal symptoms pass. However, as time goes by and the user remains drug free, the symptoms will slowly begin to diminish.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
|Days 1-2||Symptoms may begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose. Pain will start to develop in the first day, typically muscle aches. These will intensify over the first 48 hours. Other symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking and diarrhea.|
|Days 3-5||By the third or fourth day, withdrawal is in full swing. Symptoms during this time often include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers and nausea/vomiting.|
|Days 6-7||A week is typically the end of what’s known as acute withdrawal. During this time, the common muscle aches and nausea will taper off. Physically, former users will start to feel more normal though still worn down and tired.|
|Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)||Symptoms of withdrawal may continue inconsistently for months after acute withdrawal. These are caused by the neurological changes from heroin use. Common long-lasting symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and irritability.|
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Heroin detox provides a safe space to manage withdrawal symptoms.
Complications from withdrawal from heroin can arise and fatally injure someone detoxing without medical supervision. Those suffering from withdrawal can become severely dehydrated. They can even inhale stomach contents after vomiting and asphyxiate. Even when the patient’s life is not at risk, withdrawal symptoms are often so uncomfortable that the patient relapses and avoids attempting to quit in the future
Supervised medical detox is always recommended to overcome heroin addiction.
Doctors in inpatient programs watch for psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression. Self-harm and relapse are possible during withdrawal. Heroin detox reduces risk of either complication occurring.
Medications Used in Detox
Inpatient and outpatient drug rehab clinicians can prescribe drugs to ease withdrawal symptoms. These medications help with the recovery process by minimizing withdrawals and cravings.
This medication is a slow-acting, low-strength opiate used to taper patients off heroin and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
This is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heroin withdrawal. It reduces cravings and physical symptoms like vomiting and muscle aches.
This drug blocks receptors in the brain that react to opioids like heroin. It is neither addictive nor sedating. Over time, it may reduce cravings. Naltrexone works best in patients who have already completed detox.
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Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Withdrawal makes heroin addiction a difficult cycle to break. But beating your heroin addiction is more than possible. Drug rehab centers offer inpatient and outpatient recovery programs for heroin detox.
Inpatient detox involves 24-hour attention from medical professionals at an addiction treatment center, increasing the odds of recovery from moderate-to-severe heroin addiction.
Outpatient recovery programs require patients to meet regularly with doctors for checkups and mental health counseling. Recovering addicts in outpatient programs can stay at home and maintain their daily routines, but the odds of maintaining sobriety aren’t as high.
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Whether you’ve chosen an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab, tackling your heroin addiction is a great first step forward. Addiction treatment providers are available to treat withdrawals and help you avoid relapse. Get help finding treatment near you.