Heroin Withdrawal: What You Need to Know

Making the decision to rid your life of heroin once and for all is a powerful one. It is the first of many difficult steps to achieving a heroin-free life, but it is well worth it in the end. Being armed with all of the knowledge of what to expect and how to handle withdrawal will only make you more equipped to handle it.

If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin addiction and looking to change for the better, this guide can help anyone prepare for what is to come. Make sure to read our heroin addiction guide.

Heroin Addiction Withdrawal: What to Expect and What You Can Do

Those who have decided to stop their use of heroin once and for all will go through a detox period. However, with each passing day, they will get closer and closer to the life they want to live, free from the hold heroin has over them.

The withdrawal process takes place in three stages. Here’s what you should expect if you or a loved one is to embark on this journey to self-improvement:

  • Initial Detox: This refers to the first forty-eight hours, and it will be the worst part of the process. After stopping use of the substance, which the body has become dependent on, the body will become shocked. During this time, it’s important for the patient to be carefully monitored to avoid injury or relapse.
    During this time, aches and pains are to be expected. This may be accompanied by insomnia, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. It’s not unusual for this to be paired by panic attacks, anxiety, or depression. If a patient has a history of mental illness, they may also need to be placed on suicide watch during this time.
  • Peak Detox: This stage begins around the two-day mark and brings with it the most severe of the symptoms. For those who didn’t use heroin for very long, the symptoms might be mild. Those who used for years or decades will have a much more intense experience with symptoms such as prolonged cramping, vomiting, and shivers.
    After the third or fourth day, these symptoms should begin to subside, allowing the user to fully pursue the path to recovery. However, depending on the severity of dependence, these symptoms may continue. Of course, especially during this stage, each person’s experience with detox will vary.
    While in this stage, proper eating becomes especially important. This helps to ease dietary distress such as cramping and other aches and boost the body’s immune system responses. While the user may not be interested in food, their body needs the nutrients and energy to power through the recovery process and fight off these unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
  • Downhill Detox: By the end of the first week without heroin, the symptoms should have mostly abated or subsided substantially. The user may begin to once again feel normal, while still suffering from emotional or mental issues, including insomnia and anxiety. However, the physical symptoms, including nausea, diarrhea, and cramping, should have passed for the most part. At this time, a doctor might even allow the patient to return home.

Withdrawal Duration

You might be wondering, how long does heroin withdrawal last? How long does it take to detox from heroin?

If you are struggling with an addiction to heroin, the drug withdrawal symptoms are one of the biggest challenges to overcome when getting clean. The process of recovery is different for everyone, depending on factors like your age, length of use, level of dependence, and more.

The typical time of the immediate symptoms of heroin withdrawal tends to be up to a week, and some symptoms last as long as six months. In certain cases, patients may struggle with relapses for years.

How to Safely Deal with Heroin Withdrawal

Due to the fact that heroin is highly addictive, it’s often not safe to complete the withdrawal process at home or one one’s own. Direct medical help is often required from licensed detox specialists to assist the user in getting through their withdrawals and ceasing their addiction altogether.

One of the most important aspects of getting a patient through this period is to distract them from the pain and discomfort they experience. The patient should be kept near family and friends for support, as well as other positive distractions like music, books, or television. In addition, being in an environment equipped to deal with these situations, such as our heroin rehabilitation center, helps to create a sense of calm and peace for the patient.

Can you die from heroin withdrawal? Unfortunately, yes. This is why it is so important to make sure that the withdrawal period is handled with care, to reduce the chances of heroin withdrawal death.

However, if the withdrawal is undergone in a stable environment well-equipped with the medical tools that might be needed, surrounded by experts who understand heroin withdrawal and how to handle its symptoms, then undergoing this process is perfectly safe.

What are the different stages of heroin detox, and what can I expect through this process?

The recovery process is different for everyone, and factors like age and length of usage can drastically impact the symptoms, the typical timeline for immediate heroin withdrawal is up to a week, with many symptoms persisting for at least three to six months. In some cases, a patient may deal with heroin withdrawal for years.

Heroin usage is an increasingly dire problem for the United States, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention approximating that the abuse rates for people aged 18-25 has doubled in the last ten years. The number of opioid overdose fatalities was 42, 249 in 2016 which is five times the number of opioid related deaths since 1999.

Due to heroin’s highly addictive nature, the withdrawal process can not always be completed at home. Often, direct medical help from licensed detox specialists is needed to assist the user as he stops the addiction once and for all. This process is intense, and can lead to very violent withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Runny Nose
  • Apathy
  • Low Blood Pressure
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Restless Leg Syndrome
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated Heart Rate

One of the main factors when dealing with heroine withdrawal is to distract the user from their pain. If an addict is focused on all the things that can go wrong with the process of detoxification, then often they will over-exaggerate the symptoms. Every twinge of their muscle is a heart attack, and every sad moment is a signal of oncoming depression.

Make sure the addict is near family or friends that are in recovery  for support, and may also benefit from a television, books, or music nearby. Alternatively, vigorous exercise may be beneficial for those who have already undergone the initial detox, or something as simple as going for a walk. Anything to take the mind off the physical symptoms that the body is going through.

Stage 1: Initial Detox

The first forty-eight hours of any drug treatment program are some of the worst in the whole process, but it is even more true with heroin. The body has amazing adaptive abilities to just about any circumstance in life. Removing something the body has come to be dependent on, such as heroin, can send a shock through the system. In this case, it is important to monitor the patient closely to avoid relapse or any accidental (or intentional) self-harm.

Some of the most obvious symptoms of this stage are aches and pains. Sometimes those symptoms  may be accompanied by diarrhea, loss of appetite and insomnia. It is also not unusual for a withdrawal patient to experience anxiety and/or panic attacks. If he or she has a history of mental illness in the family, the patient may need to be placed on a suicide watch as well.

Stage 2: Peak Detox

Heroin Detox peaks around the two-day mark, usually bringing about the most severe of all the symptoms as the body desperately tries to acclimatize to its new processes. For heroin users who have not been using a long time, these symptoms can be relatively mild; for those who have been using heroin for years, or even decades, the symptoms will be more intense.

Usually after the third or fourth day, the symptoms start to subside, and the user is on the path to full recovery, barring any unforeseen circumstances or further relapses. Shivers, prolonged cramping, and vomiting may also intensify during this stage. It is important to keep in mind, however, that every detox experience is different. What may be normal for one person may be completely different for someone else.

During this period, be sure to emphasize proper eating. Not only to help ease dietary distress such as aches and cramping, but also to boost the immune system responses as well. The user may be averse to food at first, but nutrients are vital to the recovery process, giving the body extra energy it needs to fight symptoms.

Stage 3: Downhill Detox

By the end of the first week, most of the symptoms have generally disappeared. Or the symptoms have at least subsided significantly. The user may begin to revert to normal. The user may still suffer from mental or emotional issues, such as anxiety or insomnia, but the physical symptoms, such as diarrhea, nausea, and cramping have most likely passed. At this point, a doctor may allow the patient to return home.

As mentioned before, every experience with heroin detox is different. Anyone may experience and endure these stages for different lengths of time. However, the only way to completely avoid going through them again is by becoming active in long term recovery.

Conclusion:

Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the 90’s grunge band Nirvana said it best in describing the effects that drugs have on the body: “Drugs are a waste of time. They destroy your memory and your self-respect and everything that goes along with your self-esteem.” Heroin detoxification are intense and fraught with temptations. But in the end, dealing with the detox is absolutely worth it.

Remember that there is no fixed point for any of these stages. Symptoms may peak for some people in the first twelve hours. Some may still have physical pains even after the first week. Moreover, there is never a time when the patient is completely “cured”. Most likely, the abuser will struggle with the possibility of a relapse for the rest of their life. Starting on the path to recovery and maintaining a long term recovery program is crucial for finding and maintaining success. A detox is a necessity in the beginning for someone dependent on heroin.

Want Help Overcoming Heroin Addiction Withdrawal?

Knowing how to detox from heroin is an important step to being able to successfully stop using the dangerous drug. It’s important to keep in mind that how to cope with heroin withdrawal symptoms might vary from user to user. Each person’s experience with the withdrawal and detox process will vary. However, one thing that most users will have in common is that it is best to go through this process in a well-equipped setting.

Here at SOBA College Recovery, we treat those struggling with addiction find a place where they will have access to everything necessary to safely undergo the treatment process. This includes managing the symptoms of withdrawal as smoothly as possible. By doing so, and guiding these patients towards recourses for all the care, support, and more that they need, we help get people on the right path towards total recovery and a fresh start in their lives!

For more information, get in touch with us today!