Heroin is a potent, highly addictive opioid drug. The DEA classifies heroin as a Schedule 1 drug, meaning it has a high risk of abuse and no recognized medical purpose.
Users smoke, inject or snort heroin. Those who use heroin are at increased risk of developing physical dependence and addiction, which require treatment. Heroin addiction can wreak havoc on a person’s life and is difficult to overcome, but recovery is possible if they have access to comprehensive treatment and ongoing support.
Knowing what to expect at each stage of the heroin withdrawal timeline and detox treatment may help you prepare for what will come next and allow you to make informed decisions about your care.
The Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable. People who attempt to detox from heroin on their own often relapse to relieve the discomfort of withdrawal. It can be life-threatening to use heroin after a period of abstinence. People who use heroin should detox in a medically-supported detox center to avoid life-threatening complications or relapse.
Generally, heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Flu-like body aches
- Muscle spasms
- Stomach pain or cramping
- Increased heart rate
- Disturbed sleep
- Strong cravings
The severity of a person’s symptoms depends on how often the person used heroin, how much they used, and how long they used it. These symptoms may come and go throughout the detox process.
Understanding the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
During a prolonged period of heroin abuse, your body adapts to the constant presence of heroin in your system. When the drug is no longer available, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms range from uncomfortable to severe–and some can be dangerous or life-threatening. The length and intensity of your withdrawal symptoms depend on the severity of your addiction, your mental and physical health, and other personal factors.
Generally, heroin withdrawal follows this timeline:
Physical symptoms, including muscle aches and tremors, begin. Many experience anxiety, insomnia, flu-like symptoms, and intense cravings for heroin.
Physical symptoms may get worse and peak during this period. People may also experience severe nausea and vomiting.
Physical symptoms begin to lessen toward the end of the first week. Psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, and insomnia linger.
1 week-3 months
Many people continue to experience insomnia, anxiety, and depression for several months. Cravings are also common for a long time after other withdrawal symptoms lessen, making it essential to have ongoing treatment and support after detox.
Many factors determine how long a person’s heroin withdrawal timeline will be.
How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?
Heroin withdrawal can vary in length and intensity from person to person. Generally, a person’s withdrawal symptoms begin within a few hours or a day after last using heroin.
Acute symptoms usually begin to lessen within about a week, but rarely, someone may experience a complication of heroin withdrawal called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). While it is not common, PAWS is a severe medical condition that causes people’s withdrawal symptoms to linger for months or years.
People living with PAWS often experience prolonged bouts of irritability, depression, cravings, insomnia, and anxiety that can disrupt their ability to function on a daily basis. People who develop PAWS are more likely to relapse and require extra support and treatment to manage this condition.
Several factors can impact the length and severity of a person’s heroin withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- The length of time they used heroin
- How they took the drug
- How much heroin they used each time
- History of previous opioid withdrawal
- Mental illness
People who used less heroin or used it for less time generally have shorter, less intense withdrawal periods than those who used more heavily.
What Happens During Heroin Addiction Treatment?
Everyone in heroin addiction treatment has unique goals and needs. Treatment teams tailor treatment plans to help people get precisely what they need from treatment.
Before beginning treatment, a doctor or addiction specialist will evaluate your needs through a series of questions about your mental and physical health, substance use, and other personal information. Then, they will recommend a level of care or type of treatment to meet your needs.
Addiction treatment happens in several stages.
Medical and support staff will assess and treat your withdrawal symptoms. Treatment includes medications, comfort care, emotional support, and holistic therapies. Medications like Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone) are typically used to treat heroin withdrawal.
After heroin detox, you will go through an addiction treatment program that uses a combination of evidence-based and holistic therapies to address addiction’s physical, behavioral, and emotional components. These therapies will likely include:
- Individual counseling
- Group therapy and support
- Medical and mental health treatment
- Family therapy
- Holistic therapies like massage, exercise, music therapy, and nutritional support
The level of care and length of time in treatment you require depend on the severity of your addiction and personal needs.
After completing a treatment program, you must develop a plan to stay committed to recovery and avoid relapse for the rest of your life. Your aftercare plan may involve things like:
- Attending support groups or 12-step meetings
- Joining an alumni group
- Continuing individual therapy
- Attending sober events
- Participating in another level of addiction treatment
Regularly engaging in activities that support your recovery can help you continue to live the healthy, fulfilling lifestyle you choose.
Get Help Now
Contact the Arise Treatment Center specialists to learn more about heroin withdrawal and addiction treatment. Our programs can help you recover from addiction and live the healthy life you deserve.