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Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment Options

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Table of Contents

Heroin Withdrawal

One of the most challenging aspects of heroin recovery is dealing with the physical symptoms of withdrawal. When someone stops using heroin, their body is not used to functioning without its presence.

This can lead to various uncomfortable and even dangerous physical and emotional responses. Since heroin withdrawal can be difficult and painful, knowing the signs and symptoms of withdrawal and how to get help is essential.
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What is Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal is an umbrella term that refers to the physical and emotional symptoms that happen when someone stops taking heroin. It occurs because the user stops their heroin intake, which causes the body to be deprived of an external source of opiates. Since the body is deprived of opiates, it starts to panic and sends out withdrawal symptoms to get the user to use more heroin. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe physical and emotional distress.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Heroin withdrawal usually begins within 8-12 hours after the last heroin dose, and symptoms can peak as early as 24-72 hours. The duration of withdrawal depends on how much heroin was used before quitting and for how long. Most people experience the most severe symptoms during the first week of withdrawal, with milder lingering effects throughout the next few weeks.

Causes and Risk Factors for Heroin Abuse

Psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety, often cause heroin abuse. Other risk factors for heroin use include exposure to drugs in one’s environment, peer pressure, and a family history of substance abuse.

Heroin addiction and abuse have many risks and dangers, such as an increased risk of overdose and other medical problems. Additionally, heroin users can become addicted even after one or two uses. To meet their drug intake needs, they may resort to criminal activities such as shoplifting, stealing money, and selling their family’s possessions.
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What causes Heroin withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal is caused by the sudden absence of heroin or a decrease in its use after regular use. Heroin is an opioid drug that binds to opioid receptors in the brain and causes feelings of euphoria. When someone becomes physically dependent on heroin, their body adjusts to having the drug present, and when it is removed they experience withdrawal.

Some people may also become used to the drug’s presence, causing their brain and body to expect the same level of heroin intake. This phenomenon, known as tolerance, can turn heroin abuse into the “new normal.” If a user becomes numb to their current intake, they’ll crave more. Not meeting these expectations or acting on those cravings can lead to withdrawal symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are some of the most severe and uncomfortable of any drug withdrawal symptoms. Some of the physical symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Fever
Emotional symptoms can also be present, such as depression, anxiety, irritability, agitation, and intense cravings for heroin. It is common for people going through withdrawal to try to self-medicate their cravings with alcohol, which can worsen their withdrawal symptoms and increase the likelihood of relapse.

Short-term Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms 

The short-term effects of heroin withdrawal can last for up to two weeks. The intensity of the symptoms will gradually decrease as the body adjusts back to its pre-heroin state. These symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cravings for heroin
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia and vivid dreams
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
These heroin withdrawal symptoms and negative consequences tend to damage the individual’s life and the lives of their family members. There will be some physical and psychiatric heroin withdrawal symptoms. Since prolonged heroin use tends to damage the CNS and the brain’s opioid receptors, symptoms tend to be considerably more severe for long-term abusers.

Long-term Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Long-term heroin withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from a few weeks to months. These common symptoms include:

  • Body pains, aches, and cramps
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle spasms
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mood swings and irritability
When exposed to heroin-related triggers, people who have successfully left the withdrawal phase may get flashbacks of their flu-like symptoms, which can severely impact their physical and mental health. Most people with drug addiction and drug abuse problems experience withdrawal symptoms in the long run that look a lot like panic disorder. Left untreated, these withdrawal symptoms can exacerbate mental illnesses and permanently alter brain chemistry.

Heroin withdrawal treatment

The best way to get through heroin withdrawal is to seek professional help. Detox programs provide medical care and support in a safe environment that makes it easier for users to manage withdrawal symptoms. Detox can occur in an inpatient or outpatient facility, depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Treatment programs such as behavioral therapy, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), and support groups can help people stay sober and prevent relapse after detox. It also keeps the user from reverting to other substances and helps manage co-occurring disorders.
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No matter where you are in your recovery journey, it is essential to remember that help is available. With the proper organization and a supportive team of professionals, you can get through heroin withdrawal and take the first steps toward recovery.

It is also important to remember that everyone’s journey is different, so don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected or if there are setbacks along the way. Recovery is an ongoing process that takes time, effort, and dedication, but it is possible. With the right help, you can make it through heroin withdrawal and start the journey of recovery.

If you’re seeking help for heroin withdrawal or addiction, call 424-327-4614 today for a free consultation.

Is medical supervision necessary during heroin withdrawal?

In some cases, the physical and emotional symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be so intense that professional help is needed to ease them. Medical detoxification is one way to make heroin withdrawal more manageable and safe. During medical detoxification, a physician will monitor vital signs, administer medications to reduce cravings, manage the more severe symptoms, monitor for potential complications, and provide emotional support.

If someone is struggling with heroin addiction or abuse, many resources are available to help them get on a path toward recovery. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer peer support in managing withdrawal symptoms and maintaining sobriety. Many rehab centers also provide residential treatment, which includes individual therapy, group therapy sessions, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and other evidence-based treatments to help individuals cope with their addiction and make positive lifestyle changes.
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Frequently Asked Questions 

Can you die from heroin withdrawal?

In most cases, heroin withdrawal is not fatal. However, in some cases, certain symptoms can become severe enough to require medical intervention or hospitalization. It is important to seek professional help if you are experiencing intense or prolonged withdrawal symptoms.

What are the early signs of heroin withdrawal?

Common early signs of heroin withdrawal include restlessness, insomnia, and diarrhea. As the withdrawal process progresses, more intense symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, body aches and pains, increased heart rate, and sweating may occur.

What are the peak symptoms of heroin withdrawal?

The peak symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically occur 24-72 hours after the last dose and can include intense cravings, anxiety, depression, agitation, irritability, fatigue, and muscle cramps.

How long do heroin withdrawal symptoms last?

The duration of heroin withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person and depends on the severity of drug use. Generally, the most intense symptoms last for about a week but may persist for up to several months in some cases. It is essential to seek medical help if the withdrawal symptoms become unbearable.

What are the late symptoms of heroin withdrawal?

The late symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include depression, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and cravings. These symptoms may last for weeks or months, depending on the individual’s circumstances. Professional help and support are essential in managing these symptoms and preventing relapse.

What are the dangers of unsupervised heroin withdrawal?

If left unsupervised, cold-turkey heroin withdrawal can lead to severe physical and psychological consequences. In some cases, it may even lead to extreme medical conditions such as seizures and heart attacks. It is crucial to seek professional help immediately if you are struggling with heroin addiction or abuse.

What are some tips for managing heroin withdrawal symptoms?

There are a few tips that may help manage heroin withdrawal symptoms. These include staying hydrated and eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, avoiding triggers or stressful situations, getting enough rest and sleep, reaching out for support from family or friends, and joining a support group such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

What medical treatments are available for heroin withdrawal?

Medical detoxification is the most common medical treatment for heroin withdrawal. During this process, a physician will monitor vital signs and administer medications to reduce cravings, manage more severe symptoms, and provide emotional support.

How can I prevent relapse during opioid withdrawal?

Relapse prevention during opioid withdrawal involves a variety of strategies, such as attending support groups, developing healthy lifestyle habits, avoiding potential triggers, and utilizing relapse prevention strategies. It is also essential to have a strong support system that can provide emotional and practical assistance during times of need. You need to be able to spot the withdrawal signs as soon as they become apparent.

What are some evidence-based therapies for heroin withdrawal?

Evidence-based therapies for heroin withdrawal include cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing. These therapies help individuals identify triggers and cravings, develop relapse prevention strategies, manage stress and anxiety, and cope with negative emotions.

Are there any alternative treatments for heroin withdrawal?

Alternative treatments for heroin withdrawal include acupuncture, yoga, meditation, and herbal remedies. These treatments can help reduce cravings, manage stress and anxiety, improve outlook and mood, and promote overall health and well-being. It is essential to consult a healthcare provider before engaging in any alternative treatments for heroin withdrawal.

Are you struggling with heroin addiction?

NuView Treatment Center can help. Our outpatient rehab services are tailored to your unique needs and utilize the latest evidence-based methods. With our help, you can achieve lasting recovery and improve your quality of life.

Don’t let addiction control your life any longer. Call us today for a free and confidential consultation. We believe in you and will be there to support you every step of the way on your journey to recovery.

Call us at 424-327-4614 today for a free and confidential consultation. Speak to our staff to learn more about our program and how we can help you achieve lasting recovery.


Edited by: David Beasley

David Beasley - Design for Recovery

David Beasley is a certified RADT (Registered Alcohol/Drug Technician). David, moved to California from North Carolina after many failed attempts to get sober.

Medically Reviewed by: Charley Allen

Charley earned his Masters of Clinical Psychology from Antioch University, Los Angeles, and is a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT).He teaches mindfulness to both adults and children in group setting such as schools, corporate workplaces, and medical treatment facilities.

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