Heroin is a serious, deadly drug, affecting over 9.2 million people globally. Because this is one of the most potent, fatal drugs available, most people do not start with heroin but with prescription painkillers instead. When abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers get worse, however, many people look to something more powerful to achieve certain desired effects. This is typically when heroin comes into play. Unfortunately, since heroin is so addictive and has many unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, most people addicted to this drug get stuck in a vicious cycle of using the drug to avoid the uncomfortable side effects of detox.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can vary person-to-person depending on factors such as the severity of addiction (length of time abusing heroin, amount abused, frequency of dosage), the method of taking heroin (snorting, smoking, injecting), and any co-occurring disorders (depression, anxiety, etc.). Typically, users experience withdrawal symptoms 6-12 hours after their last dose, with the discomfort lasting around a week. Withdrawal symptoms mimic prescription painkillers or opioids. However, since heroin leaves the user’s system faster than painkillers, withdrawal symptoms generally come about much quicker.
Side effects when detoxing off heroin are comparable to a terrible case of the flu, with discomfort peaking two to three days after taking the last dose.
Common heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal cramping
If the addiction is severe, the user may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These withdrawal symptoms include depression, panic attacks (and other anxiety-induced disorders), restlessness, memory loss, poor concentration, poor sleep, fatigue, and mood swings. The typical duration that PAWS can last is anywhere from 18-24 months. However, it may sometimes last longer, especially if left untreated.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
Since heroin withdrawal symptoms can vary person-to-person, the withdrawal timeline can also vary depending on the person. Generally speaking, the typical withdrawal timeline is outlined as such:
- Days 1-2: Withdrawal symptoms are usually experienced within the first 6-12 hours, accompanied by muscle aches. Symptoms usually intensify within 48 hours with anxiety, panic attacks, shaking, and diarrhea.
- Days 3-5: Typically, this is the peak period where the most uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are experienced. These include nausea/vomiting, abdominal cramping, shivers, and sweating.
- Days 6-7: Around this time, the most severe symptoms generally taper off, and the user feels much better. However, they will likely feel physically exhausted.
Although most symptoms are experienced within the first 7 days, PAWS may continue inconsistently for months after detoxing off heroin. As such, it is important that PAWS and any other co-occurring disorder are addressed by a medical professional to prevent a possible relapse from occurring in the future.
How to Get Help When Detoxing off Heroin
Because withdrawal symptoms from heroin can be serious, even life-threatening (depending on the severity of addiction), seeking professional medical help is essential. One way of doing this is through an inpatient drug treatment facility. Inpatient rehab provides a safe, medically guided environment to detox off heroin and get the psychological help (individual, group, and family counseling) needed to transition from addiction to sobriety successfully. Furthermore, because addiction is a complex disease, treatment needs to be approached as such. In this sense, any co-occurring disorders need to be addressed, as well, to treat addiction as a whole.
As difficult as an obstacle it may seem to recover from heroin addiction, there is hope. Through detox, counseling, and support groups, one can successfully live the life they’ve always dreamed about: a life free from drugs.
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1. Drug-Free World. Heroin Statistics – Facts About Heroin Addiction, Use & Death – Drug-Free World. Foundation for a Drug-Free World. Published June 23, 2022. Accessed June 23, 2022. https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin/international-statistics.html