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Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms and Treatments

If you have been using heroin for more than a few weeks, especially at high doses, you will experience heroin withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut down or stop using it. That’s because the body becomes physically dependent on heroin. When the drug is taken away, it causes physical and emotional symptoms, such as fever and mood changes.

Withdrawal symptoms can be quite unpleasant — and even unsafe in some cases. Fortunately, they can be safely managed with the right treatment. Learn more about the process of heroin withdrawal, what you can expect, and how to cope. Also, explore treatment options at Vogue Recovery Center, located in Las Vegas, NV, and Phoenix, AZ.

What Causes Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Heroin withdrawal is when someone dependent on the drug suddenly stops or reduces its use. You experience herpin with withdrawal symptoms because the body is physically dependent on heroin to function. Stopping use leads to a range of physiological and psychological symptoms. The underlying cause of heroin withdrawal is your body’s attempt to readjust and stabilize after being exposed to the drug for a long time.

When heroin is used regalurly, the brain adapts to its presence by producing less of certain chemical messengers like dopamine. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. Heroin’s effects lead to an excessive release of dopamine, creating intense feelings of euphoria. The brain becomes reliant on heroin to maintain dopamine levels and to function normally.

heroin withdrawal image

When heroin use is stopped, the brain struggles to produce adequate levels of neurotransmitters. As a result, you experience a range of withdrawal symptoms. These can be extremely uncomfortable and distressing. Having a medical team at your side for withdrawal management can make all the difference in successfully overcoming heroin addiction.

What Are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

The process of heroin withdrawal can be challenging and pose potential health risks if you attempt it without medical assistance. How severe heroin withdrawal symptoms are and how long they last varies depending on the level of dependence, frequency of use, and other individual factors.

Physical Symptoms

Some of the most common physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Excessive sweating and chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Dilated pupils
  • Runny nose and teary eyes

Emotional Symptoms

Experiencing psychological symptoms is a normal part of heroin withdrawal. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Feeling depressed or anxious
  • Irritability, agitation, or mood swings
  • Intense drug cravings or a strong desire to take more heroin
  • Restlessness

Not everyone withdrawing from heroin experiences all of the above symptoms. Seeking professional help and support through a substance abuse program is recommended if you’re trying to quit heroin to ensure a safer and more successful recovery.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Detoxing from heroin can be difficult. Everyone’s heroin withdrawal timeline is different in its length and severity. For many, symptoms appear after a day and peak after three days of quitting cold turkey. Many describe the symptoms as being like a cold or the flu. Symptoms occur in three phases. Having a medical professional on your side can ease the process.

First Phase: Intense Cravings

Heroin withdrawal symptoms often start with intense cravings. These begin just after the time that you would normally use the drug, usually six to 12 hours after the last dose. Symptoms include:

  • Restlessness
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Yawning

At this stage, a person begins to feel uncomfortable and anxious.

Second Phase: Peak Symptoms

As heroin leaves the body, symptoms become more severe. Peak symptoms occur anywhere from 1-3 days after a person stops using heroin.

Withdrawal symptoms during this phase may mimic the flu and include:

  • Goosebumps
  • Sudden chills
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Tremors
  • Fast heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

More severe symptoms can occur during this stage, such as difficulty breathing.

Third Phase: Recovering

During this phase, which lasts five to seven days, heroin withdrawal symptoms gradually disappear. Some people experience what’s known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. For these people, symptoms can last months.

A Warning About Heroin Withdrawal

It’s important to get adequate help during the withdrawal process and not try to detox at home on your own. There are several reasons for this. Not only is DIY detox often unsuccessful, but it’s not safe due to possible complications, especially if you have other medical conditions, like heart disease. When you are at a treatment facility, doctors can prescribe medications to lessen the risk of dehydration and other medical issues.

Also, abruptly stopping heroin on your own can be dangerous. Anyone going through heroin withdrawal is at a much greater risk of accidental overdose should they use the drug again. If they take the same amount of heroin as they used previously to withdraw, they are at increased risk of overdosing.

Questions about treatment options?

Our admissions team is available 24/7 to listen to your story and help you get started with the next steps.

Coping With Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal can be intense and uncomfortable. Some anxiety and uncomfortableness are to be expected. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to cope.

Rely on Your Social Support

It’s important to have support that you can rely on when you go through withdrawal, whether that’s family or friends, or a professional addiction counselor. Reach out to those in your network.

Get Help

Getting treatment early in the heroin withdrawal process can help mitigate the severity of the symptoms that you experience. It can help you get through the process much more comfortably and safely.

It’s important to remain in treatment even after the initial withdrawal period has passed. Many people experience protracted withdrawal symptoms after stopping heroin use. This increases the risk of relapse. Treatment is the key to maintaining long-term sobriety.

heroin withdrawal image

Treatment Options

Treatments for heroin withdrawal and addiction can include both medical treatments and physiological therapies. Vogue Recovery Center offers a full continuum of care for heroin addiction at both Las Vegas, NV, and Phoenix, AZ locations.

Detox

Medically supervised detox is the first stage of treatment for heroin addiction. It helps safely clear heroin from your body after a long period of use. Detox involves medical monitoring by doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. Detox can help shorten withdrawal time and symptoms, as well as increase comfort.

Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), is the use of medications and therapies to treat substance abuse disorders. MAT is typically used during treatment to help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. MAT can only be conducted by qualified practitioners.

Some medications used in MAT for heroin addiction include:

Methadone: Methadone is a long-acting medication used for heroin addiction. It is used to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with opioid dependence. Methadone is very safe and effective when used as prescribed as part of a drug treatment program.

Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine (Buprenex) is another medication commonly used in the treatment of opioid dependence. Like methadone, buprenorphine is used to manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with opioid withdrawal. It can reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings without producing the intense euphoria of full opioid agonists like heroin.

Naltrexone: Naltrexone (Revia) is an opioid antagonist. It prevents the effects of heroin (well-being) and decreases the desire to take heroin. Naltrexone is used primarily to prevent relapse rather than manage withdrawal symptoms.

Programs that utilize MAT combine medications with treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Aftercare

Recovery is a life-long process. It doesn’t stop once you go through heroin detox. Aftercare is the next step in the treatment process. Aftercare is critical. It has been shown to significantly reduce relapse rates. Aftercare provides ongoing support and strategies to help you avoid drug use and improve your overall well-being. These are essential to help you build a new, drug-free life.

Treatment for Heroin at Vogue Recovery Center

Vogue Recovery Center provides a full range of trauma-informed, evidence-based care for heroin addiction. Find relief and support for heroin detox and addiction treatment at our Las Vegas and Phoenix locations.

We offer medically supervised detox, MAT treatment, individual, family, and group therapy, and much more. We accept most major insurances and have same-day admissions available. Find freedom from heroin addiction. Call today and let us help you navigate the recovery process.

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References

Kelsey Jones vrc az

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC

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