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Heroin Withdrawal and Detox

Withdrawal symptoms like muscle aches and anxiety make quitting heroin difficult. Doctors are available to help treat these side effects.

What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

Withdrawal causes many flu-like symptoms.

Withdrawal has many flu-like symptoms.

Heroin impacts the brain reward system, increasing the user’s tolerance to the drug’s effects over time.

The user eventually needs higher doses to reach the same “high” as before. When someone addicted to heroin stops using, withdrawal symptoms set in.

People battling heroin addiction often keep using to avoid painful symptoms of withdrawal. Abusing heroin produces effects similar to painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, only stronger.

Withdrawal from heroin is often more intense than those of prescription painkillers.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Users begin experiencing withdrawal within twelve hours of their last heroin dose. Withdrawal from heroin may resemble those of prescription opioids. Because heroin leaves the user’s system faster than painkillers do, withdrawal comes about more quickly.

Withdrawal often feels like a horrible case of the flu. The worst pain and discomfort lasts a week — about as long as a bad flu — with withdrawal symptoms peaking during the second or third day.

Common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches

Duration of Withdrawal

The length of withdrawal from heroin depends on several factors.

The amount of the drug and period of time over which it was taken can impact how long withdrawal lasts.

Depending on the level and length of use, recovering heroin addicts might suffer post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

Prolonged heroin use changes the brain’s chemical makeup. The effects on mood and behavior can last months after other withdrawal symptoms pass. Some of these long-lasting symptoms might include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and irritability.

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Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Days 1-2Symptoms may begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose. Pain will start to develop in the first day, typically muscle aches. These will intensify over the first 48 hours. Other symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking and diarrhea.
Days 3-5By the third or fourth day, withdrawal is in full swing. Symptoms during this time often include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers and nausea/vomiting.
Days 6-7A week is typically the end of what’s known as acute withdrawal. During this time, the common muscle aches and nausea will taper off. Physically, former users will start to feel more normal though still worn down and tired.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)Symptoms of withdrawal may continue inconsistently for months after acute withdrawal. These are caused by the neurological changes from heroin use. Common long-lasting symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and irritability.

Heroin Detox

Heroin detox provides a safe space to manage withdrawal symptoms.

Complications from withdrawal from heroin can arise and fatally injure someone detoxing without medical supervision. Those suffering from withdrawal can become severely dehydrated. They can even inhale stomach contents after vomiting and asphyxiate.

Supervised medical detox is always recommended to overcome heroin addiction.

Doctors in inpatient programs watch for psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression. Self-harm and relapse are possible during withdrawal. Heroin detox reduces risk of either complication occurring.

Medications Used in Detox

Inpatient and outpatient drug rehab clinicians can prescribe drugs to ease withdrawal symptoms. These medications help with the recovery process by minimizing withdrawals and cravings.

  • Methadone. This medication is a slow-acting, low-strength opiate used to taper patients off heroin and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Buprenorphine. This is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heroin withdrawal. It reduces cravings and physical symptoms like vomiting and muscle aches.
  • Naltrexone. This drug also reduces heroin cravings. The drug blocks receptors in the brain that react to opioids like heroin. This tricks the brain into thinking it no longer needs the addictive drug.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Withdrawal makes heroin addiction a difficult cycle to break. But beating your heroin addiction is more than possible. Drug rehab centers offer inpatient and outpatient recovery programs for heroin detox.

Inpatient detox involves 24-hour attention from medical professionals at an addiction treatment center, increasing the odds of recovery from moderate-to-severe heroin addiction.

Outpatient recovery programs require patients to meet regularly with doctors for checkups and mental health counseling. Recovering addicts in outpatient programs can stay at home and maintain their daily routines, but the odds of maintaining sobriety aren’t as high.

Whether you’ve chosen an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab, tackling your heroin addiction is a great first step forward. Addiction treatment specialists are available to treat withdrawals and help you avoid relapse. Get help now finding treatment near you.

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