Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms, and Detox Treatment

Heroin is a highly addictive and illegal opioid drug. In 2021 approximately 1.1 million people used heroin and 1.0 million people were addicted to it.

One of the reasons heroin is so addictive is that it is extremely challenging to quit. Following heroin cessation, users who have developed physical dependence typically experience moderate to severe flu-like symptoms, known as withdrawal. 

Although withdrawal can be difficult to cope with, there are medical detox programs available that can prescribe medications and facilitate support groups that make the detox process easier. In this article, you will learn how long heroin withdrawal lasts, what symptoms you can expect, and how a detox center can help you stay sober.

What Causes Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin is a central nervous system depressant meaning it slows down vital bodily functions, such as breathing, respiration, and heart rate when people take heroin, the body has to work harder to compensate for the depressing effects. 

Over time, the body gets used to functioning in this overexcited state to function alongside ongoing heroin use. Then, when people suddenly stop using heroin, the body continues to expect another dose and proceeds to act in this overexcited state, causing what is known as withdrawal. In other words, withdrawal occurs when the body tries to adjust to the absence of heroin in the system after a period of prolonged or heavy use.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal is often compared to a case of the seasonal flu. Symptoms can range from mild to severe based on the extent of use and individual physiology.

Common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Stomach pain and abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches, and body pain
  • Cold sweats
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Runny nose
  • Yawning excessively
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Cravings
  • Insomnia

Although heroin withdrawal is generally not life-threatening, the physical and psychological symptoms can become too much for the average person to handle by themselves. For example, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can result in gastrointestinal distress, as well as dehydration. Untreated dehydration can cause organs to start shutting down and may be potentially fatal.

The other primary risk associated with heroin withdrawal is the potential for relapse. Since symptoms can become so agonizing and cravings so powerful, some people end up returning to heroin use to alleviate their symptoms, rather than completing the detoxification process. As a result, no matter your situation, you should always seek medical guidance when trying to detox from heroin.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The duration of heroin withdrawal can vary depending on several factors, including the individual’s level of dependence, the amount and frequency of heroin use, and their overall health and brain chemistry. 

Generally, heroin withdrawal begins within 6-12 hours after the last use, symptoms peak within 1-3 days, and gradually improve over about 5-7 days. However, some individuals may experience lingering symptoms, such as cravings and mood disturbances, for weeks or even months after cessation. 

It’s important for individuals going through heroin withdrawal to seek medical assistance for their best chance at maintaining long-term recovery.

The Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

While heroin withdrawal may vary from one person to the next, most people experience the following timeline of symptoms.

Onset (6-12 hours after the last dose)

Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin. Early symptoms may include runny nose, restlessness, anxiety, muscle aches, sweating, and yawning.

Peak (1-3 days)

Withdrawal symptoms peak within the first 1-3 days after cessation. During this time, individuals may experience intense symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping, dilated pupils, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and intense cravings for heroin.

Acute phase (3-5 days)

The acute phase of withdrawal typically lasts around 3-5 days. Symptoms may remain severe, making this period particularly challenging for individuals undergoing withdrawal. Supportive care and medical intervention may be necessary to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Subacute phase (5-7 days)

After the acute phase, withdrawal symptoms gradually begin to diminish. While symptoms may still be present, they tend to become less severe. Individuals may experience lingering symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Symptoms resolve (1-2 weeks)

Most acute withdrawal symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks after cessation of heroin use. However, some individuals may continue to experience residual symptoms, such as cravings and mood disturbances, for several weeks or even months.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Some individuals may experience a prolonged withdrawal syndrome known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS can involve persistent symptoms such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, which may last for weeks or months after the acute withdrawal phase.

Detox Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal

Medical detox centers provide a safe and therapeutic environment in which individuals can detox from heroin and safely during detox, medical staff can administer medications and facilitate supportive treatments to ensure client comfort.

A heroin detox program involves three stages, which include

  • Assessment – Everyone has their own needs when it comes to treatment. As a result, detox begins with a comprehensive assessment or evaluation. A team of qualified healthcare professionals will evaluate the extent of your substance abuse, your mental health, and your overall physical health. Based on this assessment, they will develop a customized treatment plan with your needs in mind.
  • Medical stabilization – During this phase, as heroin leaves your system, medical professionals will monitor your symptoms, administer medication if needed, and host support groups that can help you cope emotionally. When it comes to heroin withdrawal, a medically assisted approach is typically used. Medications like Suboxone and methadone can help alleviate your symptoms, reduce the risk of relapse, and ensure your comfort. This phase of detox typically lasts 3 to 5 days depending on your symptoms.
  • Treatment planning, and transition – After your symptoms subside and you are medically stable, a counselor or therapist will work closely with you to devise a plan for continued care. Whether you attend inpatient or outpatient treatment after detox, it’s important that the treatment planning stage guarantees a smooth transition from detox to rehab. Going to rehab immediately after detox can reduce the potential for relapse and promote sustained recovery.

After detox, attending a heroin addiction treatment program is the best way to secure, long-term sobriety. Treatment programs help you address the root causes of your substance abuse, create a plan for relapse prevention, and introduce healthy coping skills that you can use in everyday life. Not only that, but by attending treatment, and reducing your risk for relapse, you lessen the chances that you’ll have to go to detox and withdrawal from heroin again.

Find a Heroin Detox Center Near You

At The Living Room at Princeton, we offer comprehensive, heroin rehab programs across multiple levels of care. Our team can match you with a detox center and ensure a seamless transition to one of our programs, helping you jumpstart your journey to recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction and are searching for treatment in New Jersey, please don’t wait any longer to pick up the phone and call today to speak with a trusted admission coordinator.

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