Heroin Withdrawal & Detox

Heroin is a highly addictive substance that may be smoked, snorted, or injected.1 While heroin use can be difficult to stop, there are heroin detox and addiction treatment programs that can help you safely and comfortably withdrawal from heroin in a supportive environment with a team of medical professionals.2

On this page, you’ll learn about heroin withdrawal, including the signs and symptoms, the withdrawal timeline, and where to find heroin withdrawal treatment.

What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal is a characteristic set of symptoms that develop when an individual who is dependent on heroin drastically reduces their use or quits using the substance.3

Repeated heroin use over time can lead to changes in the brain and body, resulting in physiological dependency. When the body becomes dependent on an addictive substance such as heroin, it cannot function normally in the absence of the substance.1

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:4

  • Easily irritated.
  • Intense feelings of worry and stress.
  • Muscle aches and cramps.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Runny nose.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Stomach cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The heroin withdrawal timeline depends upon several factors, such as the:2

  • Length of time a person has been using heroin.
  • Frequency of heroin use.
  • Amount of heroin used each time.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically begin 8 to 12 hours after the most recent use and usually last up to two weeks, on average.2,5

There is a possibility for certain psychological symptoms to last longer than the acute withdrawal phase, improving and worsening overtime for weeks or months following cessation of heroin use.6 This is referred to as protracted withdrawal.

Symptoms of protracted heroin withdrawal may include:6

  • Memory lapses.
  • Difficulty thinking clearly, solving problems, or understanding and retaining new concepts.
  • Experiencing anxious or depressed moods and feelings.
  • Being short-tempered and easily annoyed.
  • Feeling excessively negative or disinterested.
  • Not sleeping well or sleeping more than usual.

How to Detox From Heroin Safely

Although withdrawing from heroin is not typically life-threatening, heroin withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and even painful. Individuals may relapse because the discomfort can result in the urge to use heroin again to avoid the withdrawal symptoms.2

To prevent needless suffering, it is recommended that heroin detox be conducted under medical supervision, with the use of medications.2

Medically Assisted Heroin Detox

Medical detox is designed to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal symptoms by administering prescription medications under medical supervision.2

Medically assisted detoxification is not a standalone component of treatment, but rather one of the first steps in the treatment process. Other initial steps that go hand in hand with detoxification include a thorough evaluation of the client’s needs and understanding their readiness to enter formal relapse-prevention treatment.2

Medications for Heroin Detox

Common medications that can be used for medically assisted heroin detox include:2,5,7

  • Methadone is a synthetic, long-acting opioid that reduces withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings by acting upon opioid receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that opioids such as heroin, morphine, and opioid pain medications activate when consumed.
  • Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist, meaning that it produces similar effects as opioids, but these effects are weaker than those of full opioids such as heroin and methadone. Buprenorphine’s opioid effects increase with each dose until at moderate doses they level off, even with further dose increases. This “ceiling effect” lowers the risk of misuse, dependency, and side effects. Unlike methadone treatment, which must be performed in a highly structured clinic, buprenorphine is the first medication to treat opioid dependency that is permitted to be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices, significantly increasing treatment access.
  • Unlike methadone or buprenorphine, naltrexone is not an opioid agonist but rather an opioid antagonist. Naltrexone works by blocking the opioid receptors as a way to prevent opioid cravings. As a result, there is no misuse potential with naltrexone. Naltrexone can only be taken once the individual is no longer in the acute withdrawal phase and has not used opioids in at least 48 hours.
  • Clonidine is a non-opioid medication that is used to treat high blood pressure. It is sometimes used in an off-label medication to treat heroin withdrawal.

Over-the-counter medications may also be used as supplemental treatments to help relieve some of the side effects associated with heroin withdrawal, however they do not have a role in reducing cravings or relapse rates. These medications may be used to help with digestive issues, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms related to heroin detox.2

Treatment professionals will regularly assess and monitor your progress throughout your detox treatment and will often adjust medications according to your symptoms.2,5

Can You Detox From Heroin at Home?

Detoxing from heroin at home, without medical supervision, is not recommended. While symptoms are typically not life-threatening, it is possible for some symptoms to result in medical complications.  For example, excessive vomiting can lead to lung infections, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances which all usually require medical treatment.4

There is an increased risk of overdose following heroin detox, making heroin withdrawal at home potentially dangerous.4,5

When an individual is withdrawing from heroin, the drug is slowly being eliminated from the body and heroin urges and cravings may increase. If an individual relapses during the withdrawal phase, even the smallest dose of heroin can result in a high likelihood of overdose because the body is no longer accustomed to heroin.

As a result, it’s important for individuals withdrawing from heroin to do so in a safe and supervised setting such as an addiction treatment center, rather than detoxing at home.

Given that people often feel poorly and experience strong drug cravings during the withdrawal phase and the months following, entering into a professional detoxication program can help you connect with treatment professionals who can facilitate entry into longer-term treatment.2,5

Heroin Detox Near Tampa

If you or someone you care about is struggling with heroin use, effective treatment is available to help you through heroin withdrawal safely and comfortably, and on to continued recovery.

At River Oaks Treatment Center—a drug rehab near Tampa, FL—our highly experienced care team supports you with around-the-clock supervision and expert withdrawal management.

Our Florida addiction treatment center offers several levels of addiction treatment in addition to medical detox, including inpatient/residential and various outpatient programs.

To learn more about treatment options, call a compassionate admissions navigator at . They are available 24/7 to answer your questions about the treatment admissions process, using insurance coverage for rehab, and other ways to pay for rehab.

You can also quickly and securely now. Please don’t wait to get the help you deserve.

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