What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and factors that impact heroin withdrawal and how to seek help for heroin withdrawal at San Diego Detox.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is a natural opioid made from morphine, a substance obtained from the seedpod of the distinct opium poppy plant. It is used in various ways (injection, sniffing, snorting, smoking, and mixing with other drugs). Heroin functions by quickly entering the brain and attaching to opioid receptors on cells found in numerous regions. These receptors are responsible for pleasure and pain perception, which is why heroin use is associated with feelings of pleasure or euphoria.1

Heroin is a highly addictive illegal substance, and consumption can pose threats to the physical, mental, emotional, and financial wellness of the individual.

Heroin Withdrawal Overview

Since heroin is highly addictive, the body becomes affected when use is abruptly stopped or reduced. It exhibits various symptoms indicative of its withdrawal from heroin as it tries to adjust to getting off heroin. Simply put, heroin withdrawal combines the physical and psychological effects after heroin use is stopped or reduced, mainly when prior use has been intense or prolonged.2

heroin withdrawal

What Causes Heroin Withdrawal?

To keep homeostasis, the body and the brain work collaboratively. The body's chemistry is impacted when harmful substances such as heroin are used continuously to the point of dependence. After substance dependence is formed, the body is again thrown off balance by a sudden cessation or reduction in substance use, leading to withdrawal effects.

Heroin and Dopamine

Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of extreme happiness and euphoria. Heroin acts on the body to stimulate dopamine release to the point where the brain stops producing dopamine on its own after chronic heroin use and becomes dependent on heroin for these effects. 

Since the brain hasn't been producing as much dopamine due to the presence of the dopamine heroin produces, when getting off heroin and heroin use abruptly stops, the brain can only produce dopamine at lower levels. As a result, this can cause heroin withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Several unpleasant physical and mental indications follow the withdrawal from heroin. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are abnormal physical or psychological manifestations after the abrupt cessation of heroin use, particularly given the drug's potential to cause physical dependence.

Indications of Withdrawal

While everyone's experience is different, common symptoms of heroin withdrawal include but aren’t limited to:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Heroin cold sweat
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps, a.k.a. "heroin cold sweats"
  • Uncontrolled leg movements

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last? 

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically last until the body and brain re-establish their equilibrium after substance dependence treatment. Generally, heroin withdrawal takes a few days to a week. At the same time, some psychological effects may last for longer lengths of time. How long heroin withdrawal lasts in the body depends on the length of drug use, the dose of heroin ingested, and individual variability. People with lesser tolerance and heroin-mediated substance dependence would have less intense heroin withdrawal, decreasing the heroin withdrawal timeline.3

Timeline for Heroin Withdrawal

A typical heroin withdrawal timeline is as follows:4

  • 6-12 hours: Symptoms indicative of withdrawal from heroin begin 6-12 hours after last use.
  • 1-3 days: The worst signs of heroin withdrawal are usually recorded within the first three days.
  • 4-7 days: Regular heroin withdrawal typically declines within this period.
  • 7 days - a few months: Depending on how much heroin was used, how often, and how the individual used it, some psychological symptoms may linger longer than a few days.

What Factors Impact How Long Heroin Withdrawal Lasts?

The process of heroin withdrawal affects people involved differently. Therefore, when considering heroin treatment options, knowing what factors impact how long heroin withdrawal lasts is vital to navigating the withdrawal process effectively.

Signs of heroin withdrawal may last between a few days to a few months, depending on:

  1. Tolerance
  2. The severity of the addiction
  3. Length of time using heroin
  4. Past opioid dependence
  5. Polysubstance use
  6. Overall health

Medical Detox for Heroin

Medical detox is a practical first step in heroin withdrawal treatment. It necessitates interaction between physicians, nurses, therapists, and other medical specialists. This is because detoxing from heroin in a professionally supervised heroin detox program can help decrease unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and handle any issues that may emerge during treatment for heroin addiction.

Medical heroin detox is typically completed in up to 28 days as an inpatient in a heroin detox center or 12 weeks in a community heroin recovery program. 

What Is Medical Detox?

When a substance (illicit or prescribed) has been misused, medical detoxification is required to safely and effectively rid its effect on the body. Medical detoxification is thus the process of ridding the body of toxic chemicals caused by substance abuse or dependence under the directives and supervision of a group of qualified medical specialists.5 

Medical Detox Processes

Medical detox from heroin involves three major processes, namely:

  • Evaluation: Every medical detox treatment begins with an evaluation to verify the individual's overall health. The individual's medical history and state of intoxication are also evaluated so that healthcare practitioners can suggest the best course of treatment.
  • Stabilization: Early stabilization is essential in heroin recovery treatment programs. Health professionals offer therapy services to recovering individuals during stabilization to help them achieve a stable psychological state.
  • Facilitating Entry into Rehab: It’s crucial to simplify the transition into rehab to prevent relapse and obtain the most remarkable results because detox alone is insufficient to promote long-term abstinence and sustain long-term recovery.

Can I Detox from Heroin at Home? 

While the method to use for detoxing off heroin is primarily dependent on personal preference, heroin detox at home is typically discouraged. This is because home detox is ineffective in high-level addictions like heroin addiction, can lead to a relapse, and can trigger severe complications.

Home Remedies for Detox

Although detoxing from heroin at home is highly discouraged by medical professionals, there are some common methods people use. Regarding home remedies for heroin withdrawal, kratom, a herbal extract made from the leaves of an evergreen tree cultivated in Southeast Asia, has been experimented with as a heroin detox medication that can be administered, even from the comfort of home. 

Kratom is allegedly helpful in treating symptoms that generally accompany opioid withdrawal, such as cramps, panic attacks, diarrhea, and pain. However, medical professionals have outlawed its use because it’s believed to be more harmful than helpful— at times leading to kratom addiction itself.6

Coping & Relief from Heroin Withdrawal

Being able to cope with heroin withdrawal is never simple, primarily due to the mental and psychological distress that comes with it. Therefore, it’s often crucial to have the appropriate support (emotional and professional) while waiting for the withdrawal's discomfort to subside.7

Below are some tried and true methods of mitigating the impact of heroin withdrawal.

Ask for Help

Asking for assistance while going through a heroin detox isn’t a sign of weakness and can lessen the internal conflicts that could result in relapse. A successful and long-lasting recovery process depends on having the support of family, friends, and the kind of community support that is frequently found in a heroin detox center.

Stay Hydrated

It’s crucial to stay hydrated because vomiting or diarrhea are frequently associated with withdrawal. Individuals should consume large quantities of water and other electrolyte-containing beverages to help the body flush out heroin-related toxins.

Stay Busy

Keeping busy might help combat the adverse effects of heroin medication, which include anxiety, irritability, and sleep difficulties. In addition, focusing on something worthwhile diverts attention from these stressors and supports recovery objectives.

Manage Symptoms with OTC Medications

One or more heroin medications will be given during treatment for heroin addiction. Imodium is a typical over-the-counter drug to get off heroin that aids withdrawal symptoms.

Try Acupuncture

Research and clinical experience indicate that acupuncture has some therapeutic advantages, especially for pain management. One of acupuncture's most notable benefits on opioid withdrawal is that it raises levels of feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine, enkephalin, endorphin, serotonin, and epinephrine in the blood. This helps to lessen the consequences of heroin withdrawal.8

Get Help for Heroin Withdrawal at San Diego Detox

Finding assistance throughout heroin detox is essential for recovery because heroin withdrawal isn’t an easy process and can be unpleasant. Individuals can receive adequate treatment for heroin addiction at San Diego Detox, along with any necessary support they might need.  

San Diego Detox and Long-Lasting Sobriety

San Diego Detox offers rehabilitative and personalized care, particularly for managing acute withdrawal symptoms, based on the individual's needs and preferences and backed by clinical judgment.

Detoxification isn’t an end but a transitional state between dependence and abstinence. Therefore, the primary goal of detoxification treatments at San Diego Detox is to minimize withdrawal symptoms and alleviate side effects so individuals can complete the detoxification process successfully to enable sustained abstinence.  

Reach Out Today

Kindly contact San Diego Detox if you or a loved one would like guidance on getting off heroin, heroin detox medication, treatment choices, or strategies for dealing with heroin withdrawal. Our staff of trained professionals is always happy to assist.