Heroin is a highly addictive drug which can have lifelong, negative consequences. When heroin exits the system, an individual experiences severe withdrawal symptoms, which vary in terms of intensity and duration depending on many factors. Learn what to expect during withdrawal and how to seek help for a heroin detox.
Effects of Withdrawal
When heroin is taken for long periods of time, the body develops a natural tolerance to the drug. The central nervous system becomes accustomed to having the drug in the system and cannot function normally without it. Withdrawal occurs when the drug is taken away and the body tries to restore balance. Discomfort and pain result from the body seeking homeostasis and also accounts for negative side effects.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin will affect a person’s physical and mental health during withdrawal. Side effects may be both physically and mentally exhausting as well as painful.
Dependence on heroin means a person requires the drug to physically maintain the current balance so when heroin leaves the body, an adjustment happens in the form of withdrawal. The body needs time to adjust to the new balance happening and some symptoms can begin to present themselves.
Expected side effects during heroin withdrawal may include:
- Abdominal cramps or pain
- Cold sweats, chills
- Dilated pupils
- Nausea or Vomiting
- Sleep Disruption
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically begin within 6 and 12 hours after last use, peaking within 1 to 3 days’ time. Gradually, symptoms subside over a few days but in some cases lead to post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) which can continue for weeks or even months.
The most common symptoms of PAWS include:
The symptoms, while uncomfortable, are treatable and may require supportive services by qualified medical professionals to ensure individual safety. Recovery from heroin dependence and addiction is a long-term process which requires serious focus and concentration on getting better to avoid relapse and potential harm to self or others.
Medical complications are one side effect of heroin withdrawal which cannot be ignored. Quick identification and treatment can ensure none of the following are life-threatening:
- Anxiety disorders (panic)
- Pain during withdrawal as pain threshold is lessened (heroin offers pain relief and when it is absent, a person may begin to feel more painful symptoms)
- Fever which is treatable. Other issues may cause fever including HIV infection, viral hepatitis, abscesses, infected injection sites and pneumonia which require medical attention
- Severe gastrointestinal symptoms (vomiting, diarrhea) which can lead to dehydration
- Underlying cardiac diseases worsened by increases in blood pressure, pulse or sweating during withdrawal
It is recommended an individual seek out STD testing from a doctor or a third party testing company if it is believed an individual was exposed to an STD through needle sharing.
Heroin Detox Timeline
Days 1 to 2
These are usually the hardest days to get through. The detox symptoms are in their severest form during these days, most noticeably muscle aches and pains. Other symptoms that show up at this early stage can include insomnia, loss of appetite, diarrhea as well as anxiety attacks. Early symptoms begin to show up within 12 hours of the last dose being taken.
Days 3 to 5
By this stage the worst of the discomfort is over, but not completely gone. It is important to remember to eat properly at this time in order to boost the immune system’s response. It is common to experience abdominal cramping, vomiting and shivers during this time.
Day 6 and after
Reaching day 6 of a heroin detox means the individual trying to quit heroin is on the right track. At this stage the individual may still experience trouble eating and sleeping and some nausea.
Heroin can wreak havoc in the body. When a person goes through withdrawal, it is extremely uncomfortable. Medications may be prescribed to help ease and shorten the withdrawal process. Heroin withdrawal treatment may focus on replacement therapies or medications which address symptoms directly. The most common medications used for heroin addiction include:
Detox at Home
It is possible to detox at home but it is not advisable. The success rates to stay clean are lower than medically assisted detox. The possibility of relapse is high and requires medical approval before attempting to detox from heroin on one’s own. Some pre-existing medical conditions may require clinical detox under medical supervision. If detoxing at home, gradually cut doses down rather than entirely and decrease the chances of relapse in doing so.
It is recommended detox be done under medical supervision to avoid major health crises and achieve lasting results.
Treatment and Finding Support
An individual who begins treatment for heroin addiction must be willing to admit a problem exists and desire to quit. It is also necessary for the person to understand the experience of withdrawal and be willing to endure all that entails to get better. Although medical assistance offers some support through detox, symptoms can be pretty difficult and side effects may trigger relapse to stop feeling those symptoms. Medications which address heroin detox include:
Medication is one way to support an individual through heroin detox. Going through detox with the support of others can help make symptoms more bearable and relapse less likely. Support from family and friends will be crucial during this time. Once the difficult symptoms abate somewhat, then the real journey to recovery can begin to finally kick the habit for good.
Heroin withdrawal side effects can impact a person’s ability to quit. Physical withdrawal can be difficult but even more so, drug cravings and triggers that make a person want to start using heroin again. All is not lost, however, as treatment centers can provide constant surveillance to supervise the process.
Detox symptoms from heroin withdrawal can be difficult to manage by yourself. If you need professional help quitting heroin, call The Villa Treatment Center to find out how we can provide medical and therapeutic support to recover for good.