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heroin abuse facts

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Heroin detox is the first step people who are addicted to heroin should take when they are ready to get sober. Withdrawal symptoms, such as muscle aches, anxiety, and cravings make quitting drugs like heroin extremely difficult. Even though heroin withdrawal is generally not life-threatening, completing detox without professional help significantly increases the likelihood of relapse.

People who attend medical detox facilities have access to medical and clinical staff who provide around-the-clock monitoring and support. Instead of making users quit cold-turkey and endure the painful withdrawal symptoms, medical detox facilities provide medications to help reduce the severity of withdrawal. Heroin detox, specifically, involves medication-assisted treatment using Suboxone, Subutex, Methadone, or a buprenorphine taper. 

Heroin is a potent, deadly, and highly addictive substance. If you or a loved one are addicted to heroin, you should seek a medical detox near you as soon as possible.

symptoms of heroin withdrawal

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Heroin is a potent opioid that impacts the brain’s reward system. When people use heroin, the body synthesizes the substance into morphine, producing a euphoric high similar to those produced by prescription painkillers. As people continue using heroin, their tolerance will increase so they will need to take more of the drug to feel the same effects as before. Once someone has developed tolerance, it is likely that they have developed, or are not far from developing, a physical dependence on heroin. When someone who is physically addicted to heroin stops using, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from heroin is similar to, but more intense than, withdrawal from prescription painkillers like hydrocodone and oxycodone. As a result, many people suffering from heroin addiction will continue using the drug even after they want to stop simply to avoid going into withdrawal.

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal that are to be expected during detox include:[1]

  • Lacramentation (watery eyes)
  • Yawning excessively
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Hypertension
  • Drug cravings

These symptoms mimic a severe case of the flu and may appear differently in different individuals. Heroin withdrawal is best treated at a medical detox facility.

heroin withdrawal timeline

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The heroin withdrawal timeline varies from one person to the next. The duration of heroin withdrawal depends on a number of factors, such as:

  • The amount of time a person has used the drug
  • How much of the drug their body is accustomed to taking
  • How frequent the person used heroin
  • The method of administration (injection, snorting, swallowing, or smoking)
  • Past history with detox/withdrawal
  • The presence of a co-occurring mental or physical health condition

In general, most people will begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as 6 hours after taking their past dose. These symptoms will intensify over the first 48 hours and peak between days 3 and 5. Between days 3 and 5, withdrawal symptoms will be at their most severe. Then, after 6-7 days, withdrawal symptoms should begin to subside and fade away.

Chronic heroin users may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These symptoms can last anywhere from 18-24 months after a person gets sober and may change over time. Symptoms of PAWS include poor sleep and concentration, increased anxiety and depression, mood swings, memory loss, and restlessness. As time goes by and people continue to remain sober, these symptoms will subside.

symptoms of heroin detox

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Back to top

Medical detox centers provide a safe and professional environment where people who are addicted to heroin can go for withdrawal symptom management. Even though heroin withdrawal is typically not a life-threatening event, there is always the chance that complications will arise, putting a person’s health at risk. Potential complications associated with opioid withdrawal are dehydration and asphyxiation. Even when a patient isn’t experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, the cravings can be so uncomfortable that the patient relapses just to avoid the withdrawals. As a result, supervised medical detox is the best course of treatment for people looking to overcome heroin addiction.

Throughout heroin detox, doctors provide 24/7 support and monitoring. They may also administer medications to help ease their patient’s withdrawal symptoms. Detox is typically divided up into three phases: intake, medical stabilization, and treatment planning.


Whether a person is attending an inpatient or outpatient detox, intake is the first step. During the intake process, patients are asked questions about their drug and alcohol use, medical history, family medical history, and past experiences with detox and treatment. They will also undergo a comprehensive medical and psychological evaluation to determine the state of their physical and mental health. The intake and evaluation process provides doctors and clinicians with the vital information they use to create individualized treatment plans.

Medical Stabilization

Medications are often used during heroin detox.[2] These medications help relieve cravings, reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, and help improve the overall recovery process. The most common medications given to patients who are detoxing from heroin are:

  • Buprenorphine – Buprenorphine is a weak opioid medication that helps patients taper off of stronger opioids. It may come in the form of Subutex (buprenorphine) or Suboxone (buprenorphine/naltrexone). This medication reduces drug cravings and many of the physical symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal, such as muscle aches and vomiting.
  • Methadone – Methadone is a slow-acting weak opiate used to taper patients off of stronger opioids. This medication also helps prevent withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings.
  • Clonidine – Clonidine is a blood pressure medication that may be used in patients who experience hypertension.
  • SSRIs/antidepressants – Depending on the individual, some may take antidepressants or SSRIs for varying lengths of time to stabilize brain chemicals and/or treat the underlying depression.

Throughout detox, patients are closely monitored while taking these medications to ensure their safety from any side effects, adverse reactions, or withdrawal complications. Some patients may continue taking certain medications, like antidepressants or buprenorphine, for the duration of their treatment program or as long as needed. Others will only remain on medications for the duration of detox.

Treatment Planning

The final and perhaps most important part of heroin detox is treatment planning. Heroin addiction is a difficult cycle to break, and going to detox only is unlikely to equip patients with long-term sobriety. Instead, they will work with a clinician to develop a treatment plan that works for them. This may consist of inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, or both. Substance abuse treatment programs help people get to the root problems of their addiction and learn to cope without drugs and alcohol. They also educate patients about the disease of addiction, relapse prevention, and the importance of ongoing care.

Find a Heroin Detox Near You Today

If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin, you know just how difficult it is to stop and endure the painful withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, medical detox facilities are armed with professional staff, FDA-approved medications, and the resources required for a safe and comfortable detox.

If you’re ready to get started on a better life, contact a dedicated addiction treatment provider today to locate a heroin detox near you.