Heroin Withdrawal:  What to Expect

Heroin withdrawal is never pleasant.  It can be painful, frightening and downright dangerous.  Whether it takes place intentionally or unintentionally, withdrawing from any opiate is rough.  Knowing what to expect during the process can help immensely.

What is Heroin Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the symptoms that occur when a heroin addict doesn’t have the drug in his or her system.   The manifestations can be physical, psychological or both.  Withdrawal may take place deliberately for the purpose of “getting clean” (detoxing for recovery reasons).  It can also happen involuntarily when an addict isn’t able to get the drug.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin, the drug, withdrawal symptoms, can range from mild to severe.  The symptoms that occur and to what degree they effect the person depends on the individual’s health, age, mindset and many other contributors.  Additional factors can play a determining role like the frequency and duration of use and the amount and quality of heroin that was being consumed.  The method of use can make a difference as well.

Some of the symptoms that may be experienced are:

  • Shaking
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Irritation
  • Muscle cramps and spasms
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings for heroin
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Sleeplessness
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Runny nose
  • Tearing eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Aching in bones
  • Tremors
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impairment of respiration
  • Loss of interest in most everything
  • Relapse

To understand the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, it is important to know how the drug works.  Opiates, like heroin, suppress functions within the central nervous system such as respiration, bodily regulation of temperature, blood pressure and heart rate.  When heroin is consumed, chemicals in the brain that are responsible for pleasure and pain elimination are increased.  That is why heroin addicts often experience a “rush” when the drug enters their system.  Pain disappears and pleasure takes over.  During withdrawals, the opposite is true.

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal death is possible.  It is also unlikely.  The danger mostly lies within secondary symptoms that can accompany the withdrawing process.  Still, seizures can occur when an addict has extremely high levels of the drug in their system and goes into withdrawals.  Respiratory complications can also be a direct result from detoxing.

Because heroin withdrawal can be dangerous, and sometimes deadly, it is wise for an addict to be medically tended during the process.  A trained medical staff can monitor the individual and keep an eye out for signs of distress.  They can also often preempt fatalities.

It is common for an addict to feel as if they are going to die, even when the withdrawal is going smooth medically.  Not only can it be extremely uncomfortable, he psychological effects can be grueling.  Depression can cause thoughts or even attempts of suicide during the process which is yet another reason a medically supervised withdrawal is advisable.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

“How long does it take to detox from heroin?” is a common question asked by addicts who are entering into withdrawal from the substance.  Unfortunately, there is no definite answer.

Because heroin is classified as a short-acting opioid, it enters the system quickly but exits the bloodstream rapidly.  That means that withdrawals can set in before the drug completely leaves the system.  Symptoms can begin as soon as 6-12 hours from the last time the addict used heroin.

Generally, the symptoms reach a high peak in 2-3 days which is when the person in withdrawal will usually feel the worse.  Five to seven days is the normal expectancy of the heroin withdrawal process.  Those who were heavy users may take 10 days or longer.

What is the Difference between Heroin Detox and Heroin Withdrawal?

It is important to know the difference between detox and withdrawal.  Detox is the method and the process of removing heroin from the addicted person’s system.  Withdrawal is the symptoms that occur when detox is taking place.

How to Detox from Heroin

There are a number of ways in which an addict can detox from heroin.  Some are more pleasant (and safe) than others.

Because of the nature of the drug, the addict doesn’t always get to choose.  Sometimes an extended jail stay initiates the detoxification.  In such cases, endurance is about the only tool the addict has in hand.

In-house Residential Detox

When an addict has the opition, residential detox is the preferred method.  In most cases, a medical staff is available around the clock to monitor vital signs and other signals of distress.  Sometimes the edge is taken off by medication designed to calm the patient and ease other symptoms as well like blood pressure levels and muscle cramping.  The patient may also be administered a sleep aide.

Psychological needs are attended to in residential detox centers as well.  Sometimes this includes medication but most always involves the availability of an individual counselor and, later in the process or at the completion of detox, group sessions come into play.  Recovery based thoughts and teachings are often introduced at some point as well.

Outpatient Detox

Outpatient detox is not as optimal as residential, but it is the only option some have due to obligations, such as having young children or a job that will not allow for time off.  During outpatient detox, the individual usually goes in daily to see someone in the medical profession and/or a drug counselor.  Medication is sometimes administered to help with the process.  One such medication is methadone.  Upon completion of the detox, the addict is encouraged to continue with their journey by way of individual and/or group counseling and a set recovery plan.

At Home Detox

For those who detox heroin at home, the odds are not stacked in their favor.  But, it can be done.  It is advisable to have a trusted person stay with the addict during the duration of the withdrawal process, if possible.  Medical complications are a possibility and the cravings that occur can be overwhelming which are two good reasons having a supportive, knowledgeable person around is wise

Home remedies can be applied for symptoms to an extent.  Hot baths may help with chills.  Cool, wet washcloths can be a comfort if fever arises.  Some find that essential oils help such as lavender baths to calm nerves and peppermint rubs to aid muscle cramping.  Beyond some padding of the pain, riding it out is the name of the game.

How to Cope with Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Coping with heroin withdrawal symptoms is not easy.  In fact, it is quite difficult.  But, the end result is the possibility of a clean and sober life that is free from the bondage of heroin addiction.  Holding to the hope of a better tomorrow is the best coping mechanism for getting through heroin withdrawal that there is.  With a positive mindset and a lot of determination, addicts are able to cross through the troubled waters so they can begin the joyous journey of recovery.

Heroin Withdrawal Help – Reach Out

If you, or someone you love, are suffering with a heroin addiction and have questions or concerns about going through a heroin withdrawal, make the call today that can change all your tomorrows.  Heroin withdrawal isn’t easy…but it’s worth it.