Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms: Signs, Side Effects, & Timeline

Heroin is probably one of the most serious drugs commonly used on the street. Unfortunately, since it’s widely available and comparatively cheaper than most opioid drugs, more and more people are turning to heroin. Not only can people become addicted to heroin as primary drug addiction, but it can also be a kind of secondary drug addiction when it becomes cheaper and easier to find a replacement for another opioid. 

That means many people dealing with heroin addiction need information about what withdrawal is like, what to expect during withdrawal, and what kind of help they need to get through it. 

The truth is that sometimes fear of withdrawal can stop people from trying to overcome an addiction, and that’s why we want to be very clear about what withdrawal is like and what kind of help is available. 

You don’t have to do this alone, and withdrawal doesn’t have to be a frightening unknown. Here’s what you should expect, how long heroin withdrawal typically takes, and why it’s better to detox with professional help than without it. 

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms & Side-Effects

The first things you need to know when figuring out if heroin withdrawal is right for you or if you’re ready to withdraw from heroin are the symptoms and side effects of detoxing. 

While we would prefer that everyone be able to withdraw from heroin as soon as possible safely, the truth is that it isn’t always safe or possible to withdraw from heroin or any other drug. So while you should withdraw and try to get the help you need to get into recovery as soon as possible, there’s no shame if you can’t handle these symptoms and side effects right now. 

Withdrawing alone can be dangerous as well as difficult. It’s alright to decide you must wait until you have access to more help or resources to get through withdrawal. 

That being said, the good news is that opioid withdrawal is one of the less risky forms of withdrawal, meaning that the symptoms are typically shorter-lived and less likely to cause a health crisis than withdrawing from other drugs that can cause a more serious or life-threatening kind of chemical dependence. 

That’s not to say that withdrawal from heroin is easy or safe, but it is easier and safer than other drugs. 

Here are some of the most common side effects and symptoms of heroin withdrawal

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Excess sweating
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Excess tears
  • Runny nose
  • Goosebumps 
  • Hair standing on end
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea

These symptoms are possible during heroin withdrawal, and some people will experience all of the common side effects of heroin withdrawal. The longer you’ve been taking heroin, or the larger the dose you were taking just before withdrawal, the worse your symptoms are likely to be and the more of these side effects you’re likely to experience. 

That said, there is one more important side effect we haven’t mentioned yet, craving more heroin. Let’s get into a little more detail about this symptom and some coping strategies that can help: 

Coping With Heroin Cravings During Detox

One of the strongest and most distressing side effects of heroin withdrawal is craving the drug. Not only can these cravings feel like the natural answer to feeling the way you do. 

Dealing with your cravings is necessary if you want to get through detox. It’s also a safety issue. Once you’ve started detoxing from heroin, your tolerance starts to go down immediately. That means that your body probably can’t handle the dose you were taking before you went into withdrawal, and if you use the same dose again, you may accidentally overdose on the drug. 

Even smaller doses may still be dangerous because you don’t know how much your tolerance has decreased or how much stress your body is already under from detoxing. 

Methadone and suboxone can be used to help manage cravings, but you’ll need to go to a crisis center or work with medical professionals to access those drugs. Also, both drugs can prolong your withdrawal, and methadone is primarily used in long-term maintenance, like when your health means that detoxing would be dangerous, but you still want to overcome your addiction. 

It’s important to ensure you’re still properly hydrated and getting enough to eat when dealing with heroin cravings. Even if you only crave heroin, your body needs basic hydration and nutrition. 

Having treats around, or gummy or hard candy to give your body something else to focus on, can also be a good coping mechanism. 

The most important tool you have is having someone else around. If you have friends, family, or, ideally, medical professionals keeping an eye on you and preventing you from relapsing, your cravings will be easier to manage. 

Of course, going through cravings is never pleasant, but at least with the proper support, you will have a better chance of getting through them unhurt and making it to the next phases of recovery, where any lingering cravings will be much easier to deal with. 

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

Heroin withdrawal does have a typical timeline, though health conditions, taking certain medications, and your symptoms and how long you’ve been taking the drug can all play a part in your timeline. 

Here’s roughly what to expect. If you’re working with medical professionals who anticipate that your timeline will be different, they’ll let you know anytime a treatment or medication may change your timeline. 

Typically, Heroin withdrawal symptoms start within about 12 hours from your last dose. Some people may start to feel withdrawal effects sooner, within about 6 hours, but that’s not common. It can take up to 24 hours for the first symptoms to present. 

From the start of symptoms, you’ll see an increase in the severity and number of symptoms for the first 72 hours, when symptoms typically peak. If you’re having a slightly extended withdrawal, it might take until the 5th day for your withdrawal symptoms to peak. 

The worst symptoms typically last a day or two before starting to subside, and people may clear the acute phase of withdrawal anywhere between 5-10 days after symptom onset. 

Of course, some people have a slightly extended withdrawal, and medications used to manage withdrawal and detox symptoms may change your timeline. 

Detoxing Safely: Why You Should Always Seek Professional Help With Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin is a drug that it’s best to seek professional help with. While some people withdraw successfully from heroin at home, it’s much riskier and less likely to succeed. 

There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, most people don’t know what the biggest risks are during withdrawal. Relapsing is one of them, and generally, the one people are most concerned about, but low blood sugar and dehydration can both be serious risks, both because the person detoxing may not be hungry or thirsty during detox and also because they may struggle to keep food and liquids down or may get diarrhea that prevents them from getting the full benefit from either. 

Additionally, while complications from heroin withdrawal are rarer than with some other drugs and medications, they can be serious and may come on quickly and with little warning. Things like seizures, severe anxiety attacks, and other complications are best managed in medical settings where the appropriate care is available quickly, and any health crisis can be monitored and managed. 

Medical settings are also best because they know when medication might be needed and when withdrawal symptoms are more than you should be asked to handle as you get into recovery. Severe symptoms aren’t just unpleasant, they can be dangerous, and there are specific medical guidelines to help manage them. 

Mitigating Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms With Premier Treatment Care

If you’re ready to commit to overcoming heroin addiction and to get the help you need to detox and deal with your symptoms safely, consider the Epiphany Wellness treatment center. 

We use some of the best techniques and premier science behind safely and well detoxing and the best treatment techniques to help people deal with the causes of their addiction in the first place and get where they need to be. 

You deserve care that not only understands addiction and how to help but also offers compassionate recovery and helps you get back on your feet in the aftermath of addiction. 

Once you’ve developed a substance use disorder, some of the effects of that disorder are likely to stay with you for life. But you can learn to manage them and live a happy and healthy life around those ongoing effects. 

Don’t wait for the situation to worsen or hesitate to ask for help. You deserve to get help overcoming heroin addiction. Epiphany Wellness is here to help people just like you. 

Contact us today to learn more about intake, our treatment programs, and what kinds of treatment are available to you. 

Sources: 

  1. Hartney E. Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, & Treatment. Verywell Mind. Published March 24, 2020. Accessed October 21, 2022. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-to-expect-from-heroin-withdrawal-22049
  2. Case-Lo C. Opioid and Opiate Withdrawal: Symptoms and Treatments. Healthline. Published May 26, 2022. Accessed October 21, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/opiate-withdrawal
  3. World Health Organization. Withdrawal Management. World Health Organization; 2009. Accessed October 21, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/

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