Recovery Center Blog

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms, and Treatment

Written By Recovery Centers - August 11th, 2022
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline, Symptoms, and Treatment

Heroin is a powerful, addictive opioid drug that is derived from Opium, a chemical found in the seed pod of the opium poppy plant. Unlike prescription opioids, heroin does not have medicinal use, and it is illegal to buy and sell. Part of the reason why this drug is illegal is because of its habit-forming, addictive nature.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 902,000 people ages 12 and older used heroin in 2020 and about 691,000 people had a heroin use disorder.[1] Many people who struggle with heroin addiction want to stop using the drug, but they are unable to do so successfully because of the excruciating withdrawal symptoms that occur when they suddenly stop taking the drug.

While the heroin withdrawal timeline can vary from one person to the next in terms of length and severity, it is always uncomfortable. The best way to detox from heroin is to seek help from a medical detox facility that can prescribe detox medications, monitor symptoms, and connect you with ongoing treatment.

Heroin Withdrawal

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant meaning it slows down bodily functions like respiration and heart rate. When you take heroin, your body must work harder to overcome these effects, but your body gets used to the presence of heroin in your system over time. Then, when you suddenly stop taking heroin, your body expects more heroin to enter your system and continues to act in an over-active or excited state. This is what causes symptoms of withdrawal.

In short, heroin withdrawal refers to the set of symptoms that develop after reducing or stopping heroin use after regular, prolonged use. Common symptoms include:[2]

  • Excessive yawning
  • Watery eyes
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Restlessness
  • Drug cravings
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Confused thinking
  • Poor attention span
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Shaking

These symptoms can range from mild to severe and often resemble a case of the seasonal flu. However, the symptoms are extremely uncomfortable, so many people continue using heroin or relapse before their symptoms subside.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The heroin withdrawal timeline can vary based on:

  • Length of heroin use
  • Frequency of heroin use
  • Dose
  • Method of administration
  • Metabolism
  • Age, weight, and gender
  • Liver health

People who have been addicted to heroin longer, use it intravenously, and take higher doses may experience more severe, longer-lasting symptoms. However, most people report that symptoms begin around 6 hours after their last dose, peak between 2-3 days, and resolve after one week.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The exact experience of heroin withdrawal can vary from one person to the next, but most people follow a similar timeline. The longer heroin has been abused, the longer withdrawal symptoms will last.

  • 6-12 hours after the last dose – Symptoms of withdrawal begin in most people between 6 and 12 hours after their last dose. Early symptoms include runny nose, watery eyes, yawning, anxiety, restlessness, cravings, and anticipation of worsening symptoms.
  • 1-3 days after the last dose – Symptoms will continue to escalate between days 1 and 3. Most people’s symptoms peak between days 2 and 3. During this time, individuals can experience any of the flu-like and gastrointestinal symptoms listed above.
  • 4-7 days after the last dose – Symptoms will subside between days 4 and 7 but some irritability, discomfort, and cravings may linger.
  • One week after the last dose – Acute symptoms typically resolve around one week. Some long-term heroin users develop post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) that can linger for several months or years but can be managed with treatment and lifestyle changes.

Even though heroin withdrawal resolves after about one week, symptoms can be challenging to cope with. Medical detox centers can prescribe medications that alleviate symptoms of withdrawal and make the process more comfortable.

Medical Detox for Heroin Withdrawal

Medical detox centers offer around-the-clock care, clinical supervision, and support groups that can help patients cope with the heroin withdrawal timeline. Doctors may prescribe methadone, buprenorphine, or other prescription drugs to alleviate symptoms of withdrawal and provide relief. Many drug and alcohol detox centers also offer nutritional support, physical therapy, and holistic therapies to provide further relief.

After symptoms resolve, individuals should transition to a formal addiction treatment program. Inpatient rehab is often recommended for people struggling with heroin addiction because it offers the highest level of care.

Coping and Relief During Heroin Detox

Even with clinical support, coping with heroin withdrawal can be challenging. Additional ways to relieve withdrawal symptoms and cope with the effects of detox include:

  • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Try to get at least a few minutes of physical exercise in each day
  • Practice meditation or yoga
  • Express feelings and emotions to trusted loved ones or a support group
  • Take medications as prescribed
  • Drink plenty of water

Many people also report that taking a warm bath can alleviate symptoms of sweating, chills, and body temperature dysregulation which is extremely common during opioid withdrawal.

Find a Heroin Detox and Treatment Center Near You

Quitting heroin “cold-turkey” is not life-threatening, but it is extremely difficult to do alone successfully. A heroin detox center near you can help you detox safely, overcome symptoms of withdrawal, and get connected with ongoing treatment for your recovery.

If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction, the time to get help is now. Call today to speak with a qualified admissions coordinator or search for a drug recovery center near you.