Josh Chandler | April 12, 2021

Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms and Timeline for Detoxing from Heroin

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances and withdrawal can be quite difficult for many addicts. Everyone’s experience is different, but the most severe symptoms can last for about a week. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe, ranging from anxiety to severe muscle cramps, and medical supervision is recommended to better manage them and prevent discomfort from becoming dangerous.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Drug detox has both emotional and physical symptoms. Their severity depends on various factors of the patient’s heroin addiction, such as how long it has lasted, how often the addict used the drug, and how strong the dosage was. If the addict has been using other opioids such as prescription painkillers, withdrawal can be even more complicated.

Most people undergoing heroin withdrawal can expect to experience physical symptoms including muscle aches, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. They also can feel anxiety and agitation, with an increased craving for heroin to ease these symptoms.

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How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last

Heroin withdrawal can last as long as a week in its acute phases. After the addict takes their last dose, drug detox usually happens on this timeline:

Two to Four Days

The first symptoms kick in, starting with feelings of anxiety. Physical effects include muscle spasms, insomnia, increased sweating, nausea, chills, and abdominal cramping. These symptoms often subside after about 72 hours but will soon return and be replaced by others. Depression, mood swings, and continuing anxiety will kick in, and diarrhea and vomiting will occur.

One Week

The acute phase of heroin withdrawal continues, with severe cramps and stomach pains that may worsen into spasms. At this point, the addict also begins to feel dysphoria, which is a profound feeling of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with life – the opposite of euphoria, the intense thrill that heroin addicts crave.

Why Medical Detox is Always Recommended for Heroin Addiction

It’s possible but not recommended that an addict undergo heroin withdrawal without medical supervision. Medical care is needed in case symptoms get worse. Friends and family members can provide important support to the patient, but it takes expert training and experience to know how to help someone in the deepest throes of heroin withdrawal. Medical supervision can also decrease the likelihood that the patient will just give up and relapse.

What Happens After Detox?

The most difficult physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal may subside after a week or so, but the next phase of recovery will last long after drug detox ends. The addict must confront and deal with the behaviors and circumstances that led to heroin addiction and must learn new coping strategies.

Long-term recovery should entail a detailed treatment plan combining individual and group therapy, with goals for treatment leading to true long-term sobriety. Post-detox treatment should last for at least 30 to 60 days or more, but those with a history of relapse or who have struggled with severe depression and other emotional disorders will probably need more time and a more intensive plan. Heroin addiction is rarely – if ever – the only issue for recovering addicts. Underlying disorders such as trauma and sexual or physical abuse will have to be dealt with, and that can be a years-long process.

Recovering heroin addicts, like anyone else seeking long-term relief from a substance use disorder, also need a strong support system to help them continue their commitment to a drug-free life. Follow-up therapy sessions, 12 Step meetings, maintenance treatments, and post-recovery treatment plans are all essential for achieving lasting sobriety.

For help with heroin withdrawal for yourself or a loved one, contact Muse at 800-426-1818.

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Josh Chandler
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