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Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin  was involved in 15,482 overdose deaths in 2017, data show. Not only is the substance one of the world’s most dangerous, but it is one of the most addictive drugs available today. Individuals who are struggling with heroin addiction might be afraid to stop because of the difficult withdrawal symptoms they could face if they do. Fortunately, if you want to stop, there is help available. Let’s take a look at what you can expect during withdrawal.

What Are Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Heroin works similarly to other opioids. It binds to opioid receptors throughout the body, and these receptors bind with endorphins that occur naturally. When these receptors are activated, they help the body manage pain and block signals that are destined for the brain. Heroin, however, is much more potent than natural endorphins found in the body.

Those who have gone through heroin withdrawal describe it as similar to the flu, while many describe it as the worst flu they’ve ever had. Heroin withdrawal is not deemed life-threatening, but the symptoms are often extreme, which makes withdrawing from the drug the most common barrier to treatment. 

The most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint aches
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Severe depression
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Restlessness

Stages of the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The withdrawal process will differ among individuals because several factors unique to each person will shape the experience and outcome. How long and intense one’s withdrawal is will depend on things such as one’s weight, height, usual dose, how long heroin has been used, and the size of the last dose. A generalized heroin withdrawal timeline could look like this:

  • 12 hours: Heroin’s short half-life is an indicator that its effects wear off quickly. You are likely to experience your first set of symptoms within 12 hours after the last dose. Individuals have mentioned that they’ve dealt with their first symptoms as early as six hours after their previous use. The first symptoms will feel like you are coming down with the flu, and you will experience a runny nose, fatigue, and body aches. 
  • 48 hours: The first few days will be intense before the symptoms peak. Once you reach this level, you will likely experience nausea, sweating, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, and fever. The height of the symptoms should occur around 48 hours. Some people, however, could start to feel them as early as 24 hours. 
  • 1 week: After you’ve reached the height of your symptoms, they will gradually decrease in intensity. You should notice some relief after the first week. While physical symptoms will ease up, psychological symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, can persist. 
  • The Foreseeable Future: Psychological symptoms may linger and continue to affect you if your substance use disorder is severe. Ongoing treatment can help you address your needs and learn how to cope with depression.

Why Should I Detox?

The symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be unbearable to deal with. In rare cases, however, opioids can cause deadly medical complications, which makes it necessary for someone to go into detox. Excessive vomiting or sweating can lead to dehydration, which can be fatal if proper medical attention is not received. 

Heroin addiction has also been linked to deadly diseases like HIV or hepatitis C. These medical conditions must be addressed in a treatment facility where professionals will oversee your care and beyond. 

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

Once you finish medical detox, your road to recovery has just begun. If you have needs that require specialized attention after detox, you will continue receiving around-the-clock medical care in a residential treatment center. If you can live alone, you may go through an outpatient program. Everyone has different needs and will be treated as such.

Sources

Darke, S., Larney, S., & Farrell, M. (2016, August 11). Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal – Darke – 2017 – Addiction – Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/add.13512

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, January 29). Overdose Death Rates. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

Waldhoer, M., Bartlett, S. E., & Whistler, J. L. (2004). Opioid receptors. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15189164

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June). Why does heroin use create special risk for contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/why-are-heroin-users-special-risk-contracting-hivaids-hepatitis-b-c

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