Before you can understand what heroin withdrawal is, it’s important to understand more about the drug itself. In 2018 there were approximately 808,000 people who abused the drug while another 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers (e.g., Heroin, Codeine, Hydrocodone a.k.a. Vicodin, Hydromorphone a.k.a. Dilaudid, Methadone, Meperidine a.k.a. Demerol, Morphine, Oxycodone a.k.a. Percocet or Oxycontin) without a prescription.
Now that it’s becoming more difficult to obtain and alter prescription painkillers, many people who are addicted to them are now turning to heroin (a.k.a., black tar, smack, dirt). This is because heroin isn’t expensive and it’s also quite easy to obtain. However, you shouldn’t think of heroin as a solution since it’s a powerful drug that’s difficult to withdraw from. With these things in mind, it’s important to understand heroin basics regarding withdrawal.
What is Heroin Addiction?
To understand what heroin addiction is, you must first understand what heroin is. It comes from the Asian opium poppy plant and is then altered in a lab before you get it. Once you inject it intravenously, smoke it, or inhale the powder form of this drug, the drug will quickly cross your blood-brain barrier. When this happens your body will convert the drug into morphine.
Morphine binds itself to opioid receptors that are located throughout your brain and body. Since these receptors are involved in perceiving pain and reward changes how your brain and your nervous system respond to pain. You’ll also experience less pain along with a rush of pleasure, wellbeing, and joy when you first take a hit. Since these are such good feelings, you’ll be left wanting more, which is why heroin addiction quickly occurs.
When you become addicted to heroin the drug will change how your brain is structured and the way it functions. This is why you grow dependent on it. In doing so you become willing to engage in uncontrollable drug-seeking behavior regardless of what negative behaviors this may result in. Unfortunately, this can affect you in both physical and psychological ways.
Understanding the Physical Effects of Heroin
Physically heroin addiction means you’ll need to continue using the drug so that you don’t experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This is because the rush of good feelings you experience when taking a hit will eventually wear off after a few hours. At this point, you’ll start to feel depressed. Knowing that heroin can make you feel better, you’ll start seeking more of it so you can regain these good feelings.
Unfortunately, the problem with continuing to use heroin is that you’ll eventually develop a tolerance. This means that you’ll need to use more heroin to achieve the same high. At some point, you’ll also grow addicted to it. When this happens you’ll need medical treatment to help you stop using this drug. Even if you want to stop using heroin because you see the horrible consequences it has on your health and your life, you won’t be able to stop without this intervention. At this point, your brain’s functioning has changed so much that you need heroin just so you can feel normal.
Understanding the Psychological Effects of Heroin
Psychologically heroin addiction means that you’ll start to believe that you can’t function without heroin. This is because your brain has become severely impaired by the harmful proteins that have built up therein. When your brain becomes inflamed in this way there are several things you’ll notice. The main thing that you’ll experience is dementia-like symptoms including confusion, mental decline, lack of restraint, personality changes, nervousness, depression, memory loss, and paranoia.
These things occur because your brain is trying to rewire itself. This is also why you’ll grow more tolerant of the drug, needing more and more of it to get the same high: Your brain is being forced to create more opiate receptors so it can manage the influx of opium. With all of this information in mind, you can now understand why heroin addiction has been defined as a chronic, relapsing disease. If you want to improve your health and your life, you need to learn how to detox from heroin.
What is Heroin Withdrawal?
After you use heroin for a long time, you’ll develop a tolerance. You’ve become physically dependent on it to feel “normal” and will need an increasing amount of it to prevent withdrawal. If you’re not ready to enter detox, you’ll eventually become addicted to heroin. This means that when you decide to enter detox you’ll go through heroin withdrawal. There is no definitive answer to how long it’ll take for you to develop heroin dependence since this is something that varies for each person.
What is known is that it’ll take your body time to recover once you stop taking heroin. This is why withdrawal symptoms frequently occur when you’ve suddenly stopped or cut back on taking heroin after using it for a long time. These withdrawal symptoms typically last only about a week, but they can be serious. They may include:
- Cravings for heroin
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle spasms
Fortunately, medical detox provides medication and therapy that helps ease these symptoms. This treatment modality will also ensure that you safely and successfully transition to sobriety.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
Various factors contribute to how long heroin remains in your system and what type of withdrawal symptoms you’ll experience. This means that the heroin withdrawal timeline will be different for everyone. Typically, the withdrawal will take between a few days to a week, but you may still experience some psychological symptoms for months. You may also experience some symptoms that come and go throughout your withdrawal.
You may start to experience withdrawal symptoms as soon as six hours after your last dose. These symptoms may include drug cravings, tremors, anxiety, diarrhea, poor concentration, insomnia, and muscle aches and pains.
Unfortunately, your symptoms will intensify but they will peak within the first three days of your withdrawal. While the symptoms you’re already experiencing will intensify, you’ll also start to experience fatigue, irritability, nausea, stomach aches, and vomiting.
Once you make it past the first few days your physical symptoms will start to wane until they eventually subside. By the end of the first week of your withdrawal, you should only be left to deal with the psychological symptoms of withdrawal.
One Week to Several Months
If you’ve been using heroin for a longer period you’re more likely to feel certain symptoms persist for longer. Therefore, you may still find yourself struggling with insomnia. You may also be experiencing irritability, anxiety, or depression. Sometimes these symptoms won’t go away or they may even get worse. When this happens you may need co-occurring disorder treatment.
Heroin Detox Risks
Regardless of what drug you’re detoxing from, you’ll almost always have an unpleasant experience. This is because your body has become physically dependent on the drug and now you need it so you can function normally.
Once you’ve been using heroin for a prolonged period and decide to stop you’re going to experience heroin withdrawal symptoms. Determining the severity and duration of this withdrawal period is difficult to predict. This is because they differ from one person to another.
Most of heroin’s withdrawal symptoms will only last about a week, trying to detox from heroin at home is overwhelming. You may experience such severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms that you relapse. This is why medically supervised detox for heroin is recommended.
Medically Supervised Detox for Heroin
Most opiates are classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). However, they classify heroin as a Schedule I drug which means there’s no medical purpose for it. Both Schedule I and Schedule II substances are highly addictive and you’re very likely to abuse and become dependent on them. This is because they bind to your brain’s opioid receptors. In doing so they block any feelings of pain, making you feel calm. Another example of Schedule II drugs is prescription narcotics (e.g., Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin).
Choosing to quit heroin without medical supervision can cause serious issues including seizures and severe dehydration. Fortunately, there are inpatient programs that will help you avoid these dangerous complications. These facilities have a lot to offer, including a personalized program to ensure your success. With 24-hour support and monitoring withdrawal symptoms from heroin are easier to manage, especially since you’ll be given medication. This will make you feel more comfortable so you don’t relapse in an attempt to self-medicate before being fully detoxified.
Dual Diagnosis and Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin addiction is co-occurrent with numerous mental issues. Some of these mental illnesses include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
- Other substance addictions, especially alcoholism
Inpatient Treatment and Heroin Recovery
Heroin quickly leaves your bloodstream so withdrawal symptoms will begin as soon as 6 hours after you last use the substance. This is why most people enter rehab with heroin still in their system. They usually remain in rehab for around 10 days but symptoms will typically subside after the second or third day.
With inpatient detox, you’ll have the opportunity to take medication that’ll reduce or eliminate your symptoms while withdrawing from heroin. Three drugs are typically used: buprenorphine (Suboxone), methadone, and naltrexone. Each of these medications has different introduction times but all of them require a prescription. You’ll also have your vitals (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate) monitored throughout the process to ensure they remain stable. You’ll also receive therapy so you can deal with your behavior’s ramifications and work on what’s driving your addiction to heroin.
Many medications are given by medical professionals to help with detoxing from heroin addiction. These medications are used to help with the recovery process by either minimizing the withdrawal timeline or helping with any cravings you may experience. Some of the most common medications prescribed include:
- Methadone is a slow-acting, low-strength opiate. It’s used to help you taper off heroin while also preventing withdrawal symptoms.
- Buprenorphine is one of the most commonly prescribed medications to help with heroin withdrawal. This is because it’s able to help reduce cravings and many of the physical symptoms (e.g., vomiting, muscle aches) that are typically experienced during this time.
- Naltrexone is a medication that’s used to block your brain’s receptors. Typically this is given once you’ve completed detox because it can help reduce your cravings for heroin.
Suboxone and Heroin Withdrawal
Suboxone is used for both heroin withdrawal and maintenance therapy. This is because it can inhibit symptoms, even cravings, which is why it’s frequently used as a relapse prevention measure. It is less likely to be abused than methadone.
Unfortunately, some people who are addicted to heroin also abuse Suboxone because it’ll stave off the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms they experience between heroin uses. Some people use suboxone for “chipping.” This means that they use heroin recreationally and don’t become addicted. Unfortunately chipping is very dangerous and can result in physical dependence which leads to addiction.
When Suboxone is properly used, studies have shown that it’s an effective treatment modality. The results of the studies have also shown that using Suboxone in an opioid replacement program leads to better adherence to the treatment protocol. Some of the other benefits that people have reaped from their use of Suboxone include:
- If you haven’t chipped, you’re less likely to abuse Suboxone than you are to abuse heroin.
- Suboxone is much more readily accessible than heroin.
- Many people who have used Suboxone in the treatment of their opiate dependence have been very successful in doing so.
Suboxone isn’t without its side effects. Some of the most common side effects include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Numb mouth
- Painful tongue
- Problems with concentration
- Dizziness and fainting
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blurry vision
- Back pain
It’s also important to understand that Suboxone doesn’t “cure” addiction. You’ll probably be on it for a long time to maintain your recovery. To get off of it your doctor will need to taper your dosage down slowly. This is because it still allows for some opioid dependence (you may grow dependent on it) which is why it should only be used with a comprehensive treatment program.
The reason why doctors are willing to prescribe it for heroin withdrawal is that it’s less likely to produce the same addictive behaviors as other opioids. The addiction factor is also much less. This is because it has a more gradual release of the drug and a less pronounced overall effect. Also, unlike Subutex (a buprenorphine that may be prescribed in early treatment) you can’t get high from injecting or crushing Suboxone.
Post Acute Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal isn’t the same for everyone. You must take into consideration how long you’ve used the drug, how you abused it, and how much you used each time. These factors will all determine how dependent your brain and body are on the substance. They’ll also determine how severe and long of a withdrawal you’ll have. For instance, if you have a history of mental illness or have been addicted to opioids in the past, your withdrawal experience may be more intense.
Heroin is an opiate that suppresses your central nervous system’s functions (e.g., heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, temperature regulation). The drug also binds to opioid receptors which then increase the chemicals in your brain that are responsible for helping you feel pleasure.
This is why you’ll feel a rush of pleasure when you take a hit of heroin. However, during heroin withdrawal, you’ll experience the opposite of the intoxicating effects. This means that you’ll experience a low mood, anxiety, and a rapid heart rate. These symptoms will be shorter and more tempered if you didn’t use a lot of heroin over a long period.
Although heroin withdrawal isn’t life-threatening by itself, some withdrawal symptoms may be. For instance, depression may result in suicidal ideations. Nevertheless, you should know that withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe.
Mild Withdrawal Symptoms
When you haven’t been using much heroin for very long you may experience the following mild withdrawal symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Excessive yawning
- Muscle and bone aches
Moderate Withdrawal Symptoms:
Once you’ve been using heroin for a longer period or using higher amounts, you may experience the following moderate withdrawal symptoms:
- Trouble concentrating
Severe Withdrawal Symptoms
If you’ve been using a lot of heroin over a long period you may experience the following severe withdrawal symptoms:
- Drug cravings
- Rapid heart rate
- Difficulty experiencing pleasure
- Muscle spasms
- Impaired respiration
Foundations for Long-Term Heroin Recovery
Since heroin is highly addictive, withdrawal results in powerful symptoms. This doesn’t mean that it’s insurmountable but it does mean that if you’re addicted to heroin you’ll fare better in a medical detox facility.
The medically supervised detox and heroin addiction treatment program at Divine Detox has the right tools and support available for you. Please don’t hesitate to reach our to our dedicated Admission team today, and discuss how to get past withdrawals and into lasting recovery for yourself and your loved ones.