Common Symptoms of Heroin Use and Withdrawal
The signs and symptoms of heroin addiction and withdrawal may be difficult to identify at times, despite their ability to cause significant distress to the individual. Still, understanding the nature of heroin use and how withdrawal from the substance manifests itself is one of the crucial parts of the recovery process.
In this article, we explore the most common symptoms, causes, and side effects of heroin use and withdrawal with the aim of shedding light on addiction and the potential paths to recovery.
The Causes of Heroin Withdrawal
To successfully recover from heroin addiction, the user has to undergo a detoxification process, more commonly referred to as “detox.” At its most basic level, detoxification is an entirely natural process that the human body uses to heal. Once drugs enter the body, its systems start processing the chemicals. Unfortunately, drugs can disrupt these systems and processes, sometimes to such an extent that natural methods of detoxification may put the individual’s life at risk.
The unpleasant effects of heroin withdrawal create a major fear among drug users, often preventing them from seeking help and escaping addiction. Nevertheless, recovery from heroin abuse is possible through safe and comfortable medical detoxification and withdrawal programs, the results of which are associated with significant improvement in the overall wellbeing of the individual.
The Symptoms of Heroin Use and Withdrawal
Recovery from heroin addiction tends to begin with a short period of unpleasant, flu-like symptoms of withdrawal. Some of the most common signs of heroin withdrawal include:1
- Anxiety and depression
- Muscle spasms and aches
- Hot or cold flashes and goosebumps
- Increased sweating
- Involuntary leg movements
- Nausea and vomiting
- Extreme irritability
- Pain sensitivity
- Drug cravings
- Suicidal ideation
For individuals who are psychologically and physically dependent on using heroin, these withdrawal symptoms tend to occur within as little as 8-24 hours after the last usage.2 The withdrawal experience typically peaks within 1-3 days, and begins to subside gradually over the course of 4-10 days. Due to the intensity and discomfort of these withdrawal symptoms, many individuals relapse before succeeding in long-term recovery.
Heroin Withdrawal Treatment
Since the symptoms of heroin use and withdrawal can be a terrifying experience for many, drug treatment centers are staffed by knowledgeable professionals who fully understand the unique challenges that heroin recovery presents. During addiction treatment, the support staff will offer detox and craving-control medications, counseling, and a range of supportive measures to help the user withdraw comfortably and safely in a controlled environment, with minimal symptoms.
In addition to the opioid replacement medication used to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms, such as buprenorphine and methadone, it is also important to recognize and treat underlying mental health issues the heroin user may be experiencing. This is why tailored mental health counseling and treatment is a crucial part of heroin addiction recovery.
This is an over-simplification of what detox is. Would be worth having the medical editors provide a more suitable boiler plate.
cold turkey actually refers to the process of quitting abruptly 100% rather than tapering off of opioids using stabilizing medications during a medically supervised detox process
Kicking the habit is just slang for quitting, it has no affiliation with symptoms. If this and the above “cold turkey” reference are keywords to target they need to be used in ways that make sense contextually.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Signs of Heroin Withdrawal?
The symptoms and signs of heroin withdrawal are often described as flu-like, and tend to range in severity depending on the duration of abuse and the individual’s dependence level.
Mild Symptoms of Withdrawal
For a person who hasn’t abused heroin in large doses over months or years, the symptoms may be on the milder side:
- Abdominal cramps and pains
- Teary eyes
- Sweaty skin
- Chills and shivering
- Yawning and sneezing
- Bone and muscle aches
Moderate Symptoms of Withdrawal
Moderate users are likely to also experience the following signs of heroin withdrawal:
- Increased restlessness
- Concentration problems
Severe Symptoms of Withdrawal
If an individual is heavily dependent on heroin and starts the withdrawal process after taking large doses for months or years, they may experience:
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle spasms
- Decreased pleasure
- Strong drug cravings
- Impaired breathing
- Suicidal thinking
Although the symptoms of heroin withdrawal may not be life-threatening on their own, certain physical and psychological symptoms may cause significant distress and complications for the individual. For instance, severe anxiety, depression, and anxiety may lead the individual to experience suicidal ideation.
When Do the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal Begin?
In most cases, the signs of heroin withdrawal begin within the first day of the last dose, sometimes even occurring within the first four hours. Typically, the symptoms are the most intense between the first 36 to 72 hours after the last use.
Since the severity of heroin addiction is dependent on the amount of drug taken and the duration of abuse, the withdrawal timeline can vary significantly from one individual to the next.
How Long Do the Signs of Heroin Withdrawal Last?
The duration of withdrawal tends to vary depending on the type of opiod drug as well as how much heroin the individual has used and for how long. In the case of heroin, the signs of withdrawal usually last for 7-10 days, peaking within 36-72 hours from the last taken dosage. However, people who have abused heroin chronically might experience withdrawal symptoms for 3-4 weeks.
How Long Does Heroin Stay in the Body?
Upon entering the body, heroin is swiftly metabolized. This means that most of the substance will leave the system within half an hour. Heroin has a half-life of approximately 3 minutes: an individual who injects 20 milligrams of the substance will have 10 mg left after 3 minutes, 5 mg after 6 minutes, and so on.
Heroin will leave the body completely within 15 minutes for most individuals, but the bodies of some people may take more time to metabolize the heroin. If that’s the case, the drug might remain in the system for about 30 minutes or even longer. Modern drug tests are designed to detect and measure heroin in blood, saliva, hair, and urine after varying periods of time.
How Do You Manage Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?
According to The American Society of Addiction Medicine, approximately 517,000 Americans struggle with heroin addiction.3 Overcoming the symptoms of heroin use and withdrawal can be a challenging and terrifying experience. In many cases, willpower alone is not nearly enough to prevent relapse, especially for heavy heroin users.
This is why there are so many safe medical detox options that help minimize the severity of the symptoms and guide the individual toward long-term sobriety. Specialized heroin treatment facilities offer medically-assisted detox and mental health counseling that can provide a safe and more comfortable withdrawal experience that decreases the risks of relapse.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2016). Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Heroin DrugFacts
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Heroin Research Report Overview.
- World Health Organization. (2009). Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings: Withdrawal Management.
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