How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?
Heroin is a highly potent and illicit opioid that can lead to addiction after only a few uses. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 1.1 million people reported using heroin in 2021.
While many people smoke or snort heroin, it is most common to inject the drug intravenously. Any type of heroin abuse can be dangerous and life-threatening, but IV use increases your risk of overdosing substantially.
When you are addicted to heroin, whether you smoke, snort, or inject it, your brain and body will become dependent on it. This means that suddenly stopping the use of heroin will result in withdrawal symptoms. Typically, heroin withdrawal begins within 24 hours of your last dose and lasts for up to a week.
What are the Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?
Oftentimes, heroin withdrawal is described as having a really severe flu. Without medical treatment, the symptoms can become unbearable, sometimes leading to a relapse.
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal might include:
- Anxiety and agitation
- Muscle aches and pains
- Increased tearing and runny nose
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent yawning
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
- Goosebumps and shivering
- Nausea and vomiting
While heroin withdrawal is usually not life-threatening, it does require professional treatment under the supervision of a medical detox center. Attending a heroin detox program can ensure that you receive the medications necessary to remain safe and comfortable.
How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?
Heroin withdrawal usually begins within 24 hours after the last time you used it, sometimes as early as a few hours. While the symptoms, severity, and even the length of withdrawal can vary from person to person, most people overcome it within a week. People who have used heroin in larger amounts or for longer periods of time may experience a faster onset of symptoms. People who receive support from a medical detox center will experience less severe symptoms and possibly recover from withdrawal earlier than those who do not.
The heroin withdrawal timeline is usually as follows:
The first symptoms of heroin withdrawal will appear within 24 hours after you last smoked, snorted, or injected it. Typically, these symptoms are mild and may include agitation, slight nausea, cravings for heroin, and increased sweating.
Medical detox programs may prescribe medication during this time to prevent your withdrawal symptoms from becoming severe. Additionally, they will monitor your vital signs periodically throughout the entire detox process to ensure that you are medically stable.
24 to 36 Hours
Sometime between 24 to 36 hours, your symptoms will begin to peak and symptoms may become severe. You could experience irritability, muscle pains, nausea, vomiting, excessive sweating, insomnia, and more.
Thankfully, heroin detox programs will have you on medication before your symptoms peak, ensuring that your symptoms are manageable. Usually, you will be prescribed Suboxone or methadone and the dose is decreased until you no longer need it.
4 to 6 Days
Between the fourth and sixth day of heroin withdrawal, your symptoms will begin to slowly disappear. It is common to continue experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms during this period, however, individuals on Suboxone or methadone might not notice them anymore.
If you have been using heroin for a long time or have any other co-occurring health conditions, your symptoms might be more noticeable than others during this period.
A Week and More
Typically, people overcome heroin withdrawal after one week. However, some individuals might develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), a condition that causes the psychological symptoms of withdrawal to linger for a longer time. If you have PAWS, you may continue to experience anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cravings for heroin.
When you are receiving treatment from a heroin rehab center, they can continue to prescribe medications that manage your symptoms until your PAWS subsides.
Factors that Influence The Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
The duration and intensity of heroin withdrawal can vary significantly among individuals and are influenced by several factors:
- Duration and severity of heroin use – Prolonged or heavy use typically results in more intense withdrawal symptoms that might last longer.
- Dosage and frequency of use – Higher doses and more frequent use can lead to a more severe dependence, potentially lengthening the withdrawal period.
- Individual physiology and genetics – Some people may experience shorter or longer withdrawal periods due to their unique genetic makeup.
- Co-occurring mental or physical health conditions – Individuals with mental health disorders might have more intense withdrawal symptoms or prolonged recovery.
- Method of heroin use – The route of administration (e.g., injection, smoking, snorting) can influence withdrawal. Intravenous use often leads to a more rapid onset of effects and potentially a more intense withdrawal.
- Support and environment – Individuals with a strong support system might have an easier time managing withdrawal symptoms.
- Tapering vs cold turkey – Gradually tapering off the drug under medical supervision can sometimes result in milder and shorter withdrawal symptoms compared to stopping abruptly (going “cold turkey”).
- Age and overall health – Younger individuals or those in better overall health might experience shorter withdrawal periods compared to older individuals or those with health issues.
- Polydrug use – Using heroin in combination with other substances can complicate withdrawal and may lead to longer and more intense symptoms.
Withdrawal from heroin can be a challenging and painful process. Seeking professional help and support from healthcare providers, therapists, or support groups can greatly assist in managing withdrawal symptoms and increasing the chances of successful recovery.
Finding Help for Heroin Withdrawal and Addiction
If you or a loved one are addicted to heroin, it’s time to seek professional help. Heroin addiction can wreak havoc on your mind, body, and your entire life. When you are addicted to heroin, recovering can be difficult due to the withdrawal symptoms that arise when you suddenly stop using it.
Thankfully, medical detox centers will give you FDA-approved medications to limit your symptoms, prevent cravings, and keep you focused on recovery. Once you complete detox, you can transition into a drug and alcohol rehab center to learn how to maintain long-term sobriety.
At Alamo Behavioral Health, we offer our clients evidence-based therapies and trauma-informed treatment that addresses the root of their addiction issues. Our safe and supervised environment is the ideal place to begin your recovery journey.
To learn more about our heroin addiction treatment center, contact us today.
- The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): What is the scope of heroin use in the United States, Retrieved November 2023 From https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states
- Medline Plus: Opiate and opioid withdrawal, Retrieved November 2023 From https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
- Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior: Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, Retrieved November 2023 From https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS