Heroin Withdrawal & Detox

person reaching for heroin needle

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug that is used by people to get high. When a person uses heroin, it can change how their brain works, making them want to use it more. For this reason, it is extremely addictive and very dangerous to use.

When a person uses heroin continuously or for an extended period of time, their body may become dependent on heroin to function normally. If this happens, they will experience heroin withdrawal if they stop using the drug. Withdrawal is the process of a person’s body adjusting to functioning without the presence of the drug. Heroin detox can help a person through withdrawal by slowly tapering them off the drug and, in some cases, by providing medical assistance with the process. Due to the severity of symptoms that can occur during withdrawal, heroin detox is best done at a treatment facility, where the person can receive the care they need.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal can be a painful process to endure. A person may start showing signs of heroin withdrawal within 8 to 24 hours of stopping its use. Some heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Feeling anxious
  • Muscle aches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach or abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Cold flashes with goosebumps
  • Being unable to sleep
  • Feeling restless
  • Yawning
  • Severe cravings for heroin

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

How long heroin withdrawal lasts depends on certain factors, including how long the person has been using heroin, how much they are using and how often they use it. How the person uses heroin can also influence the length of withdrawal. A person who injects heroin will undergo longer withdrawal versus a person who snorts heroin. These factors influence how accustomed their body has become to having heroin in their system. The more accustomed the person is, the longer their withdrawal will last.

While the timeline of heroin withdrawal will vary from person to person, the withdrawal will generally start within eight hours of last using the drug and last for as long as ten days. The severity of the symptoms will peak between 48 and 72 hours of stopping heroin use.

Dangers of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal becomes dangerous when it is done too quickly, such as when a person tries to quit cold turkey. Quitting cold turkey means completely and suddenly stopping the use of heroin without any outside help. This method is dangerous because the person may not be prepared to deal with the withdrawal symptoms they will experience.

While the symptoms of heroin withdrawal will not kill you on their own, it can cause erratic or careless behavior or severe depression that could lead to suicide. The danger of death associated with heroin use is more likely to occur from someone overdosing on heroin rather than from withdrawal.

Heroin withdrawal is uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be dangerous if done with planning and care. Most individuals will benefit from using professional medical treatment to help them through heroin withdrawal and the detox process.

Heroin Detox

Heroin detox is the process of weaning a person off of heroin use and letting their body adjust to functioning without heroin in their system. This process can be done with the assistance of medical professionals, who can help ease withdrawal symptoms a person may experience and provide emotional support during the process. Detoxing can also be done at home, provided the individual has a good support system they can rely on. Individuals that try to detox on their own will often resume substance use because of the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Medically-Assisted Detox

Medically-assisted detox involves the use of heroin detox medications to ease the severity of withdrawal symptoms. This treatment is usually done in an inpatient setting, where a medical professional will develop a heroin detox protocol for the individual and monitor their progress along the way. Inpatient settings are beneficial because the individual can receive care around the clock and their symptoms can be managed accordingly. They can help determine which rehab treatment option is best for when the detox process is complete. Continuing treatment after detox helps a person maintain their abstinence from heroin use.

Drugs that are used for heroin detox include:

  • Buprenorphine: blocks the effects of heroin, reducing the high associated with it and makes heroin less attractive to use, as well as decreases cravings and reduces withdrawal symptoms
  • Clonidine: helps reduce symptoms such as sweating, muscle aches, agitation, anxiety, runny nose and abdominal cramping, but it does not reduce cravings
  • Codeine phosphate: reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings
  • Methadone: decreases withdrawal symptoms and can be used for long-term maintenance treatment
  • Naltrexone: is often used to prevent a resumption of heroin use but can cause severe withdrawal if used while heroin is still in a person’s system. It is often used in combination with buprenorphine for long-term treatment after heroin detox

Tapering off Heroin

Tapering off heroin is the process of slowly reducing the amount of heroin a person takes until they are no longer using the drug. This process can be done by reducing the amount in each dose that a person uses, increasing the time between doses or a combination of those methods. A heroin taper schedule can be developed to minimize the withdrawal symptoms that a person experiences.

Tapering is best done with the help of a medical professional, who can help individuals decide on a tapering schedule that will work effectively for their unique circumstances. If a person has a good support system at home, they may be able to participate in an outpatient program, where a person can regularly meet with a medical professional who will help them through the process. Outpatient programs may also provide medicine to help with withdrawal symptoms.

Finding a Heroin Detox Center in Washington and Oregon

Tapering off heroin is the first step toward recovery from heroin addiction. Finding a treatment center that can help you through this process and provide care after detox is an important first step in the treatment process. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides a tool to search for opioid addiction treatment centers by state.

  • The Recovery Village Ridgefield Detox Center
    The Recovery Village Ridgefield Detox Center

    5114 NE 94th Ave
    Vancouver, WA 98662
    (360) 719-1480

If you are looking for heroin detox programs or heroin rehab centers in Oregon or Washington, the Recovery Village Ridgefield can help. Contact The Recovery Village Ridgefield to speak with a representative about how professional treatment is the first step on the path to long-term sobriety. Begin your healthier future, call today.

Shah, Mansi; Huecker, Martin R. “Opioid Withdrawal.” StatPearls Publishing, June 4, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Heroin.” June, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

MedlinePlus. “Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” May 5, 2018. Accessed September 19, 2019.

Scholl, Lawrence; Seth, Puja; Kariisa, Mbabazi; Wilson, Nana; Baldwin, Grant. “Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2013–2017.” January 4, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.