Heroin Withdrawal FAQ

Learn all you can about withdrawing from heroin with these heroin withdrawal FAQ

Heroin is a highly addictive substance that can ruin a person's life and, in some instances, lead to drug overdose and death. The first step to successfully quitting heroin abuse is to stop using heroin and withdraw from the substance. However, there are several approaches to accomplish this as well as things to help with withdrawal from heroin. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about heroin withdrawal.

How Long Will Withdrawal Last?

The answer to how long will withdrawal last depends upon a person's unique history of drug use, overall health history, and genetic makeup. As a general rule, the longer a person has abused heroin, the more significant their withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. According to the National Institutes of Health, a person will typically experience symptoms of heroin withdrawals within 12 hours of their last use. The symptoms are usually at their peak about one to three days after stopping taking the drug. These heroin withdrawal symptoms will usually last somewhere around seven days. However, a person may still experience strong cravings for the drug and also experience a sense of tiredness and mental fatigue. This is known as the post-acute withdrawal phase.

What Are the Symptoms Associated With Heroin Withdrawals?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms are usually divided into early and late symptoms. Early symptoms include anxiety, agitation, muscle aching, difficulty sleeping well, and sweating. The later symptoms associated with heroin withdrawals can include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramping. At every phase, a person will have strong cravings for the drug that are often difficult to resist.

While heroin withdrawals are not associated with deadly syndromes like alcohol withdrawals can be, they are no easier to go through. A drug rehabilitation facility can provide not only drug treatments to reduce withdrawal effects, but also receive therapy and support in a safe location that is free from the stresses of daily life.

What Are Things to Help With Withdrawal?

A medical detox program can help a person manage the symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal. One of the most common things to help with withdrawal is pharmacological treatment of opiate addiction. This includes taking medications to reduce cravings and physical symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal. Examples of these medications include:

  • Methadone: Methadone is a medication that works on opioid receptors, which are the same receptors that heroin works on. However, methadone does not result in the same euphoric high as using heroin does. Doctors have prescribed this medication since the 1960s to treat addiction to heroin and withdrawals. However, a person must be closely monitored when on methadone therapy.
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex): This medication also works on opioid receptors to reduce heroin cravings without creating the same "high." The medication requires a doctor's prescription, but does not require the degree of monitoring that taking methadone does.
  • Naltrexone (Revia): This medication is an opioid antagonist that blocks the effects of opioids. Therefore, if a person tried to use heroin after taking Naltrexone, the heroin would not have its intended effects.

In addition to these medications, a doctor may prescribe clonidine, a medication that reduces anxiety, muscle cramping, and agitation associated with heroin withdrawals. A person can also participate in relapse prevention programs after the initial heroin withdrawal phase. Examples of these treatments include participation in outpatient counseling, self-help groups, and participation in day/outpatient programs. A drug rehabilitation facility can also help a person address any underlying mental health issues they may be experiencing to reduce the likelihood a person will relapse.


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