Heroin Detox & Withdrawal: Statistics, Symptoms & Treatment

by | Last updated Jul 31, 2023 | Published on Jul 17, 2019 | Heroin | 1 comment

Heroin Detox and Withdrawals

Heroin Withdrawal

opioid withdrawal

A heroin detox is the first major step in rehabilitation once a patient has decided to seek treatment. This is the initial phase where the drug is purged from the body.

Because heroin quickly builds a tolerance in its users, the detox process causes withdrawal symptoms that can be difficult and uncomfortable for a patient to deal with.

The urge to stop these difficult withdrawal symptoms are often what leads users to continue their frequent heroin use.

Not only are heroin withdrawals uncomfortable, but in many cases, they can be dangerous, especially when dealt with outside of a proper treatment facility. A medical detox is generally recommended.

A medical detox is a medication-assisted treatment where safely administered prescription drugs can be utilized to help a patient wean off opioid use and make the withdrawal process more bearable.

“Medical detoxification safely manages the acute physical symptoms of withdrawal associated with stopping drug use. “ (www.drugabuse.gov)

Enlisting the help of a treatment program provides the best set of addiction recovery tools along with continuing education to deliver a complete opioid addiction treatment.

What is a Detox?

A detox is the first step in all addiction treatments. This is when a patient commits to recovery, and ceases all use of the drug.

This detox will bring about uncomfortable heroin withdrawal symptoms that can even be dangerous if not properly accounted for.

Medical assistance and supervision during heroin detox programs make the process safer, and more comfortable for the patient.

Oftentimes a doctor will prescribe FDA approved medications to counteract some of the symptoms, or be used as a taper and allow a patient to slowly diminish their opioid intake overtime.

This is called a Medical Detox.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin is known to have some of the worst withdrawal symptoms because of the extreme tolerance that builds up quickly for frequent users, so the dose of heroin needed to achieve the same level of intoxication continues to increase.

The tolerance built up in heroin users can directly attribute to a heroin overdose. If a relapse does occur post-treatment recovering addicts will often use the dose of heroin they were accustomed to before receiving treatment.

Because heroin is an injection drug, the heavy dose immediately enters the bloodstream, is often fatal, and leads to another opioid overdose in today’s ongoing heroin crisis. ea

The withdrawal symptoms express the body’s intense cravings for the drug once the patient halts use.

Aches and pains, nausea, dry mouth, depression, insomnia, dehydration, loss of appetite, excessive hunger, and sweating are all frequently reported symptoms from recovering addicts going through withdrawal.

There is an emotional and mental aspect to withdrawals that can cause just as much discomfort as any physical symptom. Users can often feel lethargic, bored with life, and a complete lack of motivation that crushes the hope and positivity that should be associated with quitting heroin and pursuing recovery.

If you or a loved one is planning on attempting to overcome heroin addiction, having the support and supervision of a treatment facility will not only better your shot at success, but provide a safer and more comfortable road to recovery. Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Yawning
  • Cravings
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness

Withdrawal from heroin can seem like the flu, but it can also be accompanied by significant psychological and mood-related symptoms.

How Long Do Heroin Withdrawals Last?

Certain individual factors play a role in how long heroin withdrawals last and what the heroin withdrawal timeline can look like. For example, these factors can include how long someone has been abusing heroin, how often they use it, and how much they use.

If someone has a co-occurring mental or physical health condition, heroin withdrawal can last longer and be more severe. Also, if someone has previously gone through opioid withdrawal or is withdrawing from multiple substances at the same time, symptoms are probably going to be worse and last for longer.

Heroin is a very short-acting opioid so it does leave the system fairly quickly. For most people, unless there is a complicating factor or a co-occurring disorder, heroin withdrawal symptoms will last anywhere from 5 to 10 days before they start to subside.

What Are the Signs That Someone Is at the Peak of a Heroin Withdrawal?

The peak of heroin withdrawal is a term that refers to the most severe symptoms. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal will often start in a less severe way as the drug is leaving the system.

Then, symptoms peak and this is when they’re at their worst. Once someone reaches the peak of a heroin withdrawal after that point symptoms will start to get better.

The peak of heroin withdrawal is usually anywhere from two to three days after the last dose of the drug is used. The symptoms that will often occur during the peak of a heroin withdrawal include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Changes in vision
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Goosebumps

Once someone reaches this point, they will likely start to experience a decrease in their symptoms and the severity of their symptoms.

Can You Die from Heroin Withdrawal?

There are certain types of substance withdrawal that can cause death. Alcohol and benzodiazepines like Xanax often cause the most severe withdrawal symptoms, and they can be life-threatening.

What about opioids? Can you die from heroin withdrawal?

For the most part, the answer is no. You are not likely to die from heroin withdrawal, although it may feel like you’re going to when you’re in it. However, it is possible to die from heroin withdrawal in rare situations.

Vomiting and diarrhea are actually two heroin withdrawal symptoms that can lead to death. People who don’t receive medical care and treatment during opioid withdrawal may die because they become dehydrated from nausea and vomiting. Along with the dehydration itself, excessive nausea and vomiting can also lead to complications like cardiac arrest.

What Happens During the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline?

Most people will start to experience mild heroin withdrawal symptoms during the initial six to 12 hours after the last time they use the drug. The earliest symptoms of the heroin withdrawal timeline can include irritation, agitation, and muscle aches. The symptoms can gradually start to include sweating, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, runny nose and watery eyes.

People going through heroin withdrawal will also experience anxiety and maybe even panic attacks.

Around day three is usually when symptoms start to peak. This is when symptoms will be most severe and cravings will be as well. The risk of relapse is highest during this time.

From days three to five most people will see that their symptoms start to get better. They might still experience mild symptoms like loss of appetite, cramping and maybe anxiety.

By day seven most of the symptoms will have subsided, but some people may have more ongoing symptoms.

When Should Someone Seek Professional Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal?

It’s recommended that anyone who’s dependent on heroin seek some form of professional treatment to detox from the drug.

There are different options. Some people may be able to detox following the advice of their doctor but still do so at home. Other people may go through an outpatient heroin detox program.

Due to the severity of symptoms, many people find that an inpatient heroin detox program is best for them.

Heroin Treatment Options

There are several options when it comes to treating heroin addiction. Rehab centers offer either inpatient or outpatient treatment plans and provide the appropriate medical supervision, therapeutic techniques, and group support.

Treatment approaches for heroin addiction are categorized into two different categories. Inpatient requires the patient to reside in the facility for the entire length of time needed. Outpatient treatment programs allow a patient to continue living at home while receiving treatment for their drug use and addiction.

When beginning addiction treatment for heroin abuse, the initial detox is a critical step in the process. Heroin has particularly intense withdrawal symptoms that can cause extreme discomfort in patients.

The symptoms vary in intensity and can be both physical and mental including:

  • Nausea
  • Aches & Pains
  • Dehydration
  • Insomnia
  • Mood Swings

It is always recommended to have some sort of medical supervision when going through an opioid withdrawal to help oversee the process, and utilize medications to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms as needed.

Those who are heroin dependent and attempting to get off the drug are commonly prescribed FDA approved medications to help mitigate the effects of heroin withdrawal symptoms. The pain relief prevents users from retreating to heroin use to escape the cravings and discomfort.

Medication-assisted treatments in conjunction with therapeutic techniques are an ideal combination to provide the highest chance of success and relapse prevention.

“MAT Increases social functioning and retention in treatment. 4,5 Patients
treated with medication were more likely to remain in therapy compared to
patients receiving treatment that did not include medication.” (www.drugabuse.gov)

Once through the initial detox, medication can help support recovering addicts in maintaining their commitment to the behavioral therapy, and other effective treatment techniques during the course of the addiction treatment.

What Medications Are Available at a Detox Center for Heroin Withdrawal?

Does Clonidine Help With Heroin Withdrawal?

One of the primary benefits of going to a detox center for heroin withdrawal is the fact that they can provide medications to help manage discomfort, specific symptoms and also cravings.

Clonidine is one of the drugs that’s most commonly used to help people going through opioid withdrawal and other forms of withdrawal as well.

Clonidine is used in inpatient settings and it’s been shown to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms anywhere from 50 to 75 percent.

Specific symptoms clonidine can help treat include anxiety, cramps and muscle aches, agitation and restlessness, teary eyes and a runny nose.

Are There Other Drugs Available for Heroin Treatment?

Other prescription medications may be used for heroin treatment in addition to clonidine.

These can include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Each of these is a prescription drug, although some can be used on an outpatient basis.

Suboxone is a specific brand-name drug that combines buprenorphine and naloxone. Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist. This means it partial activates opioid receptors, and can reduce withdrawal symptoms. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, which reverses the effects of opioids.

Methadone is a weak opioid as well. It’s sometimes used to help people stop using stronger opioids and is given in clinic settings.

Very recently a new drug was approved to help treat heroin and opioid withdrawal. It’s called lofexidine, which is used orally. It’s sold under the brand name Lucemyra. The drug is intended to help reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms so that people are more successful at stopping heroin and completing an addiction treatment program.

Is It Safe to Use a Home Remedy to Detox from Heroin?

People will often search for home remedies or protocols that will allow them to detox from heroin at home. Yes, you may be able to detox from heroin at home, but it’s not recommended.

There are a few different reasons for this. First, if you detox from heroin using a home remedy, you’re much more likely to relapse. Relapsing after a period of abstaining from heroin increases your risk of overdosing.

Also, if you do experience complications you won’t have immediate medical attention.

What Is the Death Rate for People Who Attempt to Detox from Heroin at Home?

The death rate for people who try to detox from heroin at home is fairly low, but what ends up happening is that people who don’t receive professional treatment during detox often end up relapsing.

When you stop using heroin for a period of time, your tolerance declines. If that happens and you relapse and try to use the same amount of heroin you were previously, your risk of overdosing and dying is very high.

Along with the increased risk of overdosing and dying, trying to detox on your own is unnecessarily difficult and uncomfortable. There is no reason to go through heroin detox without medical care and support. Contact Amethyst Recovery Center to learn more.

Advice on Helping an Addict to Detox

Assisting a friend suffering from heroin addiction in seeking treatment through a drug detox program is not always easy. Often the user will offer resistance, denial, or outright anger in response.

The best technique is to first contact a medical professional with experience in substance abuse treatment.

They can help provide guidance on how to use compassion, understanding, and strategy in helping your loved ones seek help.

How to Deal With a Family Member Going Through a Heroin Withdrawal

When you have a loved one whos going through a heroin withdrawal, it can be scary. While heroin withdrawal isn’t usually life-threatening, it’s very uncomfortable. It’s hard to watch someone you love go through that. The best thing you can do for your loved one is helping them get professional help.

Beyond that, you will need to take care of your own needs as well. One way that many families find solace and support is by participating in a group like Nar-Anon. Nar-Anon is a group for families and loved ones of people with a drug addiction. Nar-Anon has a social support component. It is also a group that addresses the unhappiness and desperation you can feel because of your loved one’s heroin addiction.

Nar-Anon is based on the Twelve Steps, and the focus is on helping family and loved ones of addicts understand addiction is a disease and that we’re powerless over it, as well as the lives of the people we love.

Signs of a Heroin Overdose

What Happens During a Heroin Overdose?

Heroin is a dangerous drug not only because of the addiction and dependence potential but because of the risk for overdosing. When someone uses heroin and it activates opioid receptor sites, this causes the central nervous system to slow down.

The central nervous system controls some of the body’s most necessary functions including breathing and heart rate.

If someone uses too high of a dose of heroin, their central nervous system can’t handle it. Their breathing and heart rate will slow so much they overdose.

Can You Go Into a Coma During a Heroin Overdose?

If someone overdoses on heroin, there can be different symptoms that occur. The person may appear to have a bluish tint to their lips and fingernails. They may vomit excessively, or they may be unresponsive to outside stimuli.

A person may also nod off, or eventually go into a coma during a heroin overdose.

What Are the Immediate Treatment Options for Someone Who Has Overdosed on Heroin?

If there is even a chance someone is overdosing on heroin, it’s important they receive emergency medical care right away. When someone overdoses on heroin, their breathing and heart rate slow so much that their blood and brain are no longer getting oxygen. Brain and organ damage can occur, as can death.

Is There an Antidote for an Overdose of Heroin?

There is an antidote for an overdose of heroin. There are medications like naloxone, which is a generic drug, that can verse the effects of an opioid overdose. Naloxone is available under the brand name Narcan. Naloxone quickly binds to opioid receptor sites, knocking the heroin out of the sites and preventing them from being activated by heroin.

Is the Procedure Painful and What are the Dangers?

Heroin detox

Heroin users typically experience more intense withdrawal symptoms than those addicted to other opioids. Unfortunately this can mean the detox process is indeed uncomfortable and even painful for many patients.

This is because heroin addicts tend to develop stronger tolerances more quickly, and increase their dosages over time to compensate. This leads to intensified withdrawal symptoms.

Some dangers of withdrawing from heroin are dehydration, hypertension, impaired respiration and intense drug cravings brought about by withdrawal symptoms.

The intensity of these symptoms and their associated dangers is why receiving proper care at a treatment center is the only safe way to detox from heroin.

Time Frames, Stages, Side Effects: What to Expect

It is important to have appropriate expectations heading into the detoxification process.

A full detox from heroin can take anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the patient’s mental health, weight, metabolism, frequency of use, length of use, and other factors.

Withdrawal symptoms can last far beyond the time it takes for heroin to be physically purged from the body. These symptoms typically come in stages and include:

  • Cravings
  • Muscle Aches
  • Irritation
  • Insomnia
  • Cramps
  • Soreness and Chronic Pain
  • Bowel Movements and Excretions
  • Chills
  • Runny Nose
  • Hypertension
  • Respiratory Challenges
  • Spasms

During the first day of the detox and withdrawal process a patient can expect some of the mental symptoms, with the most intense effects coming in the days following.

Can you Detox During Pregnancy?

Going through a detoxification from heroin or any opioids during pregnancy comes with additional risks to both the unborn baby and the patient.

These situations call for heavy medical supervision in the case of intense reactions from the effects of withdrawal, and an inpatient medical detox at a drug rehab center or treatment facility would be highly recommended.

Where to Detox: Hospital vs Rehab Clinic vs Outpatient

The detox process can vary for every patient and thus requires different addiction treatment programs.

It is not recommended to visit a hospital when withdrawing from heroin without planning ahead.

An inpatient treatment facility can provide hospital-level medical care with more specialized drug addiction treatment and supervision to ensure the detox process is as safe and comfortable as possible for the patient.

Outpatient detox treatment typically involves a prescribed medical treatment that is self-administered at home. This may be a sufficient treatment for less intense drug abusers, but those with a long history of addiction would be better off considering an inpatient treatment.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline: How Long do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

“Physical symptoms generally commence 6 to 24 hours after last use, peak in severity during days two to four, and generally subside by day seven, while the psychological features of dysphoria, anxiety, sleep disturbances and increased cravings may continue for weeks or even months. “ (www.health.gov.au)

Detox Methods: With or Without Medication

In almost all cases, medication is recommended to ease the discomfort associated with detox and withdrawal.

The symptoms can be intense and lead users to relapse in order to relieve themselves of the symptoms they experience. That is why medical treatment during this process provides a higher chance of success.

Often times patients will receive a medical taper to help them wean off of heroin. In place of heroin, physicians will administer a drug prescription at progressively lower doses until they are no longer needed.

A cold turkey detox for opiate addicts is dangerous in almost all circumstances and not part of a smart recovery.

What is Suboxone?

Suboxone, or buprenorphine, is a prescription drug utilized in several FDA approved products to help those going through drug rehab and detoxification treatment – for heroin or other opioid addiction.

Suboxone mimics the effects of heroin to a lesser extent, and can help mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal. When used properly, suboxone is a powerful tool in battling heroin addiction.

“Medications such as buprenorphine, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, provide a whole-patient approach to the treatment of opioid dependency. When taken as prescribed, buprenorphine is safe and effective.” (www.samhsa.gov)

Three R’s: Recovery, Relief, Relapse Prevention

The road to recovery for people using heroin can be long and difficult. The role of a treatment center is to provide support and to make the process as safe and comfortable as possible.

Ultimately the goal of any heroin rehab treatment program is relapse prevention. Temptations and cravings are strongest during the initial detox period when withdrawal symptoms start.

That is why medical treatment and professional supervision is especially important during a heroin detox to avoid relapse.

Heroin Addiction Treatment Post Detox

Detox, especially for those with a heroin dependency, is often the most difficult part of drug rehab treatment, but it is only the first step.

Once the initial heroin detox is complete, follow up treatment is equally important for both physical and mental health.

A number of different treatment methods including inpatient and outpatient programs, therapy, group activities, and preparation for transition to sober living are all important parts of accomplishing the ultimate goal of relapse prevention.


Written by: Justin Kunst

Written by: Justin Kunst

As a member of the Amethyst Recovery Center marketing team, Justin Kunst dedicated his time to curating powerful content that would reach and impact individuals and families who are struggling with substance abuse.

1 Comment

  1. Randy Chorvack

    I love how you said to use compassion and understanding when you’re dealing with an addict. My cousin is trying to get help for his addiction, but a lot of my family has given up on him. It’s really, really important to remember to support an addict through the process so that they feel like they have someone who can help them.


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