Heroin Withdrawal Timeline: How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System

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If you’re addicted to heroin or abusing it, you’ve probably wondered how long does heroin stay in your system for. Heroin is one of the most commonly abused drugs in America. Over 948,000 Americans abused this illicit drug in 2016. Studies show that these numbers are continuing to rise each year. Most heroin users started their heroin use after misusing and abusing prescription opioids.

For those who are abusing this drug, learning more about its chemical structure and how its metabolized is important. By educating yourself and loved ones about this drug, it becomes easier to quit. Having all the right information will help you make a more informed decision about your addiction.

heroin addiction treatmentWhat Is An Approximate Withdrawal Timeline?

In general, heroin symptoms will begin to kick in anywhere from 6 to 12 hours after the last dose. The physical symptoms tend to peak within 1 to 3 days, but will eventually subside after a week. The psychological symptoms are the trickiest to deal with. They can last for anywhere from several weeks to several months. In worst case scenarios, these symptoms can even last several years.

While heroin is quickly metabolized from the body, its metabolites still remain in your system. This is the reason why the heroin withdrawal timeline is relatively long. It takes a long time for the body to remove the metabolites.

The Half-Life of Heroin

The half-life of a substance is the amount of time that it takes the body to clear half of the initial amount. The half-life of heroin is quite short in comparison to other opiates. Studies show that the half-life is about 3 minutes when heroin is injected into the bloodstream. The short half-life means that the effects of heroin will peak rather quickly. This is the reason why drug users find that the effects of heroin kick in almost immediately. To give you a better idea of how quickly heroin is metabolized, consider the fact that other opiates take anywhere from 3 to 7 days to leave your system.

The side effects of heroin tend to peak anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. It takes 3 to 5 hours before the effects fully disappear. With that said, heroin is not a pure drug. The amount of time that it takes for the effects to subside will depend on the purity of the heroin, as well as the dose taken. By the 8th hour, the heroin that was ingested should be completely removed from your system.

However, while the heroin is broken down and removed, the metabolites that it’s broken down into will remain. The worst part about taking heroin is that its metabolites take much longer to clear. The long half-life of its metabolites is what makes heroin such an easy drug to become dependent on. Heroin dependence can occur after just several uses.

What Other Factors Affect the Half-Life of Heroin?

Many drug users are interested in learning more about how heroin is broken down differently in each user. Other than the quality of the drug, each person’s profile and biological makeup will also affect how quickly heroin is metabolized. Some of the main factors that play a huge role include a person’s:

  • Age
  • Body fat ratio
  • Genetic composition
  • Height
  • Overall organ health and condition
  • Weight

Heroin is cleared from healthy bodies much more quickly. For example, young users tend to have a faster metabolism. As a result, their body is able to get rid of heroin and its metabolites within a shorter period of time. This leads to shorter withdrawal timelines.

What Metabolites Is Heroin Broken Down Into?

morphineOnce heroin enters your system, various enzymes quickly break down heroin into various metabolites. Each metabolite is considered to be an opiate, so each metabolite can have a lingering effect on the body. The most common metabolites that heroin is broken down into include codeine, morphine and 6-acetyl-morphine.

The metabolites, by themselves, are quite addictive and have a high potential for abuse. They also have a much longer half-life than heroin, which means that it’s easy for your body to develop dependence. Most of the time, a heroin dependence is not to heroin itself, but to its metabolites. Once dependence is developed, drug abuses will develop cravings for the drug. Their neurochemical levels change to accommodate the presence of these metabolites.

To give you a better idea, here’s a closer look at the various metabolites that heroin is broken down into.

CodeineMorphine and 6-acetyl-morphine

If codeine sounds familiar, it should. This is the same prescription opiate that has been glorified by rappers and the media. Codeine is the primary component in a drug known as ‘lean’. To make lean, mix sprite and hard candies, like Jolly Ranchers, with the syrup.

Codeine has a much longer half-life than heroin. Its biological half-life is approximately 3 hours, and the metabolite reaches peak levels in about 30 minutes. It takes anywhere from 1 to 3 days for the codeine to be removed from the body. The long half-life of codeine makes it an excellent metabolite to look for when drug testing for heroin.

It’s important to note that a higher dose of codeine will take longer to remove from the body. Codeine is also a fairly dangerous opiate. Too much codeine can result in respiratory distress and heart failure. It can also bring on symptoms, like nausea and vision impairment.

Morphine and 6-acetyl-morphine sound quite similar because they are both metabolites of heroin. In fact, 6-acetyl-morphine is basically an intermediary between heroin and morphine. While no one knows for sure, many scientists believe that 6-acetyl-morphine is responsible for creating the euphoric sensations experienced from taking heroin.

As an intermediary, 6-acetyl-morphine can be cleared from the body fairly quickly. Morphine, on the other hand, has a half-life between 1.5 hours to 7 hours. This means that it will take several days for morphine to be cleared from your system.

What Is the Drug Testing Timeline for Heroin?

drug testsAs mentioned above, the biological half-life for heroin is relatively short. Due to this reason, it’s difficult to detect the parent drug. If drug tests only looked for the parent compound, they would be highly inaccurate. In fact, they’d mostly come up negative unless heroin was taken immediately before the test was administered. So, how exactly do most drug tests detect heroin?

The answer is simple. When testing for heroin, the drug tests look for the metabolites, like codeine and morphine. The most common drug tests that test for heroin include urine tests, hair tests, and saliva tests. It’s almost impossible for blood tests to detect heroin since heroin is removed from the bloodstream in a matter of minutes. Some recovery centers may ask patients to take a drug test if they are seeking addiction treatment. This gives the professionals a better idea of when heroin was last taken. Here’s a more in-depth look at the detection window of various drug tests.

Urine TestsSaliva TestsHair Tests

There are many different types of urine tests; however, most companies and professionals will use NIDA approved drug tests. These drug tests will look for 5 different types of drugs. Heroin is one of them. To detect heroin, urine tests look for all the metabolites: codeine, morphine and 6-acetyl-morphine. The cutoff concentration for the metabolites is about 2,000 ng/ml. NIDA approved drug tests have higher cutoff levels to prevent false positives. As a result, they are quite accurate. If the test comes up positive, there’s almost no denying that the individual used heroin in the past several days.

In most situation, heroin is only detectable in urine for 1 to 4 days. The detection window is longer for heavy users and shorter for first-time users. Urine samples are usually collected in a designated bathroom to prevent cheating.

Saliva tests have much shorter detection times. A saliva sample is collected in one of two ways. Either the individual spits into a cup or a swab is taken from their mouth. In general, the second option yields the best results. This is because spit can be easily contaminated by food and other contaminants.

In comparison to all the other drug tests, saliva tests are actually quite new. The tests are instantaneous and easy to administer. Heroin can be detected if it was taken in the 12 hours prior to the testing.

Hair testing is as accurate as it comes when testing for heroin. While it’s not instantaneous like urine tests, hair tests can provide a more in-depth analysis on an individual’s heroin use. To conduct a hair test, the most recent 1.5 inches of hair growth is taken as a sample. The hair sample is sent to professional laboratories.

Each 0.5 inch represents 30 days, so 1.5 inches represents 90 days. The hair tests can determine not only when heroin was used, but also the amount of heroin that was taken as well. It’s a very comprehensive test that can provide loved ones with all the information they need on the habits of drug users in the family.

Are False Positives Possible?

Since heroin drug testing looks for the presence of metabolites, false positives are possible. There are many substances that are similar to a metabolite of heroin. These chemicals cause the drug tests to go haywire and to become inaccurate. In fact, ingestion of the following can easily lead to a false positive:

  • Cough medicines containing Dextromethorphan
  • Nyquil
  • Poppy seeds
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Quinolones

Some antibiotics can cross-react with the drug tests and give you a false positive. Some health conditions can also lead to positive results. You could test positive for heroin if you have a kidney infection, a kidney disease, diabetes or even a liver disease.

Clear Heroin from Your System

Although the body metabolizes heroin rather quickly, the metabolites take a much longer time to be metabolized. As a result, drug tests look for the metabolites when trying to figure out whether there’s still heroin in the system.

If you’re looking to clean up your act and get sober, it’s time to seek help from a drug rehab, like Amethyst Recovery. We offer many different types of addiction treatment. Learn more about our treatment options to figure out what’s best for your current situation. We’ll be able to help you get sober regardless of whether you smoke heroin or inject heroin. Leave it to us and we’ll find out what your best course of action for addiction recovery may be.

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