Heroin Withdrawal & Our Detox Program

Authored by First City Recovery Center    Reviewed by Dr. Vahid Osman    Last Updated: September 8th, 2021


Dr. Vahid Osman Medical Reviewer
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN. Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.

Withdrawal symptoms are common when nearly any mind-altering substance has been used for an extended period of time, but no substance is better known for its intense withdrawal than heroin. Popular TV shows and movies have portrayed heroin withdrawal symptoms as overwhelming, so you might be scared of stopping if you are currently snorting, injecting or smoking heroin. However, you don’t need to be afraid when you have qualified professionals monitoring your symptoms and helping make you as comfortable as possible. It may help you feel more prepared to go through detox when you learn more about heroin and how the withdrawal process works.

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid, which is a type of substance that is either naturally or chemically related to the opium in poppies. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin is made from morphine, another opioid that has legitimate medical uses. All opioids reduce pain, but heroin is much stronger than morphine and many other similar substances.

Depending on how it is made, heroin can either be a white or brown powder, or it can even be black with a tar-like consistency. Some users have a preference while others will use whichever type is available.

Not only does heroin reduce pain, but it also produces a range of other feelings and sensations. You might first experience a rush of energy, but this dissipates, and you will then feel drowsy and calm for hours. You will also experience flushing of your skin, which can feel either like a pleasurable warmth or burning depending on your sensitivity and how much you took.

The reason why heroin is so addictive is that it binds to the opioid receptors in your brain. Your brain wants these receptors to continue being engaged, which makes it hard to just stop using heroin.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms occur whenever you stop using a drug. Your body reacts typically in an opposite fashion to the substance. For example, a stimulant that gives you lots of energy will cause depressive withdrawal symptoms and lethargy.

This is largely because your body is trying to regain its balance without the presence of the substance that you used. It can take time until you feel normal again because your body has to readjust its chemistry. The amount of time will differ based on the substance you used, your history of use and many biological factors.

You might be wondering what heroin withdrawal symptoms look like. The most common withdrawal symptoms include:

• Muscle pains and aches
• Anxiety
• Agitation
• Sweating
• Runny nose
• Stomach cramping
• Diarrhea
• Goosebumps
• Dilated pupils
• Nausea and vomiting

Keep in mind that these are the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms. Your body might experience other symptoms that are not on this list. While some people are able to get through the withdrawal symptoms on their own, it is often best if you work with medical professionals who can help you through the process.

Typically, the withdrawal symptoms themselves aren’t fatal. The worst part about withdrawal is your increased vulnerability to using again. Those withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, and the majority of people using heroin are looking to escape discomfort in general. Users in withdrawal often feel like they will do anything to feel better because the symptoms are so severe. This means that a lot of people relapse while they’re trying to quit on their own.

Additionally, when people are suffering withdrawal symptoms, they often use far higher amounts than they normally would to be sure that the symptoms go away. Their tolerance will also be reduced because they haven’t used in a while, which could lead to an overdose.

Heroin Overdose Symptoms

An overdose is when you take so much of a substance that it overwhelms your body. If someone has overdosed on heroin, it’s crucial that emergency medical services be contacted right away. A heroin overdose can be fatal. There is only a limited amount of time to help someone who overdosed before the lack of oxygen does permanent damage to their bodily systems, so it’s imperative to get them medical attention immediately and to administer naloxone if you have any.

The most common heroin overdose symptoms include:

• Gasping for breath or shallow, slow breathing
• Blue fingertips or lips
• Pale skin
• Unresponsiveness
• Weak pulse

Detox Timeline

You might be curious about how long withdrawal symptoms last and when the substance will finally be out of your body. While it will largely depend on your body, how much you used and how long you’ve been using, we can give you an average amount of time that you should expect the symptoms to last.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms tend to start around 6 to 12 hours after your last use. That might sound surprising, but these are usually the most minor symptoms, such as irritability and a runny nose.

The symptoms will typically peak around the one- to three-day time period. You will still feel the symptoms around five to seven days after your last use, but the worst of the symptoms should be subsiding by this time. Keep in mind that this is a typical timeline. Some people will experience withdrawal symptoms weeks or even months after their last dose if they were heavy users for a long period of time.

It’s also important to note that this is the withdrawal timeline if you just stop using opioids. With medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, full withdrawal might take a little more time, but you will be more comfortable throughout the process.

Medical Detox

You might be wondering if it’s better to go through withdrawal at home or attend a medical detox program. The major difference is that a medical detox program at First City Recovery Center will connect you with medical staff to guide you through the process while also checking on your symptoms and helping you through them.

This will involve monitoring your health and doing the right thing based on your withdrawal symptoms. It might include supplemental medications to ensure that you stay as comfortable as possible through the process.

While you’re in detox, there are several medications that can help you with the cravings while also reducing the withdrawal symptoms. Some of these medications are also opioids, but they are different from heroin. They don’t give you the high feeling that heroin does, but they still engage your opioid receptors so that you don’t feel biological cravings. Some of these MAT options just reduce the cravings while others will block you from feeling the effects of heroin and other opioids if you attempt to use again.

Whether you want to participate in MAT or not, medically monitored detox is still a great idea. This ensures that you have a medical professional watching over your health and ensuring that you get through the detox process in the safest way possible. MAT reduces the risk of relapse and helps you feel safe as you begin your journey to sobriety.

Recovery Groups

Many people like connecting with self-help groups to help with their recovery. There are free recovery groups run by peers, nationwide organizations like Narcotics Anonymous or others who are going through recovery like yourself. Because these groups are run by people who are recovering just like you are, you can feel comfortable talking about your heroin and other substance use because everyone around you understands what it’s like.

Another benefit is that self-help groups encourage you to get a sponsor, a more experienced member with some significant sober time who is able to help you through the process. They will keep regular contact with you while doing their best to ensure your sobriety. You can call them when you’re experiencing temptation to use, and they can help share wisdom about how they have stayed sober.

The most popular self-help groups are 12-step groups. While Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is the most popular self-help group, those who are experiencing difficulties with heroin will likely find Narcotics Anonymous, or NA, to be more useful.

After you’ve completed treatment, ask the counselors and therapists at you’ve come to know during rehab. They may have some local suggestions about a group that would be a good fit for you.

Partial Hospitalization

One of the higher levels of care at First City Recovery Center is partial hospitalization. This is best if you are having troubles staying sober at home or if your stressors are too significant and you need time away from your situation. At First City Recovery Center, we provide a partial hospitalization program, or PHP, that can help.

This level of care allows you to stay at our facilities for part of the day, which ensures you will get the medical and therapy services you need while you are here. This program lasts for about eight hours a day, and you will come between five and seven days a week. We will work out a schedule for you if you agree to PHP care.

You will find that this is similar to inpatient care, but the major difference is that you can return home at the end of the day. You can sleep in your own bed, continue speaking with your friends and family members and keep your job. At the same time, you will be deeply engaged in treatment while you are at the facility. Many people find this very useful, especially during the beginning of heroin recovery.

Outpatient Treatment

If you are stepping down from PHP or if you feel that PHP is too much, then you should consider outpatient treatment. This consists of individual outpatient sessions and intensive outpatient, or IOP, sessions.

IOP is a special type of group therapy that is fairly long, but it ensures you have all the time you need to get support. IOP sessions are typically nine hours a week, and that is broken down by attending a three-hour session three times a week. This type of group therapy allows you to work with a qualified therapist while also meeting with recovery peers who also wish to get better. Every member will be able to learn from each other, which ensures that you gain new skills as quickly as possible.

There is also outpatient therapy. This might be more commonly known as individual therapy, and it’s when you see your therapist for one-on-one sessions that typically last an hour. This gives you room to explore your deeper feelings without worrying about what the group thinks.

We can also combine treatments so that you get the benefits of both, which many clients find very useful. We will discuss your needs in-depth when you contact us. We want to make a treatment plan that you can be proud of and that will put you on the most successful path toward sobriety.

Heroin withdrawal has the reputation of being scary, but you don’t have to go through it alone. At First City Recovery Center, we are committed to making your detox as safe and comfortable as possible so that you can focus on what matters: getting sober. We are here to help, so if you or someone you know is ready to kick heroin for good, give us a call today.

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