Heroin is a common illegal drug that’s classified as an opioid. Heroin is derived from morphine, which is a powerful painkiller used in medical settings. Heroin is commonly sold on the streets as a white or brown powder, which is often sniffed or smoked.
As with any drugs that affect your brain, heroin can cause withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using the drug. Read on to find out more about heroin withdrawal symptoms and what you can do to ease them.
Common heroin withdrawal symptoms
You will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms anytime between 6 and 12 hours after you last took heroin. Most of these symptoms resemble a serious case of flu, with pain and discomfort lasting for about a week. Symptoms often peak at the second or third day.
Here are the most common heroin withdrawal symptoms:
- Muscle pain
- Gastrointestinal upset
The withdrawal symptoms may last longer if you took heroin more frequently and in higher doses, as well as if you’ve been using the drug for a long time already.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
If you are a long-time heavy user of heroin, you are more likely to develop what is known as PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. The symptoms of PAWS are more severe:
- Poor sleep quality
- Panic attacks
- Increased anxiety
- Mood swings
- Memory loss
These symptoms can persist for a much longer time — 18 to 24 months. But if you can stay clean for a long time, PAWS will slowly go away.
Avoiding withdrawal symptoms when quitting heroin
The best and safest way to quit using heroin is through medically-assisted detox. Quitting the drug on your own can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases.
Here are some of the risks if you stop using the drug unsupervised:
- Severe dehydration
- Asphyxiation from accidentally inhaling vomit
- Increased likelihood of relapse
Even if your life is not in danger, the risk of relapsing by itself can prevent you from successfully overcoming a heroin addiction. The withdrawal symptoms can get so uncomfortable that you would feel compelled to just take the drug again to make the symptoms go away. Next time around, quitting the drug will feel discouraging.
How does heroin detox work?
When you’re going through medically-assisted heroin detox, doctors and other healthcare professionals will assist you through the entire process. They will constantly watch over your vital signs, like blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature, to make sure that you stay safe through the whole detox process.
Slowly, you will get over your dependence on the drug. Most importantly, the medical staff will manage any withdrawal symptoms that might occur.
In short, medical supervision will make quitting heroin more tolerable and less uncomfortable.
Doctors may prescribe certain medications to help ease withdrawal while detoxing. Here are some of them:
- Naltrexone: This medication helps minimize your cravings for heroin. It works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, which are the targets of heroin molecules. With heroin being unable to bind to opioid receptors, you won’t derive pleasure from the drug. Naltrexone is also not addictive, making it safe for detox.
- Methadone: This medication helps you to taper off from heroin while preventing withdrawal symptoms. While methadone is also an opioid like heroin, it acts slowly and is not as potent.
- Buprenorphine: This is the most widely used medication for heroin detox. It helps stop cravings for heroin and prevents unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms like muscle aches and vomiting. This medication is also not likely to become addictive.
Can I become addicted to methadone instead?
When you’re given methadone as part of your heroin detox process, you may be concerned about getting addicted to methadone in place of heroin. When used under medical supervision, methadone is safe, so there is no need to worry. Doctors will give you a small dose, just enough to prevent withdrawal.
Methadone acts on the brain more slowly than heroin does. It produces the kind of pleasure you get from heroin, but it isn’t as quick, intense, and short-lived. That way, it helps stop withdrawal symptoms as you take less and less heroin.
Where to get heroin detox
Heroin detox is often part of a comprehensive drug rehab program. It is usually the first step in starting a drug-free lifestyle.
Detox is often performed within a rehab facility. The best results are achieved when you are enrolled in an inpatient rehab program, where you will live inside the rehab facility for the entire duration of the program. That way, when you’re in detox, medical professionals can give you 24-hour attention and care. When an emergency arises, you can get help immediately.
How long does detox last?
Heroin detox typically takes 5 to 7 days to complete. If your case of heroin addiction is more severe, the detox may last up to 10 days.
What happens after detox?
Once heroin has been cleared from your body, you will still experience some of the effects of the drug’s absence. Most of these are emotional, such as depression, anxiety, changes in mood, and other related symptoms. These must be addressed as well for you to recover fully from the heroin addiction.
For this reason, after detox, you need to go through various behavioral therapies. These will help you retrain your mind and body to live a life without drugs.
If you’re in an inpatient rehab program, you get these therapies daily. That way, you are focused on your recovery, increasing the chances of success.
Also, you’ll get to interact with other people also recovering from addictions through group therapy sessions. Knowing that you’re not alone in your battle is a big help in your recovery journey.
Getting help for heroin withdrawal
If you suffer from a heroin addiction, and you’d like to overcome it and manage the withdrawal symptoms, talk to a mental health professional today. They will guide you in getting the best modes of treatment for your needs.