When someone chooses to reject heroin addiction and pursue recovery, they face two initial stages — withdrawal and detox. Both with unpleasant reputations, the thought of withdrawal symptoms alone causes many to abandon recovery before they have even begun.
But recovery from heroin addiction is possible, and while a natural consequence of a brain addicted to heroin is withdrawal, with the right treatment center and recovery plan, including medical detox and medication-assisted treatment, you can successfully withdraw, detox and recover from heroin addiction.
How does heroin affect the brain?
Classified as a Schedule I drug with a high potential for abuse and no medical usage, heroin is highly addictive for two main reasons. First, immediately after being injected, smoked or snorted, heroin produces an addicting, intense euphoria. Second, it produces a high level of tolerance almost immediately, meaning you soon need larger doses to get the desired effects.
Those who become addicted to heroin find that quitting on their own is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. This is because heroin hijacks the reward system in the brain, releasing such high levels of dopamine that the brain immediately equates heroin use with these intense levels of pleasure and euphoria.
For those who chose to quit heroin use, they often find that professional addiction treatment is the most helpful way of handling withdrawal symptoms.
What does heroin withdrawal feel like?
Heroin withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe, and while none are distinctly life-threatening, they can be acutely uncomfortable.
Mild withdrawal symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body aches
- Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
- Sleep disturbances
The more severe symptoms one might experience are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Intense cravings
In order to alleviate some of the pain, and keep more severe symptoms at bay, certain medications may be used during heroin withdrawal at the discretion of your doctor and therapist.
How long does heroin withdrawal last?
Each person’s experience with heroin withdrawal is going to be different. This is because the length and severity of withdrawal depends on a number of factors, including:
- How long heroin was used for
- How much heroin was being used
- Whether or not it was being abused in addition to other substances
- The way in which it was taken (smoked, snorted, injected)
- The presence of an underlying mental health or medical condition
Typically, however, the heroin withdrawal effects begin about 6 to 12 hours after the last dose, peak around three or four days and last for 5 to 10 days total.
- Within the first 48 hours after the last dose, the initial withdrawal symptoms will begin. Most likely it will start with muscle aches that may become more painful during the first day. Shaking, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, panic attacks and anxiety are also common during the initial onset of withdrawal.
- Days three and four mark the peak of withdrawal where symptoms like stomach cramping, nausea and vomiting, sweating and shivering are likely to manifest.
- After one week acute withdrawal has most likely concluded. The muscle aches and nausea will begin to lessen and the individual, though exhausted, will begin to feel physically more normal.
After initial withdrawal has subsided, post-acute withdrawal symptoms begin to set in. These symptoms can last for up to a year following heroin use, and reflect the changes that occurred in the brain’s chemistry as a result of addiction. Such symptoms may include:
- Insomnia and fatigue
In order to best cope with the long last symptoms, it’s always advisable to seek continued recovery following withdrawal and detox treatment.
While the withdrawal side effects of heroin are unpleasant, it’s important to remember that it’s just a phase of the entire recovery process. Recovery is a time of hope and expectancy of an exciting new life full of freedom, with newfound time and energy to live the life you’ve always wanted for yourself.
If you are seeking recovery from addiction, but don’t want to face the challenge of heroin withdrawal alone, take the time to consider a treatment center. With holistic treatment options like yoga, art and biofeedback therapy, as well as traditional therapy methods like CBT, DBT and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), you’re guaranteed to find an effective treatment plan.