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Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms & Detox

Withdrawal from heroin is painful for most individuals that experience it. Help from a heroin detox center is often necessary to avoid complications and alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Co-occurring issues should also be addressed by a healthcare professional.


Heroin is one of the more tenacious addictions, with relapse rates that reach 60 percent in some cases. This is mainly due to the intensity and discomfort of heroin withdrawal. Detox and a heroin withdrawal treatment program can help to ease the symptoms until the restoration of normal brain function. Medical treatment and addiction therapy and counseling address the underlying causes of addiction as well as related health problems.

One of the main reasons that this addiction is so difficult to beat is the pain of heroin withdrawal. Long after the pleasurable effects disappear, dependence makes cessation unbearable. This is because the drug disrupts the natural regulation of brain chemistry, replacing it with an artificially induced release of high levels of dopamine and other endorphins.

Those are the chemicals that control response to outside stimuli and cause feelings of pain and pleasure. Without heroin, the brain receives pain signals from the body. Since the brain can no longer produce and release endorphins on its own, the only solution it can consider is more drugs. However, help from a heroin detox program at a rehab center in Jacksonville, FL, each individual can achieve sobriety and begin working on lasting recovery.

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The onset and duration of heroin withdrawal symptoms last about a week, but depression and cravings can continue for several weeks after quitting. During the first few days, the body and brain need to detox from the drug. Sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea are due to the release of built-up toxins from the system after months or years of frequent use.

Once brain function is restored somewhat, the body needs time to recuperate from the effects of dependence and abuse. Recovering addicts can work with their drug counselors and doctors to deal with lingering mental health and medical problems once the immediate side effects of withdrawal abate. A dual diagnosis treatment plan works to alleviate serious mental health symptoms so that each individual can focus entirely on long-term recovery.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Although heroin withdrawal and recovery are individual journeys, the basic withdrawal timeline follows the same path for most heroin users. At a medical detox program in Jacksonville, FL, your therapists, and clinicians can create a plan around your evolving treatment needs.

First 24 Hours

The initial withdrawal symptoms appear, which may be mild or severe according to abuse history and severity.

Within 24-36 Hours

Withdrawal symptoms intensify. This is the most dangerous phase of the detox process, with the highest rates of physical and psychological problems. This makes up the “make or break” point of withdrawal that usually ends in relapse without professional help.

Days 4 – 6

Drugs are completely out of the system, and symptoms taper off with new or milder forms of substance use disorder. Long-term users or those with concurrent health problems may still struggle during this time.

Seven Days and Beyond

Most brain and biological functions are restored in all but the most severe cases. Additional heroin withdrawal treatment to address mental and physical health problems can begin.

Signs of Heroin Withdrawal

When someone is experiencing withdrawal, some of the first signs are anxiety and agitation. Whether the user is trying to quit cold turkey or doesn’t have immediate access to heroin or another opioid, it’s normal to feel a sense of panic. There are also physical symptoms that can become debilitating.

The symptoms and signs of heroin withdrawal are both physical and emotional. Many people mistake these symptoms of early-stage withdrawal for illnesses like the flu. An addict may even be able to explain away mild symptoms as being in a bad mood or coming down with something. Chills, fever, sweating, and nausea begin between six and 24 hours after heroin use is discontinued. The onset depends on the length and severity of abuse.

Looked at separately, many individuals explain away or rationalize the signs of withdrawal. They also differ with the individual. Taken together, especially if there is a known history of drug abuse, they should never be overlooked or minimized.

Other withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Overwhelming sadness and depression
  • Aching muscles, especially in the back and legs
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Runny nose
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances, often accompanied by nightmares or hallucinations
  • Diarrhea
  • Drug cravings

These symptoms peak in intensity after a few days, and they taper off by the end of the first week. Severe addictions and relapses may require medical support for months, sometimes years, after heroin withdrawal treatment.

Heroin Detox and Treatment in Jacksonville, FL

It’s possible to withdraw from heroin by just quitting without assistance, but going “cold turkey” isn’t recommended. Statistically, it’s temporary drug cessation without addressing the causes of addiction and devising a realistic relapse prevention plan. Addiction recovery programs aren’t something new, and deeper insight into the nature of drug dependence has led to more effective treatment options.

Research indicates that a comprehensive, individualized approach to recovery improves the chances of long-term success. This includes an inpatient residential program or intensive outpatient treatment for at least 90 days. These programs often start after an initial course of medically supervised detox that helps to progress through the withdrawal period.

Drugs Used for Detox

The first 24 – 72 hours after the last dose makes up the most critical part of the heroin detox timeline. This is an intense experience, and many recovering addicts return to using during this time just to stop the pain. There’s also a higher risk of death due to medical complications and a high rate of suicide. These are some of the best reasons why recovery treatment should include medical detox and stabilization, including supervision in a calm, secure residential setting.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Withdrawal

The standard medications used during detox include a combination of milder opioids, non-narcotic pain relievers, and medications to manage depression and anxiety. Detox medications are divided into three groups, agonists, antagonists, and partial agonists, which can be used during and after heroin withdrawal treatment.

Heroin is a full agonist, as are most opioids that are abused, including the most prevalent maintenance drug, methadone. These drugs bind directly to opioid receptors in the brain and produce the full effect. The reason methadone is used for medical maintenance is that it is considered a milder, more manageable opioid than those that are commonly abused.

When used during a heroin withdrawal treatment program, antagonists bond to the receptors without activating them. This means there is no effect from the drugs, and they block other opioids from bonding. These drugs are used mostly to reverse an overdose. Common antagonists are naltrexone and naloxone, which is the generic name for Narcan.

Partial agonists are showing promise for both detox and post-rehab maintenance. Medications like buprenorphine don’t fully bond with opioid receptors, so they offer enough of an effect to stop the cravings without the abuse potential of a full agonist like methadone. Hybrid drugs like suboxone include the partial agonist, buprenorphine, and the antagonist, naloxone, to control cravings while causing a severe, unpleasant reaction if the user attempts to take a full agonist opioid. It is similar to how drugs like Antabuse work to deter alcohol intake after recovery.

Aftercare and Long-Term Recovery

Recovery is an ongoing process that can last a lifetime. An effective rehab aftercare program will include access to ongoing support like group or individual therapy, participation in support groups, social and employment assistance, and transitional housing in a sober living community for those who need stability. Medical maintenance programs provide low-dose opioids like methadone or suboxone to control cravings and prevent relapse. Treatment usually involves a daily dispensation of extended-release formulations under controlled circumstances.

Find a Heroin Detox Center in Jacksonville, FL Today

Lasting recovery is an ongoing process. Start the foundation for a new life at Stepping Stone Center for Recovery. Our heroin detox center in Jacksonville, FL can guide you through detox, so you emerge ready to focus on creating a life beyond your wildest dreams. Call 866.957.4960 to speak with an intake specialist today.

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