Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms - What To Expect In Heroin Detox

By Shim Stregosky - Midwest Detox

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Heroin is one of the most dangerous illicit drugs in existence. It has taken hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States alone. And while there are now even stronger opioids on the market (like fentanyl), heroin remains one of the most commonly abused street drugs in the country. Despite the increase in heroin abuse over the years, many people are unaware of the signs of heroin abuse or heroin withdrawal. As a result, many heroin abusers continue to feed their addictions in secret.

If you think that a loved one may be abusing heroin, you’re probably very worried — and full of important questions. For example, how long does heroin withdrawal last? What are the withdrawal symptoms of heroin? Can withdrawal from heroin be deadly? Finally, where can you get professional help for heroin withdrawal?

In today’s guide, we will answer all of these questions and more, but first, let’s look at what to expect throughout the process of heroin withdrawal:

In This Article
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    Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

    Each person will experience heroin withdrawal a little differently, in terms of time and symptoms. However, physicians and researchers have observed enough heroin withdrawals to know that many of them follow a similar trajectory:

    Beginning Stages

    The early stages of heroin withdrawal can begin as soon as 6 hours after the last usage of the drug. For some people, signs of heroin withdrawal may take as long as 12 hours to set in. Either way, the early stages of heroin withdrawal may be mild to moderate, depending on the severity of the addiction. Common symptoms include restlessness and anxiety.

    Peak Withdrawal

    As time passes, symptoms of withdrawal will worsen. The “peak” of heroin withdrawal often happens anywhere between 24 and 72 hours after the last dosage. Symptoms will be intense and cravings for heroin will become more difficult to resist. In addition to anxiety, many people will experience more physical symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and muscle aches.

    Post-Acute Withdrawal

    Once the worst of the withdrawal has subsided, the symptoms will start to lessen. This generally begins a few days after the last dose of heroin was taken. This could start anywhere from 4 to 7 days after, and it could last for several weeks. During this period, most physical symptoms associated with the peak of the withdrawal will have subsided (or at least lessened in severity). However, symptoms like prolonged irritability, insomnia, and ongoing cravings are still common.

    Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

    As you can see from the previous section, the signs and symptoms of heroin can vary based on how far along you are in the process. However, symptoms can generally be separated into three different categories:

    Physical Symptoms

    Physical symptoms are most common during the first few hours or days of the withdrawal and may include:

    • Aching muscles
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Dehydration
    • Stomach cramps
    • Sweating
    • Runny nose
    • Goosebumps
    • Dilated pupils
    • Elevated heart rate or blood pressure
    • Uncontrollable shaking

    Psychological Symptoms

    Psychological symptoms can last throughout the duration of heroin withdrawal, but they may intensify at various times. Some of the most common psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

    • Anxiety
    • Cravings
    • Depression
    • Insomnia

    Behavioral Symptoms

    Behavioral symptoms often include symptoms that may be considered a combination of physical and psychological signs of heroin withdrawal. Here are some of the most common behavioral changes:

    • Restlessness
    • Irritability
    • Mood swings
    • Temporary loss of consciousness
    • Excessive yawning
    • Fatigue
    • Poor concentration

    Co-occurring mental health issues can also affect the symptoms one experiences during a heroin withdrawal. For example, if a person is struggling with bipolar disorder and heroin withdrawal, it could intensify symptoms like mood swings, depression, anxiety, and irritability. The severity of the addiction can also greatly impact the type of symptoms that occur. Therefore, it is important to consider that someone experiencing heroin withdrawal may only experience some of the symptoms outlined above, or even some unique symptoms not included in this guide.

    Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

    The short answer is yes — you can die from heroin withdrawal. However, this should not be taken as a sign that detoxing from heroin is unsafe. As long as you are under the care of trained professionals, the risk of dying from heroin withdrawal is close to zero. However, if you attempt to detox on your own, the risk of death increases substantially.

    So, how could you actually die from a heroin withdrawal? Many medical complications could arise while detoxing without medical supervision, but some potentially fatal situations that could occur during heroin withdrawal include:

    • Severe Dehydration - Since it is very common for heroin withdrawal to cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, it’s also very common for heroin addicts to experience severe fluid loss while detoxing. If you don’t have a medical professional present to provide fluids through an IV, you could pass away from complications of severe dehydration.
    • Cardiovascular Complications - If you have preexisting heart issues, the increases in heart rate and blood pressure could present increased risks to your health. With a medically supervised detox, you can be given medication to reduce these symptoms. If you try to detox on your own, you could experience a fatal cardiac arrest.
    • Choking - Some people lose consciousness while withdrawing, but this doesn’t mean that other symptoms stop. If you lose consciousness or experience extreme confusion during your withdrawal, you could become nauseous and end up choking on your own vomit.
    • Aspiration - Another risk associated with vomiting is aspiration. This happens when vomit enters the lungs, increasing the risk of respiratory complications. Both choking and aspiration are among the two greatest risks to your health during heroin withdrawal.
    • Self-Harm - Lastly, it is extremely common for heroin withdrawal to involve intense bouts of depression and anxiety. Without medical supervision, you could be at much greater risk of causing fatal harm to yourself. This is just part of the reason why it’s so important to seek out professional help when detoxing from heroin.

    It is still important to point out that the risk of death is relatively low during heroin withdrawal. However, this doesn’t mean it is “safe” to withdraw on your own. Why? In addition to the risks outlined above, the risk of relapse is extremely high if you try to detox without professional assistance. If you relapse, this puts you at a much greater risk of overdosing.

    Detox Safely From Heroin With Midwest Detox

    If you want to detox safely from heroin, you absolutely must check yourself into a quality detox clinic. Fortunately, if you live in Wisconsin or close to the greater Milwaukee area, Midwest Detox is the solution. At Midwest Detox, we offer enhanced detoxification methodologies to keep you comfortable and safe while you cleanse your body of heroin and any other toxic substances. Not only is our staff highly trained and knowledgeable on the potential risks of heroin withdrawal, but we are also compassionate and available at any time of day or night to monitor your condition and help you get through the toughest moments of your withdrawal.

    Are you in need of a private drug and alcohol detox center to begin your recovery? If so, Midwest Detox can provide everything you need to detox in a safe, comfortable environment. Visit our site or call us directly at 414-409-5200 to take the first step toward sobriety.