Heroin Detox and Withdrawal: Understanding Signs and Treatment

Heroin addiction has emerged as a concerning public health issue, affecting individuals from all walks of life with its potent grasp on both the body in mind. By hijacking the brain, heroin provides euphoria to its user, increasing the risk of dependence, addiction, and overdose.

In 2021, there were more than 9,000 fatalities from heroin overdose in the United States. Additionally, over 11% of opioid-related deaths involved heroin use. This article aims to break down the complexity of heroin addiction, detailing the path to recovery, from medical detox to treatment options and more.

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Heroin: A Quick Overview

Heroin is a highly addictive drug that can have devastating consequences for users. It is a synthetic opioid that is derived from morphine, and it is often used as a pain reliever. However, heroin is also a very dangerous drug, and it can lead to addiction, overdose, and death.

Effects of Heroin on the Body

This drug alters the brain’s chemistry, leading to dependence. Over time, the long-term effects of heroin wreak havoc on physical and mental health. Individuals with a personal history of mental illness are particularly vulnerable, as heroin can intensify their struggles, deepening the grip of substance use disorder.

Short and Long Term Effects of Heroin

Short-Term Effects of Heroin

Some of the most common short-term effects of heroin include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Rush of pleasure
  • Drowsiness
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Itching
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Constipation
  • Nausea and Vomiting

Long-Term Effects of Heroin

Some long-term side effects of heroin lead to several health problems like:

  • Overdose
  • Addiction
  • Hepatitis C
  • Endocarditis
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin infections

Spotting signs and symptoms of heroin addiction is crucial for intervention. People may develop an addiction rapidly, struggling with drug cravings and facing the risk factors for heroin. This journey into addiction takes a toll on personal, social, and professional life. However, acknowledging the need for help is the first step toward regaining control.

Some of the signs and symptoms of heroin use and addiction include:

Weight loss, track marks, and bruises are some indications of heroin abuse.

Psychological symptoms include withdrawing from friends and family, neglecting responsibilities, and becoming secretive.

Changes in mood, such as irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Some people become more impulsive and reckless.

Needles, pipes, and baggies are some common paraphernalia used.

If you notice any of these signs in someone you know, it is important to talk to them about your concerns. Heroin addiction is a serious problem, but it is treatable. The sooner someone gets help, the better their chances of recovery from substance abuse.

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Can you die from heroin withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal itself is not typically fatal, but it can be extremely uncomfortable. In some cases, this can lead to complications due to severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. These complications may become life-threatening if not properly managed.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

The severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on factors such as the individual’s level of dependence, the amount of heroin used, and their overall health. Some of the common symptoms of heroin or opioid withdrawal include:

icon depicting nausea and vomiting

Nausea and vomiting

icon diarrhea


icon sweating


icon muscle pain

Muscle aches and pains

Icon Representing An Anxiety Disorder Coupled

Anxiety and agitation

Icon depicting insomnia


icon showing cravings and dependence to drugs

Cravings for heroin

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The duration of heroin withdrawal can vary from person to person and is influenced by several factors, including the individual’s level of dependence, the amount and frequency of heroin use, and their overall health.

Generally, heroin withdrawal symptoms begin within a few hours to a day after the last use and can peak within the first 2 to 3 days. The acute phase of withdrawal typically lasts about 5 to 10 days, but some symptoms, such as cravings and mood disturbances, can persist for weeks or even months.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Initial symptoms may include cravings, restlessness, anxiety, muscle aches, and excessive tearing.

This is when symptoms tend to be most intense. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, sweating, insomnia, and increased heart rate are common during this phase.

Many physical symptoms start to improve, although some discomfort may persist. Cravings and mood swings can continue.

Some individuals experience a longer-lasting phase of withdrawal known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Symptoms can include fatigue, irritability, mood swings, or mental health issues. These symptoms may come and go over a period of weeks or months.

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Seeking treatment for heroin addiction is a courageous step toward long-term recovery. There are several types of treatment options to address heroin addiction.

Medical Detoxification

Breaking the chains of physical dependence starts with medical detox. This is a structured and medically- supervised process that helps individuals safely manage the withdrawal symptoms that occur when stopping the use of a substance like heroin. Heroin withdrawal can be intense and uncomfortable, and medical detox aims to alleviate these symptoms while minimizing health risks.

It’s important to note that medical detox is not a standalone treatment for heroin addiction. It should be followed by comprehensive addiction treatment to address the underlying causes of addiction, develop coping skills, and support long-term recovery.

Inpatient or Outpatient Rehab

Inpatient and outpatient rehab are two common types of addiction treatment programs that can help individuals recover from heroin addiction. Both approaches offer different levels of support, structure, and intensity, and the choice between them depends on the individual’s needs, the severity of their addiction, and other factors.

Inpatient heroin rehab involves staying at a treatment facility 24/7 for a designated period, providing a highly structured and controlled environment that is conducive to recovery. On the other hand, outpatient heroin rehab offers more flexibility as it allows patients to live at home and attend treatment sessions on a scheduled basis.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) involves using medications, depending on the individual patient’s needs, to curb drug cravings and relapse risks. Some common medications used include:

  • Methadone: A long-acting opioid that can help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with behavioral therapy to help patients maintain their sobriety after detox.
  • Buprenorphine: A long-acting opioid that can help to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is often used in conjunction with naloxone, which can reverse an overdose.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is a medication that blocks the effects of opioids. It is often used after detox to help prevent relapse.

How long does it take to detox from heroin?

The length of time it takes to detox from heroin varies depending on a number of factors, including the individual’s level of addiction, the length of time they have been using heroin, and their overall health. However, in general, heroin detox can take anywhere from 5 to 10 days.

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The road from heroin addiction to recovery is a challenging one, but it’s a journey worth taking. By understanding heroin, learning about withdrawal, and exploring treatment options, you empower yourself to take control of your life.

If you or someone you know is struggling, consider reaching out to our Scottsdale Detox Center for comprehensive treatment. A detox program serves as the crucial first step, setting the foundation for a successful journey toward recovery.

Remember, recovery is within reach, and you’re stronger than you know.