Heroin, also known as diacetylmorphine, is a chemically enhanced form of morphine. It affects the brain and increases individual tolerance to the impacts of the drug with time. As abuse of the drug continues, users find themselves requiring more and more doses to reach the same level of euphoria as before. If the user stops using heroin, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. Most people tend to keep using the drug to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which are often uncomfortable and unbearable, especially if not done with the help of a medical practitioner. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are more potent than those experienced by people who suffer from painkiller addiction. Most abused painkillers include hydrocodone and oxycodone.
Length of the Withdrawal
The withdrawal symptoms of heroin are never the same for everyone. How long one has used heroin, the form in which one took it, and the amount that was taken each time will be all factor in during the withdrawal process. This is because these factors determine how much the brain and body were dependent on the substance. The duration and severity of the withdrawal will also be different. For people with a history of opioid withdrawal or any mental health problems, the withdrawal symptoms may become more intense.
Depending on how long heroin users have been dependent on the drug, they are likely to suffer PAWS- Post-acute Withdrawal syndrome whose symptoms include panic attacks, irritability, mood swings, memory loss, and hypersensitivity. PAWS can last between 16 to 24 months. These changes in behavior and mood can last for several months after the withdrawal symptoms have passed. However, with time, the symptoms slowly vanish as long as the individual remains drug-free.
Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
As an opiate drug, heroin overpowers some functions of the body’s central nervous system, such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature regulation, and respiratory functions. It also attaches itself to the opioid receptors, thus increasing feel-good chemicals in the brain. When it’s abused, one experiences a rush of pleasure. During the withdrawal process, the effects are directly opposite of pleasure and intoxication. For example, instead of a reduced heart rate, sedation, and feeling high, the person may start experiencing anxiety, low moods, and increased heart rate.
The withdrawal symptoms differ in severity according to how much the body was dependent. For people who haven’t used heroin for long, the withdrawal symptoms are mild and may not last for long, unlike for those who have abused the drug for years.
Mild withdrawal symptoms
- Runny nose
- Abdominal cramping
- Too much yawning
- Bones and muscle aches
Moderate withdrawal symptoms
- Feeling fatigued
- Trouble focusing and concentrating
Severe withdrawal symptoms
- Dilated pupils
- Hard to feel pleasure
- Cravings of heroin
- Muscle spasms
- Weakened respiration
- Increased heart rate
When individuals are undergoing withdrawal from heroin, some psychological and medical symptoms may cause complications that may lead to death. For example, someone who is depressed may contemplate suicide. One should never abruptly stop using heroin without mental health and medical professionals’ help. This will be essential in the management of withdrawal symptoms.
The Onset of the Withdrawal Symptoms
The withdrawal symptoms may begin from 6-12 hours after having the last dose. Within 2-3 days, they may grow worse and can last up to 10 days. Below is the heroin withdrawal timeline:
The first and second day: Withdrawal symptoms may start as early as 6-12 hours after the last intake. The user may begin developing muscle aches, which intensify with time. They will also experience insomnia, diarrhea, shaking, anxiety, and sometimes panic attacks.
Third to the fifth day: By the third day, the withdrawal will be in full. Patients experience more severe symptoms such as sweating, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and shivers.
Day 6 and 7: After one week, the acute withdrawal will come to an end. Most symptoms will taper off, and patients will feel normal. However, they may experience feelings of tiredness and low energy levels.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome: Some withdrawal symptoms may consistently continue even after acute withdrawal. These symptoms are caused by the body’s neurological changes from its dependence on heroin. Some long-lasting symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Duration of the Detox
As a short-acting opioid, heroin is easy to take effect on the body as well as leave the bloodstream. A detox will help individuals better cope with their withdrawal symptoms. Heroin detoxing without a doctor’s supervision can be dangerous. Even when one’s life is not at risk, heroin withdrawal symptoms are often stressful and uncomfortable and may lead to relapse.
Detoxing in a treatment center is one of the best ways to manage the symptoms, especially as they grow worse with time. When one is undergoing medical detox, the process starts before the drug ultimately leaves the body. This can take between 5-7 days. However, for those who are highly dependent on the drug, this may take up to 10 days.
A medical detox process will incorporate therapy and medications that help the brain and body recuperate from the dependent on heroin. Heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, and breathing will continuously be monitored to ensure that the individual is safe through the detoxing.
Medicines Used During Detoxing
Outpatient and inpatient substance abuse clinicians can prescribe individuals with medication that relieve withdrawal symptoms. These medicines will help to minimize the cravings and withdrawals, thus aiding the recovery process. Below are such drugs:
This is among the most commonly prescribed medication for heroin withdrawals. It helps reduce physical symptoms such as muscle aches, vomiting, and cravings.
This is a low-strength and slow-acting opiate which is used to get individuals off heroin addiction and prevent the withdrawal symptoms. It works almost similar to heroin, but with the less rapid and extreme onset of highness and euphoria that heroin facilitates. It’s also useful for preventing relapse. Methadone is often active in the bloodstream for up to 24 hours, and it’s given once a day as a pill.
This medication is used to block brain receptors that react to opioids, such as heroin. It’s not sedating or addictive. With time, it tends to reduce cravings and works best with individuals who are already done with the detox process. It can also be used to aid in long-term heroin abstinence.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
The fear of withdrawal symptoms makes heroin addiction one of the most difficult cycles to break. However, individuals need to know it’s possible to defeat the addiction. Most rehab centers have both outpatient and inpatient recovery programs to help patients with heroin detox. For outpatient recovery programs, the doctors recommend regular check-ups and counseling sessions to improve mental health. Outpatient heroin recovery users maintain their daily schedules by staying at home. However, their chances of relapse are higher than those in inpatient recovery programs.
Taking a step towards heroin recovery, whether through an outpatient or inpatient recovery program, is one of the most significant steps forward. Doctors and other medical care providers are always willing to help you manage your withdrawal symptoms and avoid a relapse. Get help today!