Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms, Medications & Detox
Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that when taken over time produces severe physiological dependence.1,2 Such dependence can make it extremely difficult to stop use due to distressing withdrawal symptoms that result when heroin use is stopped or reduced abruptly.1,3
This page covers what heroin withdrawal is, heroin withdrawal symptoms and timeline, and how to find heroin withdrawal treatment in Texas.
What Is Heroin Withdrawal?
Heroin withdrawal is a characteristic set of signs and symptoms that occur when chronic heroin use is abruptly reduced or discontinued.3 While a desire for pain relief or pleasure may be the initial reason people start using heroin, avoidance of withdrawal symptoms can become the main driver of continued use.4
Physiological dependence means the body becomes accustomed to the presence of heroin in its system. When a person is physiologically dependent on a substance, they need it to feel and function normally. When the dose of the drug is decreased, or its use is stopped completely, it results in withdrawal symptoms.2,5
Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal symptoms may include:1,3
- Abdominal cramps.
- Bone and muscle pain.
- Runny nose.
- Tearing eyes.
The severity of a person’s heroin withdrawal experience can be affected by several factors, including psychological, genetic, and physiological factors.1
How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?
Withdrawal symptoms from heroin usually start within 6 to 12 hours after the last use. These acute withdrawal symptoms typically reach their most intense point within 1 to 3 days and slowly decline over approximately 5 to 7 days. Less acute symptoms can remain ongoing from weeks to months.3
The heroin withdrawal timeline may vary depending on certain elements. Factors that can affect the withdrawal timeline include:1
- How long a person used heroin.
- How much heroin was used daily.
- The time between doses of heroin.
Is Heroin Withdrawal Dangerous?
While heroin withdrawal symptoms themselves are not typically life-threatening, they can be extremely uncomfortable, and cravings for heroin can be intense.1,2
Infrequently, withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea can result in electrolyte imbalances and dehydration. These complications may require therapies with oral fluids containing electrolytes or IV treatments to ensure a person’s comfort and safety.1
Additionally, should a person withdraw from heroin and stop their use for a period of time, their tolerance of the drug diminishes. If they then relapse, their risk for heroin overdose is increased, as they need less heroin to have an effect on the body.1
It is important to use medications during the withdrawal phase to not only help manage withdrawal symptoms but also minimize cravings to reduce relapse rates.1 Having support during heroin withdrawal and beyond can play a vital role in long-term recovery.
Detox for Heroin Withdrawal
Medically supervised detox is a set of processes and interventions that help make acute heroin withdrawal safer and more comfortable for patients.1
During medical detox, doctors and nurses supervise patients 24/7, monitoring symptoms and adjusting treatment as needed. Heroin detox aims to:1
- Fully support a person through withdrawal to a point where they are medically stable and free of heroin and other substances of misuse.1
- Prepare a person for comprehensive substance use treatment, such as behavioral therapies and medication for addiction treatment.1
During heroin withdrawal, stabilization is typically achieved using medication assisted treatment (MAT).1 These medications manage withdrawal symptoms for opioids as well as reduce cravings in an attempt to minimize the risk of relapse.1,2
Supplementary medications may be used for comfort and to manage symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, and diarrhea.1
Heroin Withdrawal Medications
Medications used to manage heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Buprenorphine. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist meaning that it strongly binds to and partially activates the opioid receptors. As a result, opioid receptors are more slowly activated. Buprenorphine reduces withdrawal symptoms and cravings like a full opioid agonist but because it is a partial agonist, it has a lesser effect on euphoria and therefore does not cause a high, regardless of the dose. It also blocks the rewarding effects of any other opioids used, making it a safe and effective maintenance medicine that can help support long-term recovery.1
- Methadone. Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid agonist, meaning that it attaches to and activates the same (opioid receptors) in the brain as other opioids do. When methadone occupies and activates opioid receptors in the brain, it does so more slowly than other opioids such as heroin and fentanyl in an opioid-dependent person. As a result, treatment doses of methadone ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings but does not produce the same level of the euphoric high associated with common opioids of abuse.1
- Clonidine. Clonidine is an alpha-2 adrenergic agonist that is FDA approved for blood pressure control. It blocks the release of norepinephrine therefore decreases the “flight or fight response” in the body. It is routinely used as an off-label medication to help reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms including sweating, hot flashes, anxiety, agitation, insomnia, nausea.1
- Lofexidine. Lofexidine is another alpha-2 adrenergic agonist originally used for lowering blood pressure that is now used to treat opioid withdrawal symptoms. It is approved by the FDA for this purpose and has been proven safe and effective. It is frequently used to manage withdrawal symptoms when opioids are stopped abruptly.6
Addiction treatment professionals will choose which specific medications to use during heroin withdrawal based on each person’s individual recovery needs.
Heroin Withdrawal Treatment in Texas
If you or someone you care about is struggling with heroin use, treatment is available. At Greenhouse Treatment Center—an inpatient rehab near Dallas—we provide comprehensive addiction treatment, tailored to your needs.
From medical detox for heroin withdrawal treatment to outpatient rehab and sober living, Greenhouse offers customized, evidence-based treatment to support you at every phase of your recovery.
Our expert clinical team understands the importance of combining behavioral therapy with medications to best support your long-term recovery. Several therapies are employed to ensure you have the tools needed for sustained sobriety.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.
Take your next step toward recovery:
✔ learn more about our addiction treatment programs.
✔ see how popular insurance providers such as Aetna or Humana offer coverage for rehab.
✔ view photos of our facility.