Heroin Withdrawal: Signs and Symptoms
If you stop taking heroin you will experience withdrawal symptoms but, with the right support, you can be free from addiction.
Congratulations on making this life-changing decision, which will set you on the path to a cleaner and more fulfilled life. It’s natural to feel scared but we can show you what to expect when you come off heroin, how to manage and reduce symptoms and how to cope with any long-term side effects.
- Heroin is a powerful and addictive drug. Even those who have used it once or twice can find it difficult to give up.
- Heroin withdrawal symptoms differ depending on how much you’ve been using and for how long, how you’ve been taking it (i.e. injecting, snorting or smoking), whether you’ve tried to come off heroin before, your physical and mental state and what support you have around you.
- Withdrawal symptoms can start just hours after you’ve stopped taking heroin (also known as going ‘cold turkey’), and you can be completely free from addiction in just a week.
- It is very difficult to go through heroin withdrawal alone, especially when dealing with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. With our expert help and friendly supportive environment, we can help you navigate these tricky steps and set you on your way to a life free from addiction.
How Can You Expect to Feel When You Stop Taking Heroin?
Many people with drug addiction are scared to stop because they fear that the withdrawal symptoms are too horrible to endure. We’re not going to lie: they’re not pleasant. Where heroin gives you great highs, stopping can give big lows. Where you had euphoria, you may get low mood and depression; that feeling of peace and calm could be replaced with anxiety and agitation.
The good news is, that in many cases, withdrawal symptoms don’t last long. The more severe effects tend to continue for around one week, and with the right support, you can minimise the effect they have on your body and brain. Remember, stopping using heroin is always better than continuing. Heroin has severe long-term medical consequences and can damage your life and relationships.
If you or a friend or family member and let you know more about Castle Craig’s residential rehab programme. Please call our 24-Hour Helpline: 01721 728118.
When you stop taking heroin, you can expect to experience some or all of the following physical withdrawal symptoms:
- Nausea and vomiting
- High temperature and fever
- Excessive sweating/ Shivering and shaking
- Muscle ache and bone pain
- Diarrhoea/ Excessive tiredness
- Headaches/ Restlessness
- Heart palpitations and Stomach ache
In addition to the physical withdrawal symptoms, you may find yourself experiencing a range of psychological symptoms during this stage.
- Cravings for more heroin
- Low mood and depression
- Anxiety and feeling on edge
- Panic attacks/Paranoia/ Memory loss
- Confusion and feeling agitated and irritable
- Lack of concentration
- Insomnia/ Nightmares
Any and all of the above are completely normal as your brain and body respond to the drug leaving your system.
What Can You Expect if You’ve Been Taking Heroin for Years?
If you’ve been a long-time user of heroin and developed a severe drug addiction, then it’s likely your dependence has grown, and you may suffer from acute withdrawal symptoms. This means as well as the effects listed above you may develop delirium tremens, which are known as the DTs.
This can lead to uncontrollable shaking and experiencing visual and audible hallucinations. As well as seeing things, you may also hear voices or unusual sounds, feel very confused, sense your heart beating very fast and even experience seizures, or ‘fits’.
You may feel that you’re going mad, or dying. You’re not, it’s just that your drug addiction has taken a toll on you, and your body is struggling to accept it is leaving, for good.
How Long Will Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal Last?
Once you’ve made the decision to stop taking heroin, and your body starts its detox, the effects of which are almost instant. Symptoms start a few hours after your final dose. This is the ‘come down’, when you start to feel the best way to alleviate this is by taking more heroin.
One to three days: Withdrawal symptoms become more intense, peaking between 48 and 72 hours after your last dose, and they subside within a week. In these two to three days after your last dose, you will feel at your lowest ebb and be tempted to reach for t heroin.
Three to seven days: The severity of withdrawal symptoms will lessen and should subside after around a week. At this point, you should feel a lot better, although it’s natural to still feel tired and a little weak.
Seven days onwards: People with chronic and long-term drug addiction may experience side effects such as depression or mood swings for months or years. This is called post-acute-withdrawal symptom or PAWS. You may need help for longer but rest assured the help is there.
Where is the Best Place to Detox from Heroin?
When the heroin leaves your body after a long period of drug abuse your body will begin the process of detoxing and eliminating the drug from your system. Deciding to do this without medical help and advice can be dangerous, especially if you attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
Once you detox from heroin, your tolerance decreases, which puts you at a much greater risk of overdosing should you relapse.
Detoxing from Heroin at Home
It is difficult to detox from heroin at home, especially if you’re living alone, as you may feel you have no one to talk to, or look after you when symptoms are at their worse. Before you start, tell your GP or pharmacist what you are doing and stock up on over-the-counter medicines that may alleviate some of the symptoms you know to expect, such as stomach ache and headache.
For people with severe drug addictions, detoxing from home is not recommended. However, for many, there are no alternative options. Opioid withdrawal can be especially unpleasant if not medically managed, so if you can, let a family member or friend know so they can check in with you, and you can get in touch if you’re feeling particularly low. Ensure you have enough food in case you feel too unwell to go out. Eating and drinking can be difficult if you feel sick but try and keep hydrated and well-nourished.
It is important you feel safe and comfortable while detoxing at home, as it is difficult. Research has shown that it can take 3.6 attempts to be successful. Now is the time to treat yourself so, before you start, make a list of the shows you want to see on Netflix or splash out on your favourite foods. Preparing a comfortable environment will make the experience a little easier.
Detoxing from Heroin with Medical Supervision
The safest way to detox is under the supervision of trained experts in heroin addiction and withdrawal. Detoxing as an inpatient in a specialist centre, such as Castle Craig, has a greater success rate.
Not only do our experts understand what you are going through and can offer the appropriate medication to alleviate some of your symptoms, we can also monitor any complications (i.e. if the low mood associated with withdrawal is putting you at risk of harm).
However, we do understand that some people suffering from drug addiction may not want to, or be able to, detox in such an environment.
Which Medicines Can Help You Get Off Heroin?
You can be prescribed medicines that mimic the ‘highs’ of heroin but are far less damaging to your brain and body.
The most common is methadone, which you take orally, in carefully controlled doses. This is a slower process than going cold turkey and over time the amount of methadone you take reduces until you can get off it completely. By doing this, you will avoid many of the symptoms associated with withdrawal, although you may have constipation and feel sick, cold and sweaty.
If you do take methadone, you should avoid alcohol and make sure you don’t exceed your prescribed amount as you may overdose.
Another heroin substitute is buprenorphine, which is taken in tablet form. Whether you are offered this or methadone depends on your own health and your addiction. Your addiction treatment provider will advise.
Naltrexone is also available. Again, a doctor or medical expert will decide which medication is best for you. It is, however, essential that these are taken when you have stopped taking heroin completely. Combining the two drugs can have serious consequences.
How to Get Help for Heroin Addiction
It’s important that you don’t deal with drug addiction alone. There are many places to find help and support including your GP who may be able to signpost you to local organisations and drug treatment services.
You may feel that the best course of drug addiction treatment for you is to enter rehab. Residential rehab is considered the most effective form of addiction treatment for anyone with a substance abuse problem. You can contact clinics directly to discuss the next steps.
Once you have completed detox or weaned yourself off methadone it does not mean you are ‘cured’ of your addiction and no longer need help. You will need ongoing support to prevent the urge to relapse. At this stage, it’s important to look at what made you take heroin in the first place and see if the trigger (which could be a family breakdown or mental health issues) can be explored and treated.
Drug addiction may have also had a damaging effect on your life, work and relationships. If you have particular needs, such as housing, or dealing with alcohol dependency, seek out organisations that may help support you. You can find a list of useful ones here.
Support Groups for Heroin Addiction
Support groups are a good way of meeting people struggling with similar addictions. You can share personal experiences, and this reassures you that you are not alone. It is possible to join support groups while going through the detox period or shortly after it has been completed.
Dealing with drug addiction with other like-minded people can produce better results as you resolve jointly not to relapse, and support each other if you are feeling vulnerable. In some cases, friends, family and loved ones can attend the groups which can help them understand what you are going through.
Counselling for Heroin Addiction
Counselling, either one to one, or in a group, is useful as it can help you develop strategies to ignore cravings and manage stresses that life may throw it you, which previously may have been a trigger for you to start using heroin.
Again, counselling and talking therapies can start while you’re in the detox period, so you are supported at the time when you are most vulnerable to relapsing. There are many types of therapies and a counsellor will settle on one that suits you and the reasons behind your addiction.
Outpatient Rehab for Heroin Addiction
Attending outpatient rehab means you don’t live in or stay the night and suits those who have to remain in the family home or can’t take time off work.
You attend treatment sessions and still have access to doctors, therapists, advice, peer group support, and your recovery is closely monitored, but you do this while carrying on with your own life. Your employer, family or friends may not even know you are in rehab.
Residential Rehab for Heroin Addiction
Inpatient addiction treatment, which means you move into a rehab centre, such as Castle Craig, and live as a resident while your detox takes place, is more successful than being treated as an outpatient.
You are 100% focused on your recovery with no outside distractions such as work stress that may trigger you to crave heroin or friends who may encourage you to return to the drug.
Castle Craig provides treatment for substance abuse including heroin addiction. Our programme consists of a medically supervised detox followed by evidence-based therapies designed to address the underlying causes of addiction.
Because addiction recovery is a lifelong process, your relationship with Castle Craig doesn’t end when you complete residential treatment. Before you leave, you’ll receive a customised, two-year continuing care plan so you can successfully continue into a meaningful and inspired life in sobriety.
If you think you may be addicted to heroin, recovery is within your reach. A fulfilling and rewarding life is possible no matter how hard you may be struggling with heroin right now—contact us today to learn how we can help.
Frequently Asked Questions About Detoxing From Heroin
I’ve tried to come off heroin before and it hasn’t worked. Will it work this time?
Yes. With the right treatment and support, you can kick your heroin addiction even if you’ve been unsuccessful before.
I’m scared of the withdrawal symptoms. Is there any way I can avoid them?
Yes. Substituting heroin for prescription drugs such as methadone can reduce withdrawal symptoms. However, this process is best supervised by professionals and you should not attempt to obtain or use methadone without a prescription.
Can you die from heroin withdrawal?
While heroin’s withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant, they can also be dangerous if not managed properly, which is why it is always recommended that you seek expert treatment and support.
What are the chances of me relapsing?
If you continue to receive professional support after you’ve come off heroin, you will reduce your chances of relapsing.
Will everyone know I’m coming off heroin?
Not if you don’t want them to. It is possible to go through the detox process without anyone knowing.
Will detoxing from heroin damage my body?
Heroin addiction damages your body and brain. The best thing you can do is get off it as soon as you can. It is very unlikely that heroin withdrawal symptoms will cause lasting damage, however, continuing to use can result in life-changing physical and psychological symptoms.
How can I help someone who is addicted to heroin?
Confronting a loved one about their drug abuse can be very challenging. It’s important you talk to them without getting angry. Explain that there are many addiction treatment options out there and offer to support them in finding help.
- Noble, A, Best, D, Man, L-H, et al, (2002), Self-detoxification attempts among methadone maintenance patients – What methods and what success? Addictive Behaviours: 27(4): 575-84
- Goldstein, A, (1972), Heroin Addiction and the Role of Methadone in its Treatment, Arch Gen Psychiatry: 26(4): 291-297
- Boyce, S H, Armstrong P A R, Stevenson J, (2003), Effect of Inappropriate Naltrexone Use in a Heroin Misuser, Emergency Medical Journal: 20: 381-382