Here’s what you need to know about the heroin withdrawal timeline.
Heroin withdrawal–or withdrawal from any opioid prescription painkiller – can be intense. Before undergoing detox, it’s a good idea to know what to expect during heroin detox treatment. While the heroin withdrawal timeline varies depending on a number of factors, it typically starts around eight to 24 hours after the last dose and lasts between four and 10 days. For some people, the opioid withdrawal timeline will be shorter, and for others, it may last considerably longer.
Why Is Medical Detox Essential?
People who try to detox from heroin and other opioids on their own usually go back to using very quickly simply to end the discomfort. While heroin withdrawal isn’t particularly dangerous, it can be excruciating, often involving flulike symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. Dehydration can occur during unsupervised detox if some symptoms are severe, but even if detox doesn’t cause medical problems, going through withdrawal on your own boils down to unnecessary suffering.
Heroin detox treatment through a high quality rehab program will utilize a variety of medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and dramatically improve your comfort during detox. Many medical detox programs offer complementary therapies during detox, including acupuncture, massage, and restorative yoga, which help increase comfort and feelings of wellbeing.
Why Withdrawal Happens
To understand the heroin withdrawal timeline, it’s important to know why withdrawal symptoms occur and why detox is necessary in the first place.
Detox treats dependence, which is different from addiction. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and drug using despite the negative consequences it causes. Addiction is the result of brain changes in the learning, motivation, memory, and reward systems of the brain.
Dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when you stop using. When you heavily abuse heroin, the intense release of dopamine and the changing function of other brain chemicals leads the brain to try to compensate by changing the way it functions. This leads to tolerance, which means that you need increasingly larger doses of opioids to get the desired effects. But as you use more, your brain continues to change in order to compensate. At a critical shifting point, the brain can start to function more comfortably when the drug is present than when it’s not. Then, when you stop using, normal brain function rebounds, and the quick shift in the way brain chemicals are released leads to physical withdrawal symptoms.
The severity of the symptoms and the heroin withdrawal timeline depend on factors like your age, the severity of the addiction, the amount of heroin in your system at the time of detox, and your general state of physical and mental health.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline and Symptoms
Not everyone will experience all of the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and the intensity of the symptoms can range from mild to severe. The most common–and perhaps the most bothersome–symptom of heroin withdrawal is cravings, which can be intense. Medications are given during medical detox and beyond to reduce the intensity of cravings so that you can concentrate on recovering from the addiction.
Early symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically start between eight and 12 hours after you last use, but they can occur earlier or later. These include:
- Runny nose.
- Agitation or anxiety.
- Muscle cramps.
Later stages of heroin withdrawal set in hours or days later and peak around 72 hours. They typically last a few days to a week, but they may end much sooner or last much longer. Late-stage symptoms of the opioid withdrawal timeline include:
- Abdominal cramps and diarrhea.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Cold and hot chills and goosebumps.
Your treatment team will offer medications as needed to improve your comfort.
Detox Isn’t Addiction Treatment
Once detox is complete, brain function has begun to return to normal and withdrawal symptoms subside. Many people feel ready to live without heroin or painkillers, but the fact is, the relapse rate for people who don’t follow up detox with addiction treatment is 91 percent. More than half of those will relapse in the first week of sobriety, and some will overdose, since their tolerance is lower after detox.
Addiction is far more complex than dependence and requires a variety of therapies that help you work through a range of underlying issues. During addiction treatment, you’ll learn essential coping skills for dealing with stress and cravings, and you’ll work to repair the damage done by the addiction and forge a successful path forward.
Medical detox and addiction treatment work for most people who engage with their treatment plan. Treatment improves your chances of successful long-term recovery, and it helps you improve your life on many fronts for authentic happiness and wellbeing well into the future.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.