Heroin Withdrawal

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid drug derived from morphine. It is a natural substance taken from the seed pod of the various opium poppy plants grown in Southwest and Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. Heroin can be a brown or white powder or a black sticky substance known as black tar heroin. People sniff, inject, snort, or smoke heroin. Some people mix heroin with crack cocaine, a practice called speedballing [1].

Heroin enters the brain rapidly and binds to opioid receptors on cells located in many areas, especially those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling heart rate, sleeping, and breathing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) [2], heroin is often the first opioid individuals use. In a study of those entering drug treatment for opioid use disorder, approximately one-third reported heroin as the first opioid they regularly used to get high

Heroin can lead to addiction, a form of substance use disorder. Heroin withdrawal symptoms include severe bone and muscle pain, sleep problems, vomiting and diarrhea, and severe heroin cravings. Different types of treatments, including cognitive-behavioral therapies and medication-assisted treatment (MAT), are effective in helping people stop heroin use. However, treating drug addiction should be individualized to meet the needs of the client.

Effects of Using Heroin

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [3], heroin consumption more than doubled among the age group of 18–25 in the past decade. More than 9 in 10 people who used this drug also used at least one other drug. 45% of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

If heroin is abused over a long period of time, a person may suffer from physical and psychological effects. Individuals who use heroin over the long term may develop:

  • Insomnia
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Constipation and stomach cramping
  • Infection of the heart lining and valves
  • Abscesses (swollen tissue filled with pus)
  • Collapsed veins for people who inject the drug
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose for people who sniff or snort it
  • Mental disorders such as depression and antisocial personality disorder
  • Lung complications, including pneumonia
  • Irregular menstrual cycles for women
  • Sexual dysfunction for men
Heroin Withdrawal
If you stop or cut back on these drugs after heavy use of a few weeks or more, you will have a number of symptoms. This is called heroin withdrawal

What is Heroin Withdrawal?

People using this drug regularly (example: daily) over a long period of time are expected to experience heroin withdrawal when stopping or reducing their heroin use. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) [4], In 2018 in the United States, about 808,000 people reported using heroin during the past year. In the same year, about 11.4 million people used narcotic pain relievers without a prescription. Careful planning can assist a person with heroin withdrawal, and this requires professional assistance from experts like addiction specialists and therapists.

Heroin use can result in tolerance to and dependence on the drug. When tolerance happens, it means that individuals need more of the drug to achieve the same effect. Dependence on heroin means that people need to use heroin to prevent withdrawal symptoms. The major risk associated with heroin withdrawal is subsequent overdose due to loss of tolerance.

What Causes Heroin Withdrawal to Happen?

All opioids, especially heroin, can become habit-forming. When you build a tolerance to heroin, you need to take more of it to feel high. Eventually, you can become psychologically and physically dependent on the drug.

Chronic heroin use changes the nerve receptors in your brain. They come to depend on opioids to function. If you stop using heroin or reduce the amount you take, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal symptoms represent your body’s physical response to the absence of heroin.

Can Heroin Withdrawal Be Deadly?

Withdrawing from any kind of opioid can be lethal. That is why the safest way to get rid of this drug from your body (detox) is under medical care. As uncomfortable as heroin withdrawal symptoms are, they aren’t usually life-threatening. However, they are painful and uncomfortable enough to make at-home detox dangerous. It is during an at-home detox that a person starts to crave heroin while also experiencing withdrawal symptoms. To ease their pain, they use heroin. However, now that they are clean, their body is no longer accustomed to the drug. They may return to using the same amount as they previously did, but it can be overwhelming for their body, causing an overdose and death.

Another reason why people die from heroin withdrawal is due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea. Untreated, these symptoms can rapidly dehydrate the body and cause dangerously high levels of sodium to accumulate in the blood (hypernatremia), and the heart can fail. Such incidents happen when people withdraw from heroin on their own. Such deaths can be averted by medical supervision in a professional detox facility.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms usually last about a week. However, the experience is different for everyone. Factors that play a role in how your body reacts to heroin withdrawal include the amount you take during each dose, how long you’ve abused heroin, and how you ingested the drug. Heroin withdrawal symptoms may also be influenced by underlying mental health problems or a prior history of opioid misuse.

One of the many reasons heroin can be dangerous is that it suppresses the normal functions of the central nervous system (CNS). It can impair your breathing, body temperature, blood pressure. Since opioids like heroin bind to opioid receptors in your brain, you can end up with changes in brain chemistry that affect how you experience pleasure and pain. When you go through heroin withdrawal, you experience sensations that are the opposite of the highs you previously enjoyed. Your heart rate can slow, and you may feel anxious or depressed.

Here are some of the most common symptoms:

Fever

Body temperature differs from one person to the next, as well as factors like time of day and menstrual cycle, but usually, a temperature of 99–99.5 F (37.2–37.5 C) is considered to be a fever in adults. A fever is one way your body fights infections and disease, but when you are going through heroin withdrawal, the fever is not serving a helpful purpose in combating infection, so there is unlikely to be the harm in taking steps to control it.

Ask medical assistance immediately if your temperature goes above 103 F (40 C), and doesn’t come down with treatment. If you have a severe medical condition, such as diabetes, heart problem, sickle cell anemia, HIV, or cystic fibrosis; or if you have a seizure.

Heroin Cravings

Most individuals who are undergoing heroin withdrawal experience a strong urge to take more heroin. This is known as experiencing cravings and is very common among individuals withdrawing from many addictive substances. Part of the craving is motivated by the wish to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and part of it is the urge to re-experience the pleasure of the heroin high.

heroin withdrawal timeline
A specialized treatment facility with medically-assisted detox is the safest method for quitting heroin and avoiding relapse

Mood Changes

Feeling anxious, depressed, or irritable, also known as having a dysphoric mood, is a common symptom of heroin withdrawal. Even without a traumatic past, these mood changes would be expected, but many individuals who use heroin experience long-suppressed feelings related to abuse or past trauma when they come off the drug. This is why it is important to have emotional support while you are going through withdrawal. These feelings tend to become less intense once the withdrawal stage is over.

Diarrhea and Stomach Pain

Diarrhea or watery and frequent bowel movements are also common with heroin withdrawal. These withdrawal symptoms may be accompanied by stomach pain caused by spasms in the digestive system. The discomfort of diarrhea stomach pain may make it difficult to go about your regular routine.

Pains and Aches

One of the main roles of heroin works is to block the body’s pain pathways. When you go through heroin withdrawal, there is a rebound effect, and you feel achy, particularly in the legs and back, and feel more sensitive to pain.

Excessive Bodily Fluids

As you undergo heroin withdrawal, you may encounter an overproduction of bodily fluids, such as sweat, tears, and a runny nose. You may also notice your hair standing on end. As with other physical withdrawal symptoms, these responses are part of your body bringing itself into balance.

Nausea and Vomiting

Although these symptoms are distressing, vomiting and nausea are a normal part of heroin withdrawal. It wears you out, makes you feel very uncomfortable, puts you off your food, and keeps you close to the bathroom.

Restlessness and Sleep Problems

Individuals going through heroin withdrawal usually experience restlessness, which, coupled with insomnia and anxiety, can make you feel agitated and tired at the same time. Heroin withdrawal often causes sleep problems, particularly insomnia. Yawning is also common.

Coping & Relief

While heroin withdrawal can be uncomfortable and intense, the worst of the symptoms usually pass within a week. During this time, there are some things that you can do to help yourself feel more comfortable.

When Does Heroin Withdrawal Start?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms begin within the first twenty-four hours (sometimes as soon as four hours) from the last use, peak within 36 to 72 hours, and last seven to ten days for most people. The duration and severity of withdrawal may depend on how long the person used heroin, as well as the amount and method of heroin use. Individuals who use heroin may experience some withdrawal for up to 3 or 4 weeks. While withdrawal is a necessary effort when addressing heroin addiction, there are options available to detox in a comfortable and safe way.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

When heroin enters the body, it is immediately metabolized. This happens so fast that most of the drug is out of the system within 30 minutes. The half-life of heroin is about three minutes. For instance, if someone injects 20 mg of heroin, then 10 mg is left after three minutes, 5 mg after six minutes, etc. This drug will be completely clear from the body in about 15 minutes for many people. However, some individuals metabolize heroin more slowly. In this case, heroin can stay in the system for thirty minutes or longer. Drug tests can measure heroin in blood, saliva, urine, and hair for different lengths of time.

How Do You Taper Off of Heroin?

A tapering regimen is all about lessening tolerance and dependence over time. Taking less and less of the heroin allows the nervous system and the body to self-correct and, eventually, heal itself. By keeping withdrawal symptoms at bay, it is more likely that an individual will continue the recovery process. This is one of the primary reasons replacement therapy is used as well. A person’s environment will play a vital role in deciding how to taper off heroin.

Is Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey a Good Idea?

Quitting cold-turkey is not advised as it is the most dangerous and difficult way to try to address addiction. Medically-assisted detox with withdrawal medications, counseling support, and symptom management make the experience much safer, easier, and more likely to result in a successful recovery.

Quitting heroin “cold-turkey” brings about a speedy onset of heroin withdrawal symptoms, which are very hard to endure. The risk of undergoing a setback during withdrawal is high as the desire to use and stop the symptoms can be overwhelming. When individuals try to self-taper their heroin use on their own, they are rarely successful. A relapse during withdrawal sometimes leads to overdose [5].

Find the Right Addiction Treatment at We Level Up NJ

If you or your loved one is struggling with heroin withdrawal, indeed, help is just a phone call away. Professional heroin addiction treatment is necessary for fast and effective recovery. To learn more, contact us today at We Level Up NJ Treatment Facility. We provide utmost care with doctors and medical staff available 24/7 for life-changing and lasting recovery. We provide an enhanced opportunity to return to a fulfilling and productive life.

Heroin Withdrawal
A medical facility is the safest and most effective place to detox.

Sources

[1] [2] NIDA – https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/heroin

[3] CDC – https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/index.html

[4] NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm

[5] We Level UpHeroin Addiction