heroin abuse facts

Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Detox |  Back to top

Tens of thousands of people die annually from opioid overdose in the United States.

So if you or a loved one has a heroin addiction, you may have a lot of questions about how you can get the best help possible and recover from addiction. In an effort to help you better understand the process, we’ll explain some of the most frequently asked questions related to heroin withdrawal.

Why is Heroin Withdrawal Essential to the Recovery Process?

Since heroin users gain a higher tolerance over time, they need a stronger dose every time to reach the same high as previously experienced. Therefore, heroin users begin taking more and more drugs, making it more difficult to break the cycle.

When heroin users stop ingesting the drug, their body asks them for more. Because the user is no longer feeding their addiction, they experience some uncomfortable side effects. This is known as withdrawal.

The reason that withdrawal is essential to the recovery process is that it is the first step to recovery. In order to recover, you must stop taking the drugs that you are addicted to, thus causing withdrawal. Although it is uncomfortable, there simply is no other way to treat addiction.

symptoms of heroin withdrawal

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While the symptoms that heroin users experience during withdrawal may vary from person to person and at different stages of detox, these are the most common side effects:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Cramping
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle Aches

Many of those who have experienced withdrawal compare it to the flu, which lasts only about a week. However, after the first week, there still may some symptoms which are caused by Post-Acute Withdrawl Syndrome (PAWS).

heroin withdrawal timeline

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Here’s what you can expect to experience during the first week of withdrawal and onwards.

Days 1-2

After just 6 hours from the last dose, the symptoms of heroin withdrawal may begin. You’ll experience muscle aches that will intensify in the next 48 hours. You may also start to shake, have severe panic attacks, insomnia, anxiety, and diarrhea.

Days 3-5

After the first two days are over, the symptoms will be their strongest. You may start to sweat, shake, and shiver while experiencing abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting.

Days 6-7

At this point, the symptoms that you were experiencing will become lighter, and you’ll start to feel more normal. However, you can expect to feel tired and worn out. Try to take it easy and maintain a healthy diet at this time.

After the first week

Although you’ll no longer feel as if you have the flu, you will experience some side effects for months. These may include depression, insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, and irritability. These symptoms are caused by changes in your brain after the drug use and withdrawal process.

symptoms of heroin detox

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Back to top

One of the most common complications from withdrawal is severe dehydration. This can be life-threatening if not treated properly. In addition, severe vomiting can cause individuals to inhale stomach contents, leading to asphyxiation.

Even if you do not experience these severe symptoms, the process is very uncomfortable. This discomfort may cause you to relapse. Worse yet, it may even deter you from trying to withdrawal in the future.

Detoxing From Heroin Safely

Because heroin withdrawal is a difficult process to go through, it is recommended to do so in a safe environment. If you choose to withdrawal at home, make sure to have a trusted family member or close friend with you. This can help prevent you from self-harming or relapsing.

If you are not comfortable going through this process at home or you don’t have anyone that can help you, consider going to a detox center. You can be assisted by doctors and trained professionals in either inpatient or outpatient recovery programs.

Detox programs provide significant benefits to patients, including a lower chance of relapse. This alone is a convincing reason to opt for assisted withdrawal instead of going through the entire process alone.

Many people opt for outpatient programs because they can continue with their normal routines and stay at home. However, you’ll have the assistance of doctors and counselors that can help you take care of your mental and physical health.

If you want to make sure that you’ll receive the best care during your heroin withdrawal, consider an inpatient recovery program at an addiction center. Inpatient programs offer patients more assistance from trained professionals, thus lowering the risks of complications.

They also give you a safe place to be if you are worried that you will relapse in your home environment.

After the initial detox period in a detox center, you will receive less care but still have the reassurance of being monitored and cared for by those best experienced. This can take a lot of worry out of the process and help you focus on resting and your recovery journey. For this reason, going through withdrawal in a recovery center is considered to be the best option for heroin addicts.

Choosing a Detox Center for Heroin Withdrawal

If you are addicted to heroin, you’re not alone. In fact, in 2018 alone, about 808,000 people reported having used heroin in the past year. The important thing is not being too ashamed to get the professional help you need and begin the heroin withdrawal process as soon as you are able.

If you’re looking for a detox center, we can help you find one close to you.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Guide to Heroin Detoxification.

Written By Jeff Mahre BA MFA MLIS - January 12th, 2017

Heroin is an illegal opioid that is derived from morphine. It is typically sold in a highly addictive powder form. Heroin is relatively cheaper and easier to obtain than most prescription opioids, making it a dangerous street drug of growing importance. Contact someone who can help you today.