Recovering From Heroin Addiction | Heroin Recovery Timeline

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 6, 2021

Recovering from heroin addiction is a lifelong journey. Understanding what to expect from heroin recovery can be helpful for those who are recovering from addiction and their loved ones.

Heroin Recovery Timeline | Recovering From Heroin Addiction

Heroin use disorder affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. While addiction can feel like a lifelong sentence, this isn’t the case. Many people can and do recover.

Overcoming heroin use disorder isn’t easy, but it is possible. For most, this requires some form of treatment, such as medication-assisted treatment or a drug rehab program.

Addiction recovery is a journey. Like any journey, there can be bumps in the road.

Understanding what this journey can look like can be helpful for people who are in early recovery from addiction and their loved ones who are supporting them.

Learn more about heroin treatment programs

Understanding The Heroin Recovery Timeline

Recovering from heroin addiction is a multi-step process. It’s not quick or easy, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone.

Multiple models have been created to describe what the process of recovery is and what the average recovery timeline can look like.

One four-stage model from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • beginning treatment: 0-90 days
  • early recovery: first few months
  • maintaining recovery: first few years
  • advanced recovery: 5+ years

While this four-stage model doesn’t apply specifically to heroin addiction, identifying steps this way can be helpful.

The timeline for when these stages occur, however, can vary. Each person’s own unique experience with addiction can influence both the treatment process and their recovery journey.

What Factors Can Affect The Timeline For Heroin Addiction Recovery?

Various factors can affect how long it takes for a person to feel secure in their recovery.

At the top of this list is the strength of a person’s support system, which can be crucial for preventing relapse.

Factors that can affect the recovery timeline include:

  • access to addiction treatment
  • types of treatment received
  • having co-occurring disorders
  • duration of heroin use
  • severity of heroin addiction
  • having stable housing
  • having structure

Healing from addiction isn’t a solitary act. While it may not take a village, having professional and social support in recovery can be crucial to a person’s success.

In addition, having access to basic needs such as safe housing, food, and medication can all be influential factors in a person’s progress.

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Challenges In Heroin Addiction Recovery

The journey towards heroin recovery can come with a set of challenges. The first challenge is withdrawal, which can be treated with medication and supervision in a clinical setting.

Additional challenges in heroin addiction recovery can include:

  • heroin cravings
  • dreaming about heroin
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • depression or anxiety
  • accessing ongoing treatment
  • coping with triggers during times of stress

With support, facing challenges in recovery is possible.

This can help you feel more secure in your ability to maintain recovery as you become better accustomed to managing these hurdles in supportive ways.

How To Block And Prevent Heroin Cravings

One of the challenges that can come up in early recovery from heroin addiction is having cravings. This is normal but can nonetheless be a difficult part of the process.

Medications for opioid use disorder—like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone—are commonly used to help block and prevent heroin cravings in addiction recovery.

If you are not on one of these medications, consider talking to a doctor or counselor about starting one of these medications to curb cravings.

Heroin Use Dreams In Recovery

Are you having dreams that you’re using heroin again? If so, you’re not alone. Dreaming about past heroin use or using heroin again isn’t uncommon.

One of the questions that accompanies this phase is what this means. First of all, dreaming about using heroin again isn’t a predictor of relapse.

Dreaming about heroin can make some people feel guilty, embarrassed, and ashamed, but the truth is that this is natural and normal.

Potential causes of relapse dreams might include:

  • being in early recovery
  • experiencing high levels of stress
  • ambivalence about recovery
  • experiencing cravings for heroin

Research shows that for many, dreams about relapse generally become less frequent over time.

If these dreams become disruptive or upsetting, it may be worthwhile to discuss with a counselor or bring up in a support group setting to learn how others have handled these types of dreams.

Insomnia In Recovery From Heroin Addiction

Another challenge that people can face in early recovery from heroin is insomnia. Insomnia is one of the most common symptoms experienced during drug withdrawal.

Opioids like heroin can affect sleep regulation due to their effects on the brain. During acute withdrawal and beyond, falling asleep naturally may be difficult.

For some people, falling asleep and staying asleep will become easier with time. For others, it may require an over-the-counter or prescription sleep-aid, or a non-pharmaceutical strategy.

If you or a loved one is having trouble sleeping after getting off heroin, consider talking to a doctor about recommended treatment options.

Heroin Recovery Rates: Percent Of People That Relapse

Relapse after getting off heroin is an understandable concern. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 to 60 percent of people with substance use disorders relapse.

But relapse doesn’t have to mark the end of a person’s recovery journey. While many people view relapse as a failure, what it can better be understood as is a learning opportunity.

People are more likely to relapse if they discontinue their treatment, don’t seek support when they’re struggling, or if they experience an unexpected trigger that thwarts their progress.

Getting back on a positive path forward after relapse is possible. How a person responds to a relapse is just as, if not more, important than the relapse occurring in the first place.

Read more about relapse during heroin addiction recovery

Tips For Getting Back On Track After Relapse In Heroin Recovery

Getting back on track after a relapse is possible. Hitting bumps in the road is common and it doesn’t have to set a person back to where they started.

Consider the following tips for getting back on track after a relapse:

  • Reach out to your counselor, doctor, or treatment team immediately
  • Remove yourself from the physical environment in which you returned to your drug use
  • Consider calling a friend, family member, or other trusted loved one to seek support
  • Talk about it: don’t keep it inside or try to hide it
  • Be honest with yourself and others about why and how it happened
  • Show yourself compassion and don’t beat yourself up about lapsing

Heroin relapse can be dangerous for people who have detoxed. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of a heroin overdose after relapsing, seek medical attention right away.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Heroin Addiction?

Recovery is often described as a lifelong journey. Withdrawal symptoms can last up to a week, or sometimes longer in the case of cravings, insomnia, and low mood.

But recovery is not a fixed destination. There’s no metric for determining when a person is “recovered”. Recovery is a highly personal process.

Feeling secure in your recovery can take anywhere from a few months to years. Recovering from the effects of heroin addiction on the mind and body can also take time.

Begin Your Heroin Addiction Recovery Journey Today

Recovery is a chance for people with substance use disorders to explore new and more fulfilling opportunities in life that support their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

This begins with seeking help. If you or a loved one is addicted to heroin, call our helpline today to find a heroin addiction treatment program that’s right for you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 6, 2021

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