Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms: How Long Do Symptoms Last?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D on May 7, 2020

Heroin withdrawal in itself is not life-threatening but can be very uncomfortable and difficult to overcome on your own. Seeking help from a medical detox program is often the best and safest way to overcome heroin addiction.

Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D on May 7, 2020
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin is an illegal drug that consists mainly of morphine. Most people become addicted to it soon after trying it for the first time. Unfortunately, they often don’t realize how greatly heroin can affect their body and brain until they develop cravings for the drug after using it only a few times.

Luckily, heroin withdrawal symptoms aren’t deadly on their own, but they are very uncomfortable. It helps for those who will be entering a drug rehab program to detox from the substance to know the heroin detox timeline they can expect.

Understanding Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can affect a person in many ways, including physical, psychological, and behavioral. Mild symptoms and moderate symptoms tend to occur during early and late withdrawal, while the most severe symptoms tend to occur during the peak of heroin withdrawal.

Mild Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms: may occur at the beginning of withdrawal and last throughout the detox period.

  • muscle pain
  • insomnia
  • sweating
  • chills
  • runny nose
  • anxiety
  • tremors
  • nausea

Moderate Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms: may occur as symptoms begin to peak, as well as toward the end of withdrawal.

  • vomiting
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • cravings
  • fatigue

Severe Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms: tend to happen during the most severe part of withdrawal.

  • trouble breathing
  • dehydration
  • high sodium levels in the blood (hypernatraemia)
  • heart failure

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline And Duration

Those who want to know how long does heroin withdrawal last can expect a minimum of 10 days for the worst of their symptoms to be over. However, some post-acute symptoms can continue for a year after someone stops using the drug.

If an addicted person can hold on long enough, they can manage to lead a happy and healthy life that is drug-free after completing detox and seeking help in recovery.

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Before they can enter active recovery, they will need support and medical care to make it through the following heroin withdrawal timeline:

Start Of Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms (6 to 12 hours after the last dose)

Heroin only stays in the body for about six hours. After this, a person will have less than 12 hours before their withdrawal symptoms start. During this stage, the symptoms will be fairly mild, such as a runny nose, muscle pain, nausea, and chills.

Peak Of Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms (2 to 3 days after onset of symptoms)

After two or three days have passed on the heroin detox timeline, the physical symptoms are often described as being flu-like. The peak of heroin withdrawal symptoms is when vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and depression usually occur.

These symptoms can cause someone to become dehydrated very quickly, which can lead to high sodium levels in the blood that can contribute to heart failure.

Total Duration Of Symptoms (5 to 10 days)

Most people are able to get through the bulk of heroin withdrawal symptoms within 10 days if they have a severe addiction. Others might be able to make it through the process in only five days.

The total heroin withdrawal timeline for each individual will depend on their physical and mental state at the time they begin the detoxification process and whether they had any special treatments or medications to help them.

Some of the other factors that can affect how long heroin withdrawal symptoms last include:

Detox Programs For Heroin Withdrawal

In order for a person to detox safely from heroin, they should be in a medically supervised setting. This is because the symptoms that occur during the heroin withdrawal process may be too uncomfortable for someone to deal with.

The pain and discomfort could cause them to be tempted to take more heroin as a means of avoiding further symptoms. It is also important to detox in a rehab center because medical personnel will be available to monitor and treat any health issues that might arise, such as dehydration or high blood pressure.

Therapists will also be available to discuss and address the psychological and behavioral side effects of getting through the heroin withdrawal process.

Medication-Assisted Treatment For Heroin Withdrawal

Fortunately, many medications have been approved for use by the FDA to treat heroin withdrawal. Medications can ease the discomfort of withdrawal, stave off cravings, and encourage a person to complete detox.

Medications used in MAT and detox programs for heroin withdrawal include:

Methadone (Methadose)

Like heroin, methadone is an opioid. But it has a longer half-life in the body. In order to use it, a person has to start out with a high dose at first. Then, they gradually decrease the amount they take until they finally run out of the medication in about a week.

Buprenorphine (Suboxone, Zubsolv)

Buprenorphine, which is also sold under the brand name Suboxone, works in a similar way as methadone, but it is an opioid agonist that blocks some of the effects of heroin in the brain. This makes it easier for a person to come off the drug because it slowly diminishes heroin cravings.

Naltrexone (Vivitrol)

Vivitrol works by blocking the effects of heroin. It only stays in the body for a short time, though. It is only meant to be used during the detoxification process when a person is being monitored in a medical setting.

Treatment For Heroin Withdrawal And Addiction

Detoxing from heroin is just the first step in the recovery process. The psychological side of addiction, which affects how long heroin withdrawal symptoms last overall, still has to be dealt with.

It is highly recommended that a person receives individual and group counseling, as well as behavioral therapy, to foster a lasting recovery from heroin.

Residential and continuing care are also important because they offer the long-term support that an addicted person needs. For more information on the heroin detox process or to find a rehab program that works for you, contact us today.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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