Though unlikely, it is possible to die from heroin withdrawal. If left untreated, symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can lead to death.
A person may experience extreme symptoms of heroin withdrawal if they attempt to quit cold turkey, not recognizing the severity of the symptoms.
For others, the effects of a non-medically-supervised withdrawal may be too strong, eventually leading to relapse and potential overdose.
It’s extremely important to receive proper medical care when withdrawing from heroin.
What Causes Heroin Withdrawal Deaths?
When withdrawing from heroin, a person might experience a number of unpleasant symptoms.
A few of these include:
- muscle spasms
- muscle and bone pain
Severe diarrhea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, hypernatraemia (high sodium levels in the blood), and heart failure if left untreated. Any one of those complications can lead to death.
These symptoms usually peak about two to three days after the last use.
The safest way to withdraw is to go through a medically supervised program under the watch of medical professionals.
There are medications and safety measures to ensure a healthy withdrawal when completed in a medical setting.
How Many People Have Died From Heroin Withdrawal?
Researchers have been able to identify heroin withdrawal deaths of incarcerated people from the 1990s and on.
Between 2013 and 2016 there were 10 people ranging in age from 18 to 49 years who died from heroin withdrawal in a U.S. jail.
One woman in 1998 went into heroin withdrawal and showed persistent vomiting, sudden weight loss, and dehydration. She died of hypoxic brain damage caused by a cardiac arrest.
Deaths like this are preventable, but the assumption that the flu-like symptoms of heroin withdrawal are unpleasant but not life-threatening often leads to neglect.
One study found that when jails used continued maintenance treatment, withdrawal deaths decreased by 93%.
Treating Heroin Withdrawal Safely
If you or a loved one want to get sober, there are safe ways to do so. Call our helpline to talk to a representative about the different options in heroin addiction treatment.
You can participate in an outpatient program, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), detox, or another program to fit your needs and lifestyle. Reach out to us to learn 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.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — Overdose Death Rates
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) — What is the scope of heroin use in the United States?
- Wiley Online Library — Yes, people can die from opiate withdrawal