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All About Heroin Withdrawal

It may feel like quitting heroin is an impossible challenge, but it is possible after committing to a recovery plan and enduring withdrawal. When you are detoxing from heroin and experiencing withdrawal symptoms, you do not need to and should not be alone. There are medical facilities and health professionals available to help you during withdrawal.

What Causes Heroin Withdrawal

To understand what happens during withdrawal of a drug, it is helpful to know how the drug functions when it is present in the human system. When heroin is used, it binds to opioid receptors in the body, which causes chemicals in the brain to signal the perception of pleasure. While heroin in the human system results in pleasure, the lack of the substance results in anguish and emotional distress. When the body is accustomed to experiencing pleasure from heroin and those pleasure-causing chemicals are suddenly removed, the body experiences the opposite effect. Ending the use of a drug and stopping those chemicals from being released can lead to withdrawal. Rather than the flood of chemicals from heroin causing euphoric feelings in the body, decreasing heart rate, and sedating the user, the individual may instead feel depressed, anxious, and experience an increased heart rate.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms differ from person to person, but generally, they last about a week after quitting heroin. The most common mild withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Uncontrollable teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Cold sweats
  • Chills
  • Excessive yawning
  • Muscle aches

The mid-level severity of symptoms involve:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Chills and goosebumps
  • Lethargy

The more severe symptoms from heroin withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal idealization
  • Hypertension
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Uncontrollable and all-encapsulating cravings for the drug

How Bad is Heroin Withdrawal

The severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms varies from user to user, and they do not hit every person in the same way or to the same extent. Typically, the longer someone has used heroin, the higher their tolerance is and the more intense their withdrawal symptoms will be. The length of time the drug was used and the amount of the drug that was usually used influence how severely the brain and body are affected. When any drug has been consumed consistently, the brain and body become accustomed to the drug influx, adjust, and become dependent. How long the withdrawal takes is influenced by how dependent the user is on heroin.

Personal factors can influence how a person will experience heroin withdrawal. For those currently diagnosed with current or historical mental illness, heroin withdrawal symptoms may be more severe. People with mental health disorder diagnoses are strongly advised to avoid experimental drug use because of the increased risk of side effects, addiction, and difficult withdrawal. Those people with a history of opioid use may also experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Those who have used heroin for only a brief time and in smaller amounts will likely have a shorter withdrawal period than those with prolonged usage.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Heroin withdrawal takes about a week, but, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that in total the symptoms last five to ten days and “estimates that heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6-12 hours of the last dose,” peaking around days two and three. Knowing this timeline helps individuals prepare and seek medical support to prepare for detox.

Detox is

The set of interventions used to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Since withdrawal can peak after a few days of the last dose, detox in a substance abuse treatment center that offers medical detox may be the comfortable way to withdraw from heroin.”

Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Treatment

It is often most comfortable for the withdrawing individual to be supported by a professional and for their family to know that a medical professional is assisting them. Detox in a substance abuse treatment center “often incorporates medications and therapy to help the body and brain recover from its dependence on heroin.” In a medical detox from heroin, it is essential to keep track of vitals, as “blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature levels are all monitored to help keep individuals safe and secure throughout the entire process.”

While it may seem counterintuitive, some drugs can help people withdraw from heroin. In fact, “There are several medications approved to treat heroin dependency, some of which may be used during detox to control the more uncomfortable physical and emotional withdrawal side effects, as well as keep cravings to a minimum.”

These drugs can act as longer-lasting opioids, relieve cravings, and work to alleviate specific symptoms of withdrawal. Health professionals in medical detox facilities may also prescribe anti-nausea medication, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants to patients who are having difficulty with specific severe symptoms.

Issues regulating mood are serious side effects of withdrawing from heroin. This is another reason why a medical detox at a substance abuse rehab facility is vital to overall recovery because “during a medical detox, mental health professionals are also on hand to offer support and assistance.” Therapeutic services, counseling, and support are also critical to getting through heroin withdrawal. Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reveal that “about half of all drug abusers also suffer from mental illness, which can also affect duration and treatment methods during the stay at a heroin detox program as well as throughout substance abuse recovery.” This high statistic shows that mental health professionals play an important role in helping with a medical detox from heroin.

The overwhelming physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal frequently overshadow the emotional consequences, such as depression and anxiety. Emotional withdrawal symptoms often impact individuals who have a history of mental illness or an underlying mood disorder. Anyone withdrawing from heroin should expect to experience emotional withdrawal, regardless of their mental health status, because “when heroin stops being active in the bloodstream, individuals may notice a dip in dopamine levels, which can result in a ‘crash’ of emotions.” A person’s mood can be severely affected by heroin use, and things that used to bring pleasure may no longer do so. After heroin use, things that used to bring the user pleasure cease to do so anymore. The American Addiction Centers report that “not only do vital signs and anxiety levels spike, [but] normal things that used to induce pleasure no longer bring the same joy.”

Treatment in a substance abuse treatment center like Boardwalk Recovery Center is important because it helps clients rediscover the activities that used to please them. Under our care, clients can reconnect with what used to spark joy and are inspired to engage in the world around them. Not to mention that being in a space where other people relate to the feelings and experience of emotional withdrawal helps individuals from feeling alone in their recovery journey.

Seeking Professional Help

At its peak, it may feel like you will not make it through heroin withdrawal symptoms, but the process is not inherently life-threatening. There are specific symptoms to be aware of, especially when it comes to emotional withdrawal. Deep depression from withdrawal can lead to suicidal ideation or even an attempt. Coming off of heroin is challenging, but it is possible with the correct care. It is important to never suddenly stop using without the help and support from mental health or medical professionals. A care team helps to monitor withdrawing individuals and keep them safe during the “comedown” of heroin.

At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we are here to support you on every part of your recovery journey and help you to rediscover the ways you used to enjoy life.

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