Heroin Withdrawal

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What is Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal describes the process when the body begins to detoxify from heroin use and the extreme physical and psychological cravings that can result. Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically start within six to 12 hours of the last dose and last about one week in total.

Heroin is an Opiate

Heroin is an opiate, derived from morphine, a natural substance taken from the various opium poppy plant’s seed pod. While it once had common medical applications, it is rarely used in modern medical contexts. Instead, it is now a popular street drug.

Street Terms for Heroin

Street terms for heroin include:

  • Brown
  • Brown Sugar
  • China White
  • Dope
  • Dragon
  • Horse
  • Junk
  • Mud
  • Smack
  • Snowball
  • Tar
  • White Nurse
  • White Lady
  • White Horse
  • White Stuff

While it was once thought that heroin addiction and withdrawal was just an issue for rock stars, it is a growing issue in America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that heroin abuse has doubled for Americans aged 18-25 in the past decade. Furthermore, drug overdose deaths involving heroin rose from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,469 in 2016.

Heroin Activates the Body’s Reward Response

Since heroin binds to opiate receptors, increasing chemicals in the brain responsible for feelings of pleasure, activate the body’s “reward” response.​ This process incentivizes use and dulls the effect of physical and emotional pain – for a short duration of time. Soon, however, the effect wears off, leading the user to crave more heroin to achieve the same relief intensely.

Some suggest that addiction to other opiates, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, contributes to the increase in heroin addiction since heroin may be easier to obtain than some opiate pain medications. Thus, as more Americans struggle with addiction to opiate painkillers, more begin to turn to heroin to obtain the painkilling effects they crave without prescriptions and medical oversight.

Heroin Withdrawal Effects and Abuse

The heroin addiction and withdrawal process is different for everyone. Factors that influence the severity of withdrawal include:

  • usage
  • the potency of the drug
  • health
  • body mass
  • water consumption
  • individual metabolism
  • weight
  • age

How long someone has used heroin, whether it was injected, snorted, or smoked, and how much was taken, will all be factors in the severity of the heroin withdrawal symptoms. Those who have the longest history with heroin, and the greatest amount of usage will experience the most painful withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

However, heroin withdrawal is always serious, and the health implications can be severe. Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Nausea
  • Sweats
  • Vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Tremors
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Muscle aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Exhaustion
  • Impaired respiration

While fatal outcomes, like heart attack and stroke, are not necessarily common in heroin withdrawal, the anxiety, paranoia, and depression that occur during withdrawal can lead to extreme behaviors, like self-harm.

Heroin Detox Without Medical Assistance

Additionally, the likelihood of successful detox without medical assistance is not high, and the symptoms of withdrawal can last for a week or more. Thus, failed detoxification can result in binge usage, leading to fatal outcomes, like a drug overdose.

However, medically assisted detoxification can be successful. In these situations, medical staff will help administer medications to manage painful withdrawal symptoms, ensure adequate hydration, remove possible harmful objects, and provide therapeutic experiences. This type of support can help the difficulty of withdrawal pass quickly and safely, setting up a healthy and effective recovery program.

Mental Illness and Heroin Withdrawal

Due to their pain-relieving and sedative effects, opiates like heroin are common among individuals struggling with mental health disorders. Research indicates that close to 48% of opiate users have experienced depression at some point in their lives.

Furthermore, a recent study revealed that 25% of heroin users in a research group were currently experiencing major depression. In comparison, 26% of the individuals in heroin treatment had a lifetime history of depression. However, while heroin addiction can be an issue for those already coping with depression, evidence suggests that heroin use can worsen depression, even in those who did not previously experience mental health issues.

Heroin Appears to Increase Mental Health Conditions

Heroin appears to increase mental health conditions, such as the following:

  • negative mood
  • difficulty experiencing joy
  • anxiety
  • isolation
  • low energy
  • suicidal ideation

Because heroin slows activity in the brain, the longer heroin is used, the more depressed the brain’s activity becomes. This mental health context is important because depression can impair a heroin addict’s ability to seek treatment or belief that recovery is possible.

However, treatment options available can end the cycle of addiction, helping the brain and body of those struggling with heroin addiction and withdrawal return to a normal, healthy state.

Heroin Withdrawal Treatment

Medical detox is one of the safest and most effective ways to withdraw from heroin. Psychological state, vital signs, breathing, and temperature are all monitored to help keep individuals safe and secure throughout detoxification and ensure that no medical emergencies occur.

Anti-nausea medications, antidepressants, and anticonvulsants may be administered, as well, to reduce some of the more distressing physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal. Mental health professionals are often present, as well, to assist with depression and any mental health crisis that may emerge during the detox process.

Recovering From Heroin Addiction

For example, those recovering from heroin often experience decreased dopamine, the body’s “feel-good” hormone. This is because of removing the artificial pleasure heroin, which had been stimulating the body’s chemical processes. During this time, those in recovery may experience extreme emotions, like depression, anxiety, and anger.

Mental health professionals are equipped to help provide a calming atmosphere and guide those in recovery through this difficult time.

Heroin Rehab

Once detox is complete and treatment begins, some prescriptions can assist with withdrawal and ongoing rehabilitation. Suboxone has been approved by the FDA to facilitate withdrawal from opiates, like heroin, by reducing symptoms and cravings. Studies suggest that up to 60 percent of those on Suboxone were still free from heroin one year later.


Methadone may also play a role in the recovery of heroin addicts by mirroring some of its effects, but in a more gradual way. This allows users to reduce their body’s cravings for heroin. However, methadone can also be addictive, so the treatment team should carefully monitor its use in the recovery process.

These medical detox functions work best as part of a comprehensive treatment program that addresses the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction. Residential and outpatient treatment centers are effective in the long-term treatment of heroin addiction. Given the complex nature of heroin addiction, receiving specialized care in a treatment center is an important step in creating a lifetime of lasting sobriety.

Heroin Rehab at Resurgence Behavioral Health

Resurgence Behavioral Health is here to help you break the cycle of addiction – permanently. We offer diverse treatment options you need to live the drug-free life you deserve. Our beautiful and welcoming rehab center, and our caring and non-judgmental team, will help you develop the skills required to find lasting freedom from addiction. Our goal is to make recovery accessible to everyone.

Payment Information

Do you want treatment but are worried about how you can pay for it? We do accept most insurances and have a team of financial professionals who provide free insurance verification. We also have plans for cash patients.

We will work with you to determine how to move forward with the treatment in a way that works for you and your financial situation.

How to Get Help

Heroin withdrawal is tough, but you are tougher. Do not wait another day to begin your healing journey. Call Resurgence Behavioral Health now.

Addiction Treatment that
Just Works

Individualized treatment programs delivered in a comfortable, relaxed setting promote healing in your recovery journey.