Dealing with Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal is something many addicts have experienced on a number of occasions. Most addicts will eventually reach a point where they realize that they’ve had enough and are ready to stop using heroin for good. Unfortunately, the one thing that can hold them back from giving up the drug is the fear of going through heroin withdrawal.

When people give up this drug, it means that their body has to go through a period of readjustment – this is what is meant by heroin withdrawals. As well as physical symptoms the individual will also experience cravings and other mental discomfort because they have become psychologically dependent on the substance – they feel unable to cope without it.

The truth is that things can get quite uncomfortable as the body adjusts to the new situation, but these symptoms are usually compared to a severe case of influenza. Although heroin is a very lethal drug, the process of withdrawal itself is not life-threatening. While it may feel like the individual going through withdrawal is on their death bed, the human body will NOT simply cease to function (as could happen with alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal).

Still, it is strongly advised to seek professional assistance or consider medication assisted detox in order to comfortably & safely endure the process of heroin withdrawal.

Learn More: Signs a Loved One May Be Using Heroin

heroin addiction withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal can be a very uncomfortable process, but it has never been deemed as life threatening by medical professionals. Even still, it is advised to seek professional help in these types of situations if you are capable of doing so.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

The symptoms of heroin withdrawal will vary in severity and may include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings to use again
  • Inability to sleep at night
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Muscle aches and other body discomfort
  • Feelings of depression
  • Goose bumps – this is where the name cold turkey comes from
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Yawning
  • Lack of energy and motivation to do anything
  • Runny nose
  • Eyes may keep on watering
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low blood pressure – this can mean the individual may feel dizzy if they stand up quickly
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Stomach cramps
  • Body cramps
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Easily made irritable

When do Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Begin?

These symptoms usually start within 8 hours of giving up heroin. They tend to peak at about 48 – 72 hours, but the individual will usually still have some symptoms up to a week after their quit.

Post Acute Heroin Withdrawal

Some people will also suffer continued post acute withdrawal symptoms, and these can last a few months –these symptoms will tend to be mild but can include:

  • A feeling like there is a fog in the brain. The individual is not able to think clearly.
  • Difficulties with establishing a normal sleeping pattern.
  • Difficulties managing stress.
  • The individual may feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster some of the time – one minute they are up and the next they are down.
  • Cravings may continue to crop up.
  • Memory problems.
  • Difficulties dealing with other people.
  • Repetitive thinking.
  • Difficulty with concentrating on anything for long periods.

Medications for Heroin Withdrawal

There are certain medications such as buprenorphine or naltrexone that can help people going through withdrawals.

Heroin withdrawal medications work by staving off withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of opioids like heroin within the brain itself. This means that individuals who attempted to use heroin after taking the opioid-blocking meds would not actually experience the effects that heroin would normally have on them. In essence, it prevents them from getting high.

These medications can only be obtained by prescription, and you would need to seek help from an addiction specialist in order to obtain them.

Getting Through Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal can be a very uncomfortable process, but it has never been deemed as life threatening by medical professionals. Even still, it is advised to seek professional help in these types of situations if you are capable of doing so.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

The symptoms of heroin withdrawal will vary in severity and may include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings to use again
  • Inability to sleep at night
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Muscle aches and other body discomfort
  • Feelings of depression
  • Goose bumps – this is where the name cold turkey comes from
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Yawning
  • Lack of energy and motivation to do anything
  • Runny nose
  • Eyes may keep on watering
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Low blood pressure – this can mean the individual may feel dizzy if they stand up quickly
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Stomach cramps
  • Body cramps
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Easily made irritable

When do Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Begin?

These symptoms usually start within 8 hours of giving up heroin. They tend to peak at about 48 – 72 hours, but the individual will usually still have some symptoms up to a week after their quit.

Post Acute Heroin Withdrawal

Some people will also suffer continued post acute withdrawal symptoms, and these can last a few months –these symptoms will tend to be mild but can include:

  • A feeling like there is a fog in the brain. The individual is not able to think clearly.
  • Difficulties with establishing a normal sleeping pattern.
  • Difficulties managing stress.
  • The individual may feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster some of the time – one minute they are up and the next they are down.
  • Cravings may continue to crop up.
  • Memory problems.
  • Difficulties dealing with other people.
  • Repetitive thinking.
  • Difficulty with concentrating on anything for long periods.

Medications for Heroin Withdrawal

There are certain medications such as buprenorphine or naltrexone that can help people going through withdrawals.

Heroin withdrawal medications work by staving off withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of opioids like heroin within the brain itself. This means that individuals who attempted to use heroin after taking the opioid-blocking meds would not actually experience the effects that heroin would normally have on them. In essence, it prevents them from getting high.

These medications can only be obtained by prescription, and you would need to seek help from an addiction specialist in order to obtain them.

Getting Through Heroin Withdrawal

The expectations that people have about their future can have an impact on what they actually experience. If they expect that the symptoms of heroin withdrawal will be severe then this is what they are likely to experience.

This is because they will be overly focused on what is happening with their body, and they will notice every twinge. Their fear of these symptoms will increase their severity because it causes the individual to tense up.

When people feel tense it causes an escalation in discomfort and this will have a snowball effect. This is why it is so important that people feel positive about the withdrawal process. They are not going to have to face anything that they are not capable of dealing with.

heroin withdrawal symptoms
The symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically last anywhere between 3 and 7 days depending on the severity of use.

Distracting Yourself from Heroin Withdrawal

It is no doubt an uncomfortable process, but if the individual is taking some kind of medication to suppress their heroin withdrawal symptoms, it is important to stay occupied and mildly active during this time.

Distraction can make a difference when it comes to dealing with heroin withdrawals. The benefit of doing this is that by not focusing on every discomfort in the body the individual will not be overly disturbed by them.

If people are suitably distracted by something that engages them they may even completely forget about their withdrawals for a period of time. The type of distractions that can be effective for this include:

  • Spending time with other people can be a good distraction so long as these people are not active drug users.
  • Watching TV – particularly comedy shows.
  • Reading a book.
  • Hard exercise can be a great distraction, but it is usually not appropriate for people in early recovery as they may not have physically exerted themselves in a long time.
  • Listening to music can also be a good distraction so long as it is not songs that remind the individual of using drugs.
  • Going for a walk can be another good distraction.

Making Heroin Withdrawal Easier

In addition to taking opioid-blocking medications, there are things that the individual can do to make their transition through heroin withdrawals easier:

  • The individual needs to keep in mind that their withdrawal symptoms are only going to last for a limited amount of time. If they can endure them – especially with the help of opioid-blocking medications – they will be well on their way to a much better way of living.
  • The mental attitude that people have when coming off heroin is crucial. If they feel ambivalent about the decision to quit it will make the process so much more difficult.
  • Entering a drug rehab can greatly increase the individual’s chances of success. They will be in a protected environment and they will have all the support they need to make the process easier.
  • It is worth considering all the many people who have successfully made it through heroin withdrawals and gone on to build a satisfying life. If these people can do it there is no reason why the individual can’t do the same.
  • It can be a good idea to stock the home with plenty of easily digestible food and anything else that might be required. The individual may not feel up to to leave the house while they are in the middle of withdrawals.
  • It is a good idea to have magazines and books to read.
  • It is important that people make an effort to eat a balanced diet as soon as possible as this will speed up their recovery.
  • Companionship can be a big help when going through heroin withdrawal. This is another good reason for why a stay in rehab can be so helpful.
  • Coming off drugs is just the very beginning. The individual will need to have a strategy for how they will deal with life going forward – this involves skills that can be more easily picked up in rehab.
  • Some people find that joining a fellowship such as NA, CA, and AA can be a help to them.
  • It is vital that people have realistic expectations when they kick their heroin habit. If they expect everything to be perfect right away they are sure to be disappointed – it takes time but things will get better.

 

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Justin Baksh

MS, LMHC, LPC, MCAP
Chief Clinical Officer

Meet Justin Baksh, MS, LMHC, LPC, MCAP, the Chief Clinical Officer of Foundations Wellness Center. A former United States Marine, Justin holds a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and is dually licensed in Florida and Pennsylvania. He also has attained the Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional credential.

He has over 10 years of experience working with substance use and polysubstance use disorders, as well as anxiety, depression, life stressors, life transitions, trauma, PTSD, ADHD, ADD, OCD, and a variety of other disorders using cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT, biofeedback, strength-based and solution-based modalities.