Heroin is a synthetic opioid derived from morphine, found naturally in opium poppy plants. Heroin works by affecting the opioid receptors in the brain, which causes feelings of pleasure, pain relief, and calmness.
It is a powerful substance that can quickly lead to physical dependence after repeated use.
If you have become physically dependent on heroin, there may be some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you quit. They may even occur after some heavy, rapid usage (known as binging.)
For most people, heroin withdrawal is a terrifying experience. As a result, many people desire to stop taking the substance but cannot do so.
The reason for this is that the withdrawal symptoms are too unpleasant to endure. The good news is that thousands of people successfully detox from heroin and navigate their way through withdrawals each year. While it is not fun, it is very possible.
Suppose you are interested in stopping heroin but are struggling on your own. In that case, there are benefits to learning about heroin withdrawal. Fortunately, there are many different treatment options available to ease some withdrawal symptoms and allow you to cope with them.
Choosing to live in recovery can be scary, so let us examine what heroin withdrawal is and some of the common symptoms that come with it. The more you know about what to expect, the easier it will be to get through your recovery.
Table of Contents
What Is Heroin Withdrawal and How Does It Occur?
Heroin withdrawal is a set of painful physical and emotional symptoms that someone endures when they abruptly stop using heroin.
If you have never experienced opioid withdrawal, it may be tough to comprehend heroin withdrawal.
A few things can happen when an opioid is introduced to the brain’s reward system.
First, the brain gradually gets accustomed to the chemical, requiring increasing amounts to achieve the same euphoric “rush.” When you do not have the substance, your brain will create cravings to make you seek it out. Finally, until the substance is reintroduced, the brain will cease to function with its normal level of various neurochemicals, resulting in terrible withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin withdrawal looks different for different people. The length of time that someone has used, and the amount consumed, plays a role in their withdrawal symptoms severity.
Suppose that you are a long-term heroin user. Your withdrawal symptoms would be much more intense and last a few days longer than others who have not had such a long time of dependence.
There are many risks of abruptly discontinuing heroin. One example is that, when withdrawal symptoms arise and you are desperate to relieve them, you may opt to use more than usual and overdose.
Because heroin withdrawal is unpleasant, taking a heavy dose may seem sensible. However, some people who are overdosing are only trying to avoid experiencing withdrawal.
Heroin overdoses are becoming more prevalent across the nation.
For example, heroin was involved in around 18% of all drug overdose deaths in Tennessee in 2019.
In addition, it is a dangerous opioid with overdose risks and many unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms of withdrawal usually begin to appear within six hours of the last dose. However, some people may experience symptoms as soon as a few hours. In contrast, others experience the worst symptoms within a couple of days.
Most people will feel at least some symptoms at intense levels during the withdrawal process.
Some of the common withdrawal symptoms of heroin may include:
- Stomach pain
- High blood pressure
- Unpredictable moods
- Hot and cold flashes
This is not an exhaustive list of withdrawal symptoms, and each person will have a unique withdrawal experience.
Mild Symptoms of Withdrawal
Each person may feel different symptoms of withdrawal at different severities. What may be mild to some is severe to others.
Typically, however, these are some mild reported symptoms that can occur:
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
- Hot and cold flashes
Moderate Symptoms of Withdrawal
After mild, there is a step up to some more moderate symptoms of withdrawal from heroin.
Some moderate symptoms may be:
- Trouble concentrating
A person with moderate symptoms of heroin withdrawal may not want to get out of bed and may not go to work.
Severe Symptoms of Withdrawal
Heavy use of heroin or long-term drug consumers may suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms.
- Increased heart rate and breathing rate
- High blood pressure
- Breathing difficulties
- Drug cravings
- Restless legs or arms
- Extreme hot and cold flashes
- Rapid mood swings
Again, not every person will have all these symptoms and may feel them to different degrees. However, one thing that is common to most who suffer from heroin withdrawal is the symptom of extreme drug cravings.
Cravings for Heroin
Cravings for heroin are more intense for some than others.
The brain will store memories, especially memories that cause feelings of pleasure and well-being. Because the brain craves what makes us happy, memories will encourage us to seek out these things.
Dopamine is released whenever we experience something enjoyable. Dopamine is a motivating aspect of drug cravings that our brain utilizes to seek pleasure. So, to our brains, feeling good equates to using heroin and vice versa.
Despite the negative consequences of drug use, the brain’s desire for heroin is strong enough that many people will continue to use the substance.
Cravings are powerful urges that the brain produces, and they keep many people using. So, let us look at how it can alter the brain in other ways.
Heroin Use and How It Affects the Brain
Opioid receptors can be found in several parts of the brain. Some of the areas include those that allow humans to experience pain, pleasure, tension, and other biological functions.
These opioid receptors will then produce natural opioid chemicals to respond to pain. Heroin will bind to these areas in the brain and lead to a flood of dopamine throughout the body. This dopamine flood creates a sense of euphoria and well-being while using heroin.
However, after a period of extended synthetic opioid use, the brain will stop producing the chemicals on its own. So, the brain produces less dopamine and other neurotransmitters than it usually does.
When someone quits taking the heroin that their brain craves, they will experience withdrawal symptoms.
The immediate feelings from heroin are not worth the negatives. Another negative that heroin causes in the brain is that it slows down breathing to dangerous rates. If there is not enough oxygen getting to the brain, the brain cells will begin to die.
Without oxygen to the brain long enough, a person can overdose on heroin. Often overdosing happens because they stop breathing.
Heroin overdoses are on the rise across the United States.
In Tennessee, the rate of heroin overdoses increased from 3.3 in 2015 to 5.9 in 2019, with counts, therefore, increasing from 205 to 380.
If you are trying to stop taking heroin, you might wonder how long withdrawal symptoms last.
How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?
It is essential to consider that no two people will have the same experience with heroin withdrawal symptoms. The initial comedown phase usually begins 6 to 12 hours after the last dose of heroin has been taken.
If you have been using for a long time or in greater doses, you may experience withdrawal symptoms sooner.
Most of the time, symptoms will ease up after about a week. However, some people may still feel withdrawal symptoms much longer.
A few other risk factors make individuals more susceptible to more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Some of these risk factors could include:
- The method of ingestion
- The amount dosed
- How long someone is dependent on it
- Personal history or family history of substance use or alcohol use disorder
- Personal history or family history of mental health condition
Your withdrawal symptoms may not be the same as someone else. The good news is that there are treatment options to help assist with the cravings and withdrawal from heroin use.
What Are the Medications and Treatments for Heroin Withdrawal?
Withdrawal symptoms are not typically life-threatening but experiencing them can make you feel nauseous and uncomfortable. Fortunately, treatment solutions are available if you are ready to stop suffering from heroin withdrawal and begin your recovery.
Everyone’s road to recovery is unique, just as no two withdrawal symptoms are alike.
At ReVIDA Recovery®, we tailor a heroin addiction recovery plan to your specific needs.
Our treatment plans will include medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and outpatient treatment. Our individual and group therapy work together with our MAT treatment medications to help make detoxification from heroin much easier on you.
Suboxone®, a medication used to treat heroin and opioid addiction, is part of our MAT program. Suboxone® will relieve withdrawal symptoms and cravings, allowing you to focus on what matters most: your recovery.
Suboxone® is an opioid antagonist that combines Buprenorphine and Naloxone. It inhibits the effects of other opioids by preventing them from activating receptors. Withdrawal symptoms and cravings are successfully reduced with the help of this medication.
If you or a loved one is struggling with heroin use, you do not have to face the battle alone.
To take the first step toward a successful recovery, call ReVIDA Recovery® at (423) 631-0432 right now.
FAQs About Heroin Withdrawal
What is heroin’s mechanism of action in the human body?
Heroin affects opioid receptors throughout the body, not just the ones in the brain. This leads to slowed breathing, potential unconsciousness, experiencing concentration issues and difficulty moving, alongside stomach issues and itchiness.
Is heroin a good stress reliever?
In the beginning, heroin will produce feelings of relaxation and pleasure. But initially, many people use heroin for stress release. Unfortunately, after the rush of intense pleasure subsides, the adverse effects of heroin use will cause more stress than relief.
Is throwing up a withdrawal symptom?
Throwing up can be a withdrawal symptom. It can also mean that someone has taken too much heroin that it has caused them to become ill.