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Stew Broward
min read
Heroin addiction can feel like being trapped in a dark tunnel with no light at the end. But no matter how deep the addiction, there is always hope. With determination and the right support, individuals can break free from heroin’s grasp and reclaim their lives.
Read on to learn how you or your loved one can embark on the winding road to freedom from addiction.

Understanding Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin strongly impacts the brain in ways that make it hard to stop using. It interacts with the opioid receptors, causing euphoria and relaxation. Using it rewires the brain’s reward system.
This leads to cravings and dependence. Understanding heroin’s effects on the brain can help people in recovery be vigilant. It helps them avoid relapse.
Detox marks the first stage of heroin recovery. It involves the body clearing itself of the drug. It also involves coping with severe withdrawal symptoms. Both physical and psychological symptoms happen as the brain adjusts to being sober. Understanding what to expect can help people prepare.
These opioid receptors are normally activated by the body’s naturally occurring endorphins. However, morphine from heroin activates them much more strongly, flooding the brain with dopamine – a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. This surge of dopamine is what causes the initial euphoric high or “rush” felt after taking heroin.
If someone uses heroin repeatedly, the brain starts to adapt to the unnaturally high dopamine levels. It will make fewer natural endorphins and lower the number of opioid receptors. This is an attempt to achieve balance. It leads to tolerance – needing more heroin to get the same high.
It also causes dependence. When heroin use stops, opioid withdrawal happens. There are negative emotions because of the low dopamine activity.

Physical and Psychological Withdrawal: Stages of Heroin Detox

Both physical and psychological symptoms occur as the brain adapts to sobriety. Understanding what to expect can help individuals prepare.

Physical Symptoms

  • Flu-like symptoms – muscle aches, nausea, vomiting
  • Insomnia and restlessness
  • Severe cravings and drug hunger
  • Muscle spasms and leg kicks
  • Profuse sweating and chills
  • Diarrhea and abdominal cramping
  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure

The physical withdrawal symptoms come from the brain’s chemical changes as it gets used to being sober. With less opioid activity, the body makes more norepinephrine.

This leads to the “fight-or-flight” response like sweating, fast heart rate, high blood pressure, etc.

Lower dopamine and serotonin also cause bodily discomfort and pain sensitivity.

Medically-assisted detox can provide medications to alleviate some physical withdrawal symptoms. However, even with mediation, individuals should expect an uncomfortable detox process. Knowing these symptoms are temporary can help them prepare mentally. Staying hydrated, resting, and getting proper nutrition can also ease the body through this difficult phase.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Depression, anxiety, irritability
  • Inability to feel pleasure or joy
  • Drug cravings and obsessions
  • Difficulty concentrating and impaired cognition
  • Insomnia and vivid nightmares
  • Mood swings and emotional volatility

In addition to physical discomfort, individuals undergoing heroin detox often experience psychological symptoms as well. The lack of dopamine activity leads to depression and anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. Lower serotonin contributes to anxiety and irritability.

The psychological cravings for the drug can also be intensely difficult to manage. Users may obsessively think about using again to make the withdrawal symptoms go away. There may be a sense of boredom and emptiness without the heroin high.

Therapy and counseling can help individuals work through the psychological impact of detox. Support groups also provide understanding from others going through the same struggles. Over time, the brain will recalibrate its neurotransmitters and the psychological symptoms will subside.

Heroin Detox Timeline: The Duration of Heroin Withdrawal

The heroin detox timeline varies across individuals depending on unique physiology and other factors. However, the stages usually progress as follows:

Early Withdrawal

This starts 8-12 hours after the last heroin use. Early symptoms like anxiety, cravings, sweating, and muscle aches emerge.

Acute Withdrawal

Occurs 1-3 days after last use. Flu-like symptoms peak and cravings intensify. Insomnia, nausea, and diarrhea may occur.

Post-Acute Withdrawal

Lasts up to 3 weeks. Less intense but still difficult physical and psychological symptoms. Cravings and depression tend to persist.


Here is a table summarizing the usual heroin detox timeline and associated symptoms:

Timeline Withdrawal Stage Symptoms
8-12 hours Early Withdrawal Anxiety, drug cravings, sweating, muscle aches
1-3 days Acute Withdrawal Peak flu-like and gastrointestinal symptoms, intense cravings
Up to 3 weeks Post-Acute Withdrawal Milder but persistent physical and psychological symptoms

It’s important to know that withdrawing from heroin can be very different for each person. Things like how long someone used heroin, how much they used, and their personal health can shorten or lengthen certain stages. Working with medical professionals can help make a tailored detox timeline.

Navigating the Storm: Coping with Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal is challenging. Having the right coping strategies makes weathering the storm easier:

  • Hydrate – Drink plenty of fluids and avoid caffeine and sugar. Prevent dehydration.
  • Rest – Get lots of sleep and rest. Don’t overexert yourself. Conserve energy.
  • Eat right – Boost nutrients through fruits, veggies, and protein. Avoid fatty, sugary foods.
  • Exercise – Light exercise helps release endorphins and relieve tension.
  • Distract yourself – Keep busy with activities like reading, puzzles, and movies.
  • Take medications as directed – Follow medical advice on using prescribed medications.
  • Seek support – Turn to counselors and support groups.
  • Establish routines – Have set schedules for meals, sleep, and activities.
  • Avoid triggers – Stay away from people/places associated with drug use.
  • Be patient – Understand symptoms won’t disappear overnight. Mark small achievements.

Having healthy physical and mental coping habits makes getting through withdrawal more bearable. It also builds self-efficacy and routine, paving the path for long-term recovery.

Seeking Shelter: How to Detox From Heroin at Home

Medically-assisted detox provides supervision and medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. While not mandatory, it can greatly ease the detoxification process.

Detoxing from heroin unaided is an extremely difficult feat, given the severity of the withdrawal symptoms. Medically-assisted detox provides important medical oversight to keep individuals safe as they withdraw.
Common medications used during heroin detox include:

  • Methadone – An opioid that reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is gradually tapered.
  • Buprenorphine – A partial opioid agonist that relieves cravings without producing a full high.
  • Clonidine – Lowers blood pressure, anxiety, sweating and cramping.
  • Antidepressants – Helps with underlying mood disorders.
  • Antipsychotics – Treats any co-occurring mental illnesses.
  • IV fluids – Rehydrates and replaces depleted nutrients.

Medically-assisted detox can take place in an inpatient facility or outpatient program. Inpatient provides 24/7 medical supervision and greater structure.

From Darkness to Dawn: Beginning Long-Term Heroin Addiction Treatment

Detox marks the first step, but long-term treatment is vital to overcoming heroin addiction. This involves therapies like counseling, group support, and holistic approaches.
While detox addresses the physical dependence, true recovery requires treatment for the psychological dependence as well. This long-term treatment phase typically involves:
Counseling and Behavioral Therapies: Counseling helps build healthy coping mechanisms. Common behavioral therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), contingency management, and motivational enhancement.
Support Groups: Peer support groups like Narcotics Anonymous give individuals a community of understanding. Sharing stories provides perspective and accountability. Groups help combat isolation.
Holistic Approaches: Meditation, yoga, art therapy, acupuncture, and other holistic practices help heal the mind, body, and soul. A holistic approach supplements medical treatment.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction: Maintaining Motivation and Preventing Relapse

Addiction recovery is a lifelong journey. Helpful tips to stay motivated and avoid relapse include:

  • Attend support groups regularly – In-person and online meetings provide community. Share your story and lend support.
  • Identify triggers – Become aware of high-risk situations, people, places, or emotions that may lead to relapse. Avoid or manage them.
  • Create a relapse prevention plan – Outline steps to take if you have an urge to use again. Have support and resources ready.
  • Adopt healthy habits – Exercise, proper sleep, nutrition, and stress management strengthen your recovery.
  • Find new hobbies – Replace drug use with enjoyable activities that add meaning, like joining a recreational sports team.
  • Avoid people or places associated with past drug use – Limit exposure to old contacts and environments.
  • Ask for help when struggling – Don’t wait for a crisis. Confide in a sponsor or therapist at the first sign of difficulties.
  • Take recovery one day at a time – Don’t overwhelm yourself by looking too far ahead. Focus on staying sober today.
  • Learn from lapses – A minor slip does not need to turn into a full relapse. Analyze what triggered it and adjust your plan.

Parting Words

Heroin detox and withdrawal present challenges, but many have successfully traversed the winding road to recovery. The light awaits at the end of the tunnel.
If you or someone you know is tackling heroin addiction, LA Wellness Home is here to help with our heroin addiction treatment. At LA Wellness Home, we provide personalized support and professional assistance for a transformative journey to recovery.
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