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Heroin Withdrawal and Detox: How to Quit Heroin Safely

withdrawal from heroin and detoxification

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The most important step in quitting heroin is equipping oneself with relevant information. There is a lot of information on the Internet offering advice on how to kick heroin. However, there is not much information touching on the two most important dynamics of the whole process, heroin withdrawal, and detoxification.
Judging from the current heroin withdrawal stories, the journey to sobriety is marred with difficulty. This article will explain more about the withdrawal and detoxification process for a safer and more fruitful journey to sobriety.

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Table of Contents

What Heroin Withdrawal Feels Like

Heroin withdrawal is the physical and mental discomfort that manifests itself as soon as the user stops using the drug. Derived from what might be termed as the heroin plant, it latches itself to the brain, making the brain dependent on the drug. Once the brain gets used to the drug, any discontinuation causes symptoms that are not pleasant to the user.

Causes of Heroin Withdrawal

It is caused by lack of the drug in the body. Naturally, the body is able to function perfectly with all functions put in balance. This is called homeostasis.
Heroin, like any other opioid, is highly addictive. It affects the brain, enabling it to release dopamine which is otherwise known as the feel-good hormone. Once dopamine is released, the user feels good for a couple of hours before they have to use again. This disrupts homeostasis, and the user becomes more reliant on the drug.
Discontinuation from the drug leaves the brain with a heavy task of adjusting to the new conditions. This brings about severe and uncomfortable symptoms known as heroin withdrawals.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

As soon as an addict stops using, they start experiencing symptoms. These symptoms are not pleasant. It is usually an agonizing period for the user, especially if they are quitting heroin cold turkey.
The heroin half-life is rather short, and the fact that it is stronger and clears from the body faster than other drugs makes the symptoms more severe.
Some of the symptoms one could experience during this period include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Diarrheawoman feeling sick from heroin withdrawal
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches
  • Low blood pressure
  • a runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • elevated heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Muscle spasms

Heroin Withdrawal Can Be Deadly

While withdrawal from the drug rarely causes death, some symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea can turn fatal if ill-managed.
The current statistics on heroin deaths are rather alarming. Heroin withdrawal deaths can be avoided by addicts using the right channels to get off the drug.

Duration and the Timeline of Withdrawal

It is important to understand that this is a hard drug and one might not have such a pleasant time after they stop heroin intake. It provides a high that is more powerful than most drugs. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal usually start in 6 hours after the last intake. Users who embark on quitting heroin start to feel the effects of what is called acute withdrawal.
These symptoms intensify with time and by the 6th day; the user is usually experiencing abdominal cramping, sweating, and vomiting. These symptoms are some of the reason why an addict might have such a hard time getting off heroin.
After stopping heroin for a week, acute withdrawal symptoms dissipate, and the addict starts to get some semblance of normalcy. The withdrawal symptoms of heroin usually wane off to what is now called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. This period could go on for years, and they involve bouts of depression, irritability, and insomnia.
Below is a table describing the heroin withdrawal timeline and the symptoms:

Timeline Symptoms
Day 1-2 (6-12 hours) Anxiety

Muscle aches



Muscle aches

Day 3- 5 Abdominal cramping



Nausea and vomiting

Day 6-7 End of acute withdrawal symptoms
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms These could take years and might include depression, insomnia, and anxiety.


Heroin Detoxification

As with most drugs, heroin has harmful effects on the body. Heroin symptoms are not pleasant to the users and the society around them. It is why addicts and, or their loved ones try and help them get rid of this bad habit.
There exists a method to get rid of the drug from the body in preparation for a rehabilitation process. The removal of such toxins from the body is called detoxification. Therefore, heroin detox is the removal of its toxins from the body.

Medication Used in Smack Detox

Detoxing from heroin is not easy. The proper way to carry out detoxification is to seek professional help. Professional doctors apply an elaborate detoxification plan that involves heroin detox drugs.
Using heroin withdrawal medications, professionals are able to offer the best help and eventually help an addict take the road to recovery.
Among the most commonly used medications for detox

  • Methadone

Methadone has the same effects as heroin, but without the high. Addicts are usually introduced to this drug to get off heroin. While it is helpful, methadone can be addictive to the user; therefore, heroin clinics tend to regulate its intake.

  • Buprenorphine

Works the same way as methadone and helps addicts who are working on coming off heroin.

  • Naltrexone

Naltrexone only covers one aspect of the process. It helps to subdue the urge to take more of the harmful drug by stopping its effects in the brain. It does not help treat signs of heroin withdrawal.

  • Clonidine

It helps muscles relax. This drug is effective in treating symptoms such as stomach cramps, muscles spasms, and shivering.

  • Antidepressants (Zoloft, Prozac)

During its use, the human brain is usually used to assistance from the drug to produce the feel-good hormone- dopamine. During heroin withdrawal treatment, the brain lacks the assist which leads to the user feeling depressed. Additionally, heroin is a depressant, and prolonged use of the drug could lead to its effects being experienced even after quitting.

  • Benzodiazepines

This heroin withdrawal drug helps reduce anxiety and irritability in addicts. They have a sedative effect thus calming the addict.

  • Gabapentin

Recent medical developments have recommended Gabapentin for heroin withdrawal. The drug is used during the detox process to relieve the pain caused by withdrawal symptoms.

While the drugs used in detox are highly effective for people who are tapering off heroin, it is important to note that some might be addictive. This is why they are offered as a prescription, sometimes one every day.

Dangers of Heroin Detox at Home

It is a dangerous endeavor to try detoxification from home. Heroin as a drug affects the brain in a great way. It takes people who understand how the brain works to actually help an addict detox from heroin.
young man trying to detox from heroin at homeThere sure are some heroin withdrawal home remedies that a number of people follow. However, a medical professional is the most trusted person one could trust because they are fully trained on how to detox from heroin.
Also, It is important to note that due to the different methods of introducing the drug to the body, such as sniffing heroin, doctors might require to use different approaches to increase their chances of success. This is what makes detoxification from home a bad idea.
Some methods people might use to treat heroin withdrawal at home is to use herbal drugs such as Kratom. It is important to note that the FDA is yet to approve kratom for heroin withdrawal.
Here is why one should not attempt it.

  1. There is a high probability that addicts and their companions are less equipped to treat withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are highly severe and need a lot of monitoring from professionals who are always found in rehabilitation centers for drug addicts.
  2. Without them, one might succumb to complications such as excessive vomiting and diarrhea which bring about dehydration. Professionals also usually have helpful heroin withdrawal tips.
  3. The drug affects each brain differently. While home detoxification might seem like a great idea, it is important to note that people are different. This means that addicts are affected differently by the drug.
  4. Using conventional knowledge to treat heroin withdrawals could lead to a heroin withdrawal death. A doctor is more likely to give an accurate assessment of how long to detox from heroin in order to get the best results.
  5. Addicts almost always need counseling and follow-ups. Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world; this means that getting rid of the habit can hardly be treated using medication alone. One needs a complete overhaul of their life to prevent a relapse which might ultimately lead to a heroin overdose.
  6. Addicts are usually met with a lot of triggers; situations or things that tempt them to use again. Due to the severe withdrawal symptoms, these triggers could have an overwhelming power on the user. It is, therefore, always wise to explore the substance abuse treatment models nearby for professional help.
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  1. Diaper A. M., Law F. D., Melichar J. K. Pharmacological strategies for detoxification. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. 2014; 77(2): 302–314. doi:10.1111/bcp.12245.
  2. National clinical guidelines and procedures for the use of buprenorphine in the Maintenance Treatment of Opioid Dependence. Guidelines for the management of heroin withdrawal. 31-41.$File/bupren4.pdf.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the treatments for heroin use disorder? 2018.
Medically Reviewed By Michael Espelin APRN
Olivier George

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.


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  • Chandan pandey
    I have been smoking smack from last three months n I don’t want to depend on addnok for please tell me which all other medicines in what does I should take to release my withdrawal symptoms n feel better.