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How Long Does Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Take?

Before deciding to get professional and personal help for heroin addiction, you are most likely asking how long heroin detox and withdrawal takes. We are glad that you are asking yourself this question. Setting the right expectations is important for all stages of recovery. It is perhaps the most important during the first stage of addiction recovery: detox.

What is Heroin?

There are several important elements of heroin detox and withdrawal that anyone looking to recover should know. One element is the duration of drug detox, which is what we are here to address. We also address what the detox process looks like for heroin addiction and how heroin withdrawal symptoms can be managed.

What Does Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Look Like?

At first, heroin use creates a high in the individual using the drug - this is arguably what first causes addiction. Over time, the body builds up a dependence on the opioid drug. As a result, a person who has used heroin for more than a few weeks will experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to come off the drug altogether. Heroin detox is essentially purposefully withdrawing from the negative effects of the opioid drug in order to begin a path toward full recovery. Because of that, detox requires going through heroin withdrawal.

"Withdrawal is the onset of a predictable constellation of signs and symptoms following the abrupt discontinuation of, or rapid decrease in, dosage of a psychoactive substance. Such signs and symptoms are generally the opposite of the intoxication effects of the particular substance."

~ The American Society of Addiction Medicine

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the most common withdrawal symptoms associated with coming off of the effects of heroin include:

  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Runny nose
  • Aching muscles
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and abdominal cramping

These symptoms may not occur in everyone who goes through heroin detox, but everyone who goes through heroin detox will experience at least some of these withdrawal symptoms.

According to the World Health Organization, managing withdrawal is one of the most crucial steps of overcoming heroin addiction altogether. This is because as opioid dependence takes hold on the person using heroin, the drug will be used increasingly to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms rather than as a means to get high. This is true of nearly all opioid drugs, but is particularly true of heroin use since the drug is so fast acting.

How Long Does Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Take?

How Long Does Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Take?

While knowing what heroin detox and withdrawal symptoms look like is definitely important, you are most likely more eager to find out exactly how long this first part of the recovery process takes.

It may not be the answer that you were looking for, but heroin detox rarely follows the exact same timeline from person to person. Instead, the length of heroin detox can vary greatly from person to person, depending on many different factors. Some of the factors that affect how long withdrawal symptoms last include:

  • The age of the drug addict
  • How long heroin has been used
  • How much heroin was used on a regular basis
  • The general health of the person taking heroin

In other words, there is no exact number of days that heroin detox and withdrawal will last. Because of this, answering how long heroin detox takes is not necessarily straightforward. Neither the duration nor the intensity of heroin detox can be predicted exactly. However, we can provide a timeline of the average detox and withdrawal process for those using heroin.

The most basic timeline can be broken down into two separate steps:

  • Heroin withdrawal symptoms are experienced roughly 6-12 hours after last use of the drug.
  • Withdrawal symptoms (to varying degrees) can last anywhere from four to ten days.

More specifically, those suffering from heroin addiction will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms just a few hours after last taking the drug. However, the symptoms tend to be relatively mild at first. Withdrawal symptoms for heroin detox peak in the second or third day - meaning it will take at least a couple of days for an individual in recovery to experience the full force of the negative effects of the drug leaving the body.

Heroin Detox Timeline

The heroin detox timeline depends on each individual case of addiction. Someone who has been dependent on heroin for just a short time may recover in a few days; in contrast, someone who has suffered from long-term addiction to heroin will take closer to two weeks to fully overcome the withdrawal symptoms. In general, heroin detox and withdrawal follows this loose timeline:

  • Day 1 & 2: The individual will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms within the first 12 hours. The aches, pains and flu symptoms will increase over the course of two days.
  • Day 3: Heroin withdrawal symptoms tend to peak at this point in detox, though do not fully disappear.
  • Day 4-6: Withdrawal symptoms will not have disappeared altogether, and the individual will continue to experience a great deal of discomfort. At this stage it is crucial to maintain healthy eating habits and to maintain a strong support network to avoid relapse.
  • Day 6 and onward: At some point after this stage symptoms will recede for most people. Some individuals may continue to have difficulty with building up an appetite or getting good sleep, but the majority of flu symptoms will disappear altogether.
Heroin is a Short Acting Opioid

Heroin is known as a short-acting opioid. This means that the effects of the drug come on quickly, but the negative impact of the drug also tends to leave the bloodstream quickly. In other words, withdrawal from heroin often lasts a much shorter period than detox and withdrawal from other drugs, or even other opioids. Hopefully this is at least somewhat encouraging as you begin the recovery process from heroin and move on to a happier and healthier life.

Of course, it is also important to note that detox is not the only step in overcoming heroin addiction. In fact, detoxification and enduring the withdrawal symptoms associated with this stage is only the first step toward recovering from addiction altogether. Professional organizations from the World Health Organization to the National Institute on Drug Abuse make it abundantly clear that it is unrealistic to assume that heroin detox and withdrawal alone will result in a full recovery.

Instead, every individual beginning the recovery process should be committed to the physical, psychological and social challenges of recovery. While an addict may not necessarily always be an addict, recovery can take months and sometimes even years. Heroin detox and withdrawal is a crucial part of that process.

What is the Difference Between Acute Withdrawal and Protracted Withdrawal?

At this point there is an important distinction in terms of the length of heroin detox and the withdrawal symptoms experienced during this process. Most cases of addiction follow the patterns already described above. This is usually known just as withdrawal, but is sometimes called acute withdrawal.

Protracted Heroin Withdrawal

In contrast, some individuals experience protracted withdrawal. This simply means that an individual suffering from a substance use disorder continues to experience the signs and symptoms of withdrawal described above, but for a longer period of time than would be expected given the timeline provided above. Protracted withdrawal can also sometimes include other symptoms not usually associated with heroin detox.

For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that some individuals in recovery for heroin addiction show issues in executive control functions (such as controlling impulses and problem solving). Only a minority of those in treatment for heroin dependence experiences protracted withdrawal. Still others will see some of the same withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin detox months after the initial detox stage. This does not happen often, but it is important to have the expectation that it is possible.

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How Can You Manage Heroin Detox and Withdrawal?

There is no question that heroin detox is a difficult process. The withdrawal symptoms that an individual struggling with substance addiction has to go through can be extremely uncomfortable. So how can heroin detox and withdrawal be managed in a way that keeps recovery within reach?

  • Get Support: Whether from friends and family or a professional treatment program, it is beyond important to surround yourself with people that can support you through this process.
  • Set Your Expectations: Read up and ask questions about what heroin detox looks like. Being prepared for what you will experience can be extremely helpful in getting you through the symptoms.
  • Celebrate: Getting through days of detox can be grueling. With those around you, celebrate as you reach each new milestone of detoxification - and get that much closer to full recovery.

There is no magic wand or magic word when it comes to overcoming the withdrawal symptoms described here. However, following the few strategies outlined above can at the very least put you on the right path. Engaging with these tips and finding professional help will help you through one of the most difficult stages of the recovery process.

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