What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid often used by people who no longer have access to previously abused prescription analgesics (i.e., painkillers like hydrocodone and fentanyl).1

It acts on the body’s central nervous system, inhibiting the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Heroin also binds to cell opioid receptors, triggering dopamine release, which produces euphoria while counteracting anxiety, fear, and other stressful emotions often caused by many users’ underlying mental health issues. To learn more about heroin addiction, you can click here.

Both long-term use and occasional binging result in a crash and the experience of withdrawal symptoms soon after the last dose due to a drop in dopamine levels. The most significant risk during withdrawal is the possibility of overdosing due to intense cravings or a detox relapse.

What Are the Effects of Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin use has many detrimental effects on the body, including an increased chance of contracting HIV/AIDS due to dirty needles or eventually suffering from liver and kidney disease.

Due to the potent nature of the drug, common heroin withdrawal symptoms are extremely uncomfortable and may include:

  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Mood swings
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

Withdrawal symptoms usually start within six hours of the last dose. They gradually worsen and reach their peak intensity around the three-day mark.

Acute symptoms should start subsiding by day seven, although post-acute withdrawal symptoms may affect your mental wellbeing for years after abuse of the drug has ended.2

Why Is a Supervised Heroin Detox Recommended?

Heroin Detox

Heroin rehab facilities are commonly suggested for anyone detoxing from heroin and ending their dependence on the drug.

Due to the possibility of withdrawal having adverse effects on the mental health of the former user and the significant potential for overdosing during a relapse, detoxing in a calm, controlled environment under medical supervision may greatly ease the discomfort and stress it can cause.

Personnel at these facilities may prescribe medications during heroin addiction treatment to ease or prevent specific withdrawal symptoms.

These may include:

  • Buprenorphine to prevent relapse and possible overdose
  • Clonidine to alleviate symptoms like anxiety and high blood pressure
  • Methadone is a long-acting opioid prescribed to ease withdrawal symptoms, although it has the potential of resulting in addiction as well

Staff may also provide over-the-counter medications to reduce the fever, body pains, and nausea associated with detoxing.

Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

There are few risks during heroin detox. These usually only appear in severe withdrawal and possibly include dehydration,3 respiratory distress, and panic attacks due to increased anxiety levels.

The greatest danger comes after completing detox in the form of a potential relapse. Growing dependence on the drug would have resulted in each dose of heroin being larger than the last. If the pre-detox amount is used after being clean for some time, accidental overdose will occur, which may be fatal.

Therefore, abstinence maintenance is of utmost importance and can be aided by behavioral therapy,4 counseling, prescription medications, and regularly attending support groups.

Are you suffering from withdrawal? Call our hotline today at (833) 489-5577 to get the help you need.


  1. https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/addiction-treatment-recovery/heroin-withdrawal-symptoms
  2. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-to-expect-from-heroin-withdrawal-22049#signs–symptoms
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