Wrenching yourself free from the grip of a heroin addiction can seem impossible. Having experienced the suffering of withdrawal symptoms on a regular basis, it may seem like going through the detox process would be unbearable. In fact, anticipating the difficult withdrawal phase of recovery actually deters many from ever seeking help, keeping them stuck tight in their addiction. So how long does heroin withdrawal last anyway? In most cases, the heroin detox timeline involves approximately 5-7 days. Although the physical and emotional effects that accompany the heroin withdrawal process are daunting, it must be looked at as a very short-term issue that will soon pass.
Some addiction treatment centers rely on medication, such as Suboxone, to assist with the highly unpleasant side effects associated with heroin withdrawal. Suboxone is itself an opioid that can help block the effects of opiates from ever attaching to the brain receptors, so euphoria is not experienced. Over time this helps reduce cravings, and subsequently the desire to use again declines.
There is another option available to help with heroin withdrawal, and that is to go the holistic route. The holistic approach to heroin detox and withdrawal means that drug-free interventions are made to help assist the recovering addict through the uncomfortable side effects of heroin withdrawal.
It’s totally understandable why someone about to begin a heroin detox might ask, “How long does heroin withdrawal last?” Going through detox and withdrawal from heroin or opioids is a hurdle to clear, versus a welcome event. Detox and withdrawal will vary from one individual to another, based on a number of factors that help determine the timeline. But knowing approximately how long does heroin withdrawal last, and what to expect in a medical detox, can help one prepare mentally for what lies ahead, and to gear up for it.
About Heroin Dependency
Heroin is in the opiate family of drugs, derived from morphine, a natural byproduct of certain poppy plants in regions like Afghanistan, Colombia, and Burma. Opium is produced through the fluid that seeps out of the poppy seedpod and dried into a resin product.
Heroin is a highly addictive drug that leads to rapidly increased tolerance to the drug, resulting in increased dosage and usage in an effort to relive the initial euphoric high. Heroin use causes a powerful reaction in the brain’s chemistry, attaching to opioid receptors in the pain and pleasure centers. A flood of dopamine leads to the “rush” that is felt upon injecting, snorting or smoking heroin.
This powerful drug makes lasting changes in brain cells, causing the brain to eventually cease producing its own dopamine. Without the drug, the user will become unable to experience pleasure at all, only leading to higher dosing. When chemical dependence takes hold, any attempt to stop taking heroin results in highly uncomfortable flu-like withdrawal symptoms. At this point the addict needs to take the drug to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms and feeling very sick (“dope sick”).
The Centers for Disease Control recently released data from 2017 citing alarming statistics regarding heroin and other opioids. According to this report, deaths from heroin increased sevenfold from 1,960 in 1999 to 15,482 in 2017. A sense of urgency exists today regarding the staggering increases of heroin and opioid abuse and addiction, and the related fatalities.
What to Expect During Heroin Detox and Withdrawal
It is natural for someone to wonder how long does heroin withdrawal last. In general, the heroin detox process follows a fairly predictable pattern. The first withdrawal symptoms appear between 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin. The length of the detox period, as well as the severity of symptoms, will be dependent on factors such as:
- The duration of the heroin habit
- Heroin consumption level
- If the individual has a co-occurring mental health disorder
- General state of the individual’s health.
All these factors will play a part in the detox experience, as far as how intense the withdrawal symptoms will be and how long withdrawal will last. Generally, symptoms will peak between 24-48 hours and then gradually subside. Most heroin detoxes are completed in 5-7 days, however long-lasting effects can linger, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Gastrointestinal distress
- Teary eyes
- Muscle and joint pain
- Intense drug cravings
While some may they might die from experiencing heroin withdrawal symptoms, the fact is that, while extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable, it is highly unlikely that heroin detox would be fatal. Detox medical providers will provide comfort through the use of medications that can significantly reduce the withdrawal symptoms, and will closely monitor the individual throughout the detox process.
Throughout a medical detox the individual will be supported with medications as symptoms emerge. The detox team will access various over-the-counter medications that can alleviate the muscle aches, fever, headache, chills, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea symptoms. The individual will also receive psychological support to offer encouragement and help guide through the detox process, and then into the treatment program.
Medically Assisted Detox (MAT) for Heroin Withdrawal
Increasingly, heroin and opioid detox and treatment involves medication-assisted treatment (MAT), using certain opioid antagonists and agonists to help control craving and slowly reduce the desire for the drug. These medications may include methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, and are prescribed for the purpose of stabilizing the individual in recovery while reducing the risk of relapse. In most cases, the drugs are prescribed for a limited time, such as 3-12 months, before beginning a tapering schedule. However, in some cases long-term use of these drugs is warranted.
MAT is always closely monitored, as these drugs themselves are prone to abuse. Some individuals use them illicitly, often crushing the drug and snorting it or liquefying the drug and injecting it. Methadone is the most strictly controlled drug of the MAT medications. The drugs are always prescribed as one part of an aftercare strategy that includes outpatient services, like therapy and group counseling.
What to Expect in Heroin Rehab
It is important to understand that overcoming a heroin addiction is a long-term effort that is undertaken at an inpatient treatment facility. Detox alone is not sufficient to achieve lasting sobriety. Without follow up addiction treatment the individual is bound to relapse right away. This is because the deeply entrenched thought-behavior patterns that define the daily life of an addict do not just go away. These reflexive habits must be identified, addressed, and changed to have any kind of success in recovery.
Heroin addiction treatment is a two-pronged method that typically involves both pharmacological treatment (MAT) and evidence-based behavioral therapies such as contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During rehab the individual will be immersed in a variety of therapeutic activities that are designed to be an integrated approach to overcoming addiction. These treatment elements include:
- Psychotherapy: The role of psychotherapy in treating a heroin addiction is a core treatment element in addiction recovery. The therapist will access a number of evidence-based therapies to effectively guide the person toward embracing new healthy thought patterns and introduce coping skills to assist them in recovery. In addition, the therapist can help the individual explore their emotional state and work through any lingering or unresolved issues.
- Group therapy: Addiction and depression can leave someone feeling very isolated and alone in their disease. Bringing together small groups of peers who can discuss their points of view and personal experiences with each other can give each participant a feeling of belonging. This shared experience, the recovery journey, can bond the participants and even foster new friendships that will endure after rehab is completed.
- Non 12-step or 12-step participation: The recovery communities that may be integrated into the overall rehab program provide an excellent introduction into the power of fellowship. Recovery meetings offer opportunities to learn from each other and become inspired by those who have achieved a sustained recovery, and who benefited from the particular program, be it A.A., N.A., Smart Recovery or others.
- Addiction education: Information can be a powerful tool in recovery. By learning about how chemical dependence develops it can give individuals a new perspective about what a danger drug like heroin does to the brain and the body. Along with learning about how addition happens, clients are also taught methods to help avoid relapsing. They will be coached in developing their own specific relapse prevention plan, and will be equipped with the necessary recovery tools to sustain recovery.
- Adjunct therapies to promote stress reduction and relaxation: These therapies include yoga, meditation, equine therapy, art therapy, and other holistic practices
- Aftercare services: The rehab should encourage individuals to develop an aftercare plan for post-rehab recovery. These activities or services can help solidify early recovery while helping to avoid relapse. These actions might include continuing on with outpatient therapy, continued participation in a recovery community, or spending a few months in sober living.
Ken Seeley Communities Offers Heroin Medical Detox and Addiction Recovery Services
Ken Seeley Communities is a Palm Springs-based addiction recovery complex that offers the full spectrum of necessary treatment components. These include professional intervention services, residential rehab, various intensities of outpatient programs, and sober living housing that all work together on the recovery continuum. For more information about how long does heroin withdrawal last, and additional details about our recovery resources, please contact our team today at (877) 773-8515.