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Heroin Detox Timeline

A depressed woman contemplating treatment.

Heroin is a dangerous substance that contributes to the opioid epidemic in America. According to the CDC, heroin abuse has doubled among young adults aged 18 to 25 in the past decade. The alarming growth in heroin use has led to increased overdose deaths. Quitting heroin is a complex process that requires professional help and time. Cold turkey withdrawal is risky and can lead to health concerns, relapse, overdose, or death.

Depending on your level of abuse and addiction, this can be a very uncomfortable and trying time that will require some professional help. While everyone’s long-term recovery experience will be different, there is a general heroin detox timeline that you can expect to follow. No matter what, this process begins with a person developing an addiction to heroin, so let’s start with how that happens. To learn more about a drug detox program for heroin addiction, call (877) 881-2689 today.

Understanding Heroin Addiction

Heroin is a synthetic opioid derived from morphine. It can be cooked, injected, smoked, or snorted, quickly affecting the user’s brain and producing a euphoric high. This intense high contributes to its popularity and addictive nature.

Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, releasing dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. The initial euphoria wears off quickly, replaced by grogginess and other unpleasant symptoms. To avoid the withdrawal effects, users often repeat the cycle of heroin use, leading to addiction. As dependence grows, heroin becomes the sole source of pleasure, overshadowing all other aspects of life.

Tolerance to heroin develops easily, prompting users to increase their dosage or frequency of use. This escalating behavior puts them at a higher risk of overdose. Anyone, regardless of their drug history, can overdose on heroin due to its lack of regulation and unpredictable potency.

Eventually, users may decide or be encouraged to quit heroin and seek professional detox treatment. However, the initial stages of withdrawal pose significant challenges.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal is the most challenging part of overcoming heroin addiction and greatly impacts the detox timeline. While withdrawal is rarely fatal, its unpleasantness can lead to relapse during a vulnerable period, making supervised detox the safest route to recovery.

The withdrawal process varies for each individual, depending on factors such as duration and intensity of heroin abuse, as well as co-occurring mental health or substance use disorders. Those who use heroin for a shorter duration may experience milder symptoms that resolve relatively quickly. Withdrawal can start within six to 12 hours after the last dose, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe:

  • Minor nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Dehydration
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Frequent, severe muscle spasms
  • Impaired respiration
  • Intense drug cravings

Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey

Because of how intense heroin withdrawal symptoms can be, it is not advised to try and quit heroin on your own, or all at once, also known as “cold turkey.” Suddenly stopping the use of heroin can cause its own dangerous symptoms such as convulsions, hallucinations, and seizures.

Most detox centers will help a person taper off of their addiction, with the aid of medications. This helps to reduce the severity of their withdrawal symptoms and help the person get clean in a safe, controlled environment.

The Heroin Detox Timeline

The heroin addiction recovery timeline is closely related to the timeline of heroin withdrawal symptoms. However, the process of heroin detox will vary in time and intensity based on a number of factors, including the user’s age, body composition, health and addiction history, length of usage, and dosage amounts.

Heroin withdrawal can last anywhere from a day for those who did not use heroin for long, to a week or a matter of months for long-time users. The first symptoms of withdrawal usually pop up within six to 12 hours, depending on how long the person has been using. Those with a longer relationship with the drug will not see withdrawal symptoms pop up until later because of how much heroin is built up in their body.

Withdrawal symptoms typically peak at around 72 hours after the user’s last dose, and will gradually become less intense over the next few days. Some withdrawal symptoms may persist for much longer, and linger long after the person has become “clean.” This is why recovery is thought of as a lifelong process.  

The Heroin Detox Timeline Phase 1: Days 1-3

Withdrawal symptoms will begin within the first 24 hours of the person’s last dose, and will be uncomfortable, at minimum. In some cases, it can be extremely painful. Relapse is most likely during this period, as the symptoms may be too much for a person to deal with, leading them to take more heroin. Symptoms of the first phase of withdrawal may include:

  • Headaches
  • Irritation
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggression

Because the first few days are so intense, this is perhaps the most important period of the heroin detox timeline.

The Heroin Detox Timeline Phase 2: Days 3-5

Past day 3, the most intense symptoms should begin to subside, and the person will likely experience some further muscle aches, stomach cramps, shivering, and general fatigue. Eating a healthy diet and drinking lots of fluids during this time is crucial to help boost the immune system.

The Heroin Detox Timeline Phase 3: Days 5-7

During this period, symptoms should further lessen and subside completely after a week. However, for some, symptoms may still decrease. Reaching the one-week mark does not indicate a cure or the end of recovery.

Most people should continue therapy for months, years, or even lifelong after completing heroin addiction treatment. This helps prevent relapse and manage any persistent symptoms. Heroin’s impact on the brain can result in lingering withdrawal symptoms known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS).

Detoxing From Heroin At a Reputable Rehab Center

As we’ve mentioned, detoxing from heroin is safest in a professional rehab center. This is the best option for a heroin addict’s physical and mental health, allowing them to recover from their addiction in a controlled environment. Medical professionals at rehab facilities are trained to treat intense withdrawal symptoms to make the process as comfortable as possible. They will also help the person taper off of the drug rather than quitting cold turkey. This will involve taking some medication, typically another opioid, and safely reducing the dosage until it is safe to stop completely.

In this way, the user can avoid the most severe symptoms of withdrawal and will have less risk of relapse. After the initial treatment is complete, patients can transition to outpatient treatment, therapy, meetings, and other options, but it will be a lifelong process. A healthy diet should also be continued.

Get the Help You Need Today From Apex Recovery 

A heroin addiction is among one of the most difficult to detox from because of its intense long-term effects on the brain and difficult withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you know needs help to quit a heroin addiction, Apex Recovery can help you start the road toward healing. Contact us today at (877) 881-2689 to start your recovery.

Call Our Toll-Free Hotline 24/7 at 877.881.2689