While heroin withdrawal is unpleasant or even painful, it is not normally life-threatening. Some heroin addicts experience heroin withdrawal on a regular basis when they cannot get the drug, or some experience heroin withdrawal by choice when they choose to seek treatment for heroin addiction.
Heroin withdrawal typically starts 6 - 12 hours after the last dose of heroin and heroin withdrawal symptoms tend to peak at 1 - 3 days after the last use of heroin. Most effects of heroin withdrawal subside in up to 5 - 7 days, but some heroin users may experience heroin withdrawal symptoms for weeks or even months. This protracted heroin withdrawal is known as post acute withdrawal syndrome.1
Heroin Withdrawal - Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
Perhaps the most unpleasant heroin withdrawal symptom is the strong desire to use heroin again. This desire is known as a craving. Craving happens during heroin withdrawal both because the user wants to feel the high of the drug and because they wish to stop the unpleasant heroin withdrawal symptoms.
Other symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:2
- Sweating, cold sweats
- Mood changes like anxiety or depression
- Sensitization of genitals
- Feeling of heaviness
- Cramps in the limbs or abdomen
- Excessive yawning or sneezing
- Tears, running nose
- Chills, Fever
- Severe muscle and bone aches
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Heroin Withdrawal - Managing Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal should be done under medical supervision. Heroin withdrawal is often done in a heroin treatment center or hospital. Medical management of heroin withdrawal can reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, often including that of cravings. Management of heroin withdrawal symptoms should include behavioral therapies, support of loved ones as well as medical management. For some addicts, heroin withdrawal symptoms are best managed in a treatment center where they can receive medical attention and support 24-hours a day.
Management of heroin withdrawal symptoms can be done with the following medications:3
- Clonidine - Reduces anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose and cramping
- Buprenorphine - a pain medication that blocks withdrawal symptoms, thought to be the safest option with lower risk of addiction
- Methadone - reduces pain sensations and is often used in long-term addiction maintenance programs
- Naltrexone - blocks the effects heroin, generally only used once the person has been heroin-free for several days