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What It’s Like to Detox From Heroin (Symptoms & Timeline)

When detoxing from Heroin, the body goes through many uncomfortable stages, such as tremors, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, as well as muscle aches and pain.

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an illicit street drug made from morphine that has been gathered from countless opium poppy plants. The mature flowers are gently cut or scored, and the sap makes its way out of the wound. This sap is gathered and processed into the early stages of heroin, which are then refined further into the end product that people buy to either smoke, snort, or inject.

Another drug similar in function to heroin, and a synthetic opioid, is fentanyl. Fentanyl is responsible for more overdose situations than heroin. One of the main drivers behind that is the fact that fentanyl is far more powerful an opioid than heroin. 

Fentanyl is also cheaper, which means many heroin dealers are selling fentanyl under the guise of heroin. This leads many individuals addicted to heroin to potential overdose situations much easier than they expect from using the same amount of fentanyl as they normally would of heroin.

Understanding Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin, as well as most other opioids, are incredibly addictive substances that can cause significant changes in both the body and brain of the individual caught in the addiction. Heroin binds to special opioid receptors in the central nervous system and brain. These changes to the central nervous system and brain are why opioids make such incredibly effective painkillers. These effects also create havoc in the reward centers, which is the primary mechanism for how heroin builds such strong dependence and addiction.

When someone uses heroin regularly, they develop a physical dependence, which means their body has become accustomed to operating with heroin in the system. Stopping usage will force the onset of muscle aches and other physical symptoms of the withdrawal process. The symptoms have physical and emotional or mental components to them and can be intensely uncomfortable, even painful in severe cases.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

There is a relatively wide range of withdrawal symptoms that may be experienced. Additionally, while one individual may experience many severe symptoms, another may only experience one or two symptoms of a severe degree. Many factors can influence the individual withdrawal process, such as medical history, addiction profile, current health, pre-existing physical or mental conditions, and more. 

Since heroin is such a powerful central nervous system depressant, many of the symptoms will involve feeling uncomfortable due to the system returning to normal. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Hyperthermia (high body temperature)
  • Potentially painful abdominal cramps or spasms
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Anxiety
  • Faster reflexes
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Bone pain

Many of these symptoms will disappear within about two weeks of starting the detox and withdrawal process. Other symptoms will often become noticeable in the post-acute period, and they are considered long-term symptoms. These long-term symptoms can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety or panic
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Ongoing irritability
  • Changes or problems with short-term memory
  • Lower attention span and greater challenges focusing on a task
  • Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
  • Cravings for heroin

What is the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline?

While each individual’s withdrawal experience will be unique to them, there are three stages that are commonly experienced in the heroin withdrawal timeline. These stages are the initial detox period, the acute withdrawal stage that follows, and the post-acute stage which often signifies the beginning of long-term recovery efforts.


The first stage in heroin withdrawal is the detox stage, where the individual’s body metabolizes the remaining heroin in the system but it is not replaced. This causes the body to go into a type of shock, which results in acute withdrawal symptoms. Detox for heroin generally begins anywhere from 6-12 hours after the last dose.

Acute Withdrawal Stage

Once detox begins and the individual has begun to experience withdrawal symptoms, the acute withdrawal stage begins. The first symptom that is often experienced is nausea and potential abdominal pain. 

Other symptoms will manifest here, and the symptoms will generally peak in severity about 2 days after they’ve started, lasting for 3-5 days before beginning to subside. This stage can last for up to two weeks before most symptoms have faded. This will signal the beginning of the post-acute stage. 

Post-Acute Withdrawal Stage

The post-acute stage begins once the earlier stages of detox and withdrawal have been completed. Often starting 7-10 days after the acute stage starts, the post-acute stage is where a great deal of mental or psychological symptoms will begin to manifest for the patient. This often includes depression, periodic cravings, anxiety, and other psychological conditions. 

The most effective ways to manage ongoing post-acute symptoms include maintaining mindfulness and attending support therapy sessions. Therapy, whether individual or group, will always be one of the most effective ways to maintain a support network.

Is it Dangerous to Detox at Home?

Trying to detox at home can be incredibly dangerous, and can even be deadly in some cases. The safest way to detox successfully is to work with a medical professional in a treatment facility to help manage the symptoms of heroin withdrawal in the acute withdrawal stage. 

This will often include medication-assisted treatment, which is the current gold standard for reliable heroin addiction treatment. Medication-assisted treatment is designed to leverage non-addictive medication to help remove heroin from the system while normalizing overall brain function and reducing or eliminating cravings for heroin early in the recovery process.

Find Heroin Detox and Treatment Near You

If you or someone close to you in the Long Island area has been struggling with heroin dependency, there is never a better time to get professional help than right now. Reach out today to discuss your treatment needs with a local addiction expert in a confidential setting. You can learn more about our treatment options and begin building a personalized treatment plan.