How To Detox From Heroin

How To Detox From HeroinHeroin detox, sometimes called opioid detox is a process of drug withdrawal from the body. Depending on the time this drug was used and the doses the treatment and withdrawal may vary.

Heroin Detoxification Timeline

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6-12 hours of the last dose, peak in 2-3 days, and last 5-10 days in total.

Day 1-2. Symptoms may begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose. Pain will start to develop in the first day, typically muscle aches. These will intensify over the first 48 hours. Other symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking and diarrhea.

Day 3-5. By the third or fourth day, withdrawal is in full swing. Symptoms during this time often include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers and nausea/vomiting.

Day 6-7. A week is typically the end of what’s known as acute withdrawal. During this time, the common muscle aches and nausea will taper off. Physically, former users will start to feel more normal though still worn down and tired.

Post-Acute withdrawal symptom (PAWS). Symptoms of withdrawal may continue inconsistently for months after acute withdrawal. These are caused by the neurological changes from heroin use. Common long-lasting symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and irritability.

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal:

  • Strong drug cravings
  • Moodiness: anxiety, depression, fear of withdrawal
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sweating, runny nose, watery eyes
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle spasms, tremors, joint pains
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure

While these symptoms may be extremely uncomfortable, they are usually not life-threatening

The Dangers of Detoxing without Medical Support

After deciding to quit drugs or alcohol, many people decide that they want to self-detox. Such a decision is not wise, and in many cases, self-detox can be hard.

Many people are under the impression that detoxing from their substance of choice is a simple and easy process. However, such a belief is far from the truth.

No matter what substance a person is trying to detox from, there will always be many risks involved. It’s almost always best to detox with inpatient treatment. This form of care involves professional help, and it greatly reduces the likelihood of serious side effects.

Many people try to detox from the comfort of their own home, and this almost always results in a catastrophe. Detoxing from drugs or alcohol can be very dangerous, and it’s not like a simple diet that removes toxins from the body. Studies show that inpatient treatment is very effective for detoxing from alcohol and other substances. It’s unfortunate that many heroin users try to detox at home. Statistics show that heroin is one of the most addictive substances in the world. Aside from being one of the most popular drugs, heroin is also one of the hardest drugs to detox from.

By attempting to self-detox, heroin users are setting themselves up for failure. It’s very dangerous to abruptly quit using heroin. The withdrawal symptoms caused by suddenly quitting heroin are dangerous and excruciating.

Inpatient treatment is needed because it ensures heroin addicts learn how to live life without the drug.

Medications Used During Medical Detox

Several different medications have been used to aid people in the process of heroin detox:

  1. Opioid agonists (methadone, buprenorphine): these opioid drugs mimic the effects of heroin – but to a lesser, generally safer extent.
  2. Opioid antagonists (naloxone, naltrexone): these drugs block the effects of heroin, preventing overdose but also minimizing the incentive for continued heroin abuse.
  3. Mixed opioid agonist-antagonist (Suboxone): Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. It partially mimics the effects of heroin (buprenorphine) while also lowering potential risks of overdose (naloxone).
  4. Alpha-2 agonist (Clonidine): Clonidine helps reduce “fight or fight” chemicals in the body that are usually present in higher amounts during withdrawal and are responsible for a number of the unpleasant symptoms to arise.

Methadone and buprenorphine are some of the most recognized methods for opiate detox. They are longer acting than heroin, and they facilitate an easily controlled and tapered method for users to step down gradually from their peak opioid use. The process can be lengthy, but the goal is to keep withdrawal symptoms at a manageable level throughout detox.

Benefits of Professional Help

Professional help is very effective during heroin detoxification as various scientific methods aim to assist during the rehab process. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recommends detoxification followed by both medication (where applicable) and behavioral therapy, followed by relapse prevention. According to NIDA, effective treatment must address medical and mental health services as well as follow-up options, such as community or family based recovery support systems.

There are are many short term and long term benefits or rehab. During short rehab medications and support is provided to overcome early withdrawal symptoms. When a person is not heavily addicted a short term rehab gives time to regroup and might help.

If a person is long term user of drugs and is heavily addicted long term rehabilitation is recommended. Based on NIDA Study rehabilitation programs of at least 90 or longer are needed to give an addicted person enough time to recover.

Withdrawal from heroin by detoxing is a first step towards life of sobriety, it is important to ask for professional help during heroin withdrawal period in order to improve chances of success. By succeeding during the detox it is easier to start a new and lead a normal life.


  • Kosten, T. R., O’Connor, P. G. (2003). Management of drug and alcohol withdrawal. N Engl J Med, 348(18), 1786.
  • Opiate withdrawal. Medline Plus.
  • NIDA InfoFacts: Treatments Approaches for Drug Addiction National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Retrieved on 2017-02-27

Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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