Heroin Withdrawal: What to Expect
What is heroin withdrawal like? Most heroin addicts wouldn’t bother trying to answer this question. It’s something so awful that they just can’t communicate it, especially in terms that the average person is used to hearing.
That’s one of the reasons we planned this post. We wanted to convey to our readers the suffering that heroin addicts experience on a daily basis. We hope you’ll stick around long enough to finish reading this article. It just might change your perspective.
For those who are suffering from heroin addiction, it is not easy to stop using the drug quickly. Most heavy users will suffer from some form of heroin withdrawal, the symptoms of which can range from difficult but manageable, to life-threatening. Those who suffer from the most severe form of heroin withdrawal might need to check into rehab and undergo medical supervision during their detox.
Heroin addiction is among the most common addictions in the USA, with almost half a million Americans suffering from this condition at any given time. In 2017, around 886,000 Americans tried heroin at least once, with about 25% of that number becoming addicted. During that year, 15,000 Americans died from a heroin overdose.
Why is Heroin Abuse so Common?
There are a number of troubling reasons that heroin use is so prevalent in the United States. In the next few sections, we’ll explore some of the most significant ones.
Quick and Powerful Effects
Like all naturally occurring opiates, heroin is derived from the poppy plant. It was created to help people addicted to morphine by giving them a supposedly “less dangerous” alternative. However, heroin proved to be more addictive than morphine.
One of the reasons why heroin is so addictive is because of the quick onset of its effects. Just like morphine, heroin is a depressant. It can provide relief for those suffering from chronic pain. It can also act as a calmer for people suffering from anxiety.
However, heroin has a much faster onset of effects because it is generally injected directly into the blood stream. The direct ingestion also results in more intense effects.
Prone to be Used with Other Medication
People who have heroin addiction are known to use heroin with another substance. Alcohol is commonly used with heroin to help boost the calming effects of both, but this combination can quickly lead to an overdose. Some symptoms of overdose include slow heart rate, shallow breathing, and deep sedation.
Heroin is also commonly paired with benzodiazepines to increase the sedative effect. Just like with alcohol, overdosing on heroin and benzodiazepines can result in shallow breathing and slow heart rate. Combining heroin with benzodiazepines reduces the effectivity of naloxone, a drug that can save a person from dying due to an overdose.
Heroin is an illegal drug that can be bought from street-level dealers. It is a common drug for party-goers because of the “rush” of euphoria that comes with ingesting the drug. This drug can come in two forms: powder and liquid.
In powder form, it can be either white or brown. Pure heroin is bitter, so dealers will cut it with similar powdery substances such as flour, starch, or powdered milk. Powdered heroin is snorted.
In liquid form, heroin comes as a black and sticky substance known as “black tar”. This form is considered to be more “crude”, as the liquid contains a high amount of impurities. The black substance is dissolved, loaded into a syringe, and injected into the body.
What is Heroin Withdrawal Like?
When a person is addicted to heroin, the pleasure centers in their brain lights up every time they ingest the drug. The drug works by attaching to the pleasure receptors in the brain. This releases large amounts of dopamine, resulting in feelings of euphoria and contentment. What’s more, the drug also blocks pain receptors. Over time, addicts need to ingest larger amounts of heroin to get that same effect.
A person who stops taking heroin goes into heroin withdrawal when their brain starts to “look” for the pleasurable effects of taking heroin.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, addicts can start experiencing heroin withdrawal between 6-12 hours from their last dose. Heroin is eliminated from the body faster compared to other types of opioids, which means heroin withdrawal symptoms can arise more quickly.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Since heroin is a derivative of morphine, the withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of opioids. The intensity and duration of these symptoms will depend on the severity of the addiction. However, other factors such as health, age, and genetic can also play a part, which is why people experience heroin withdrawal symptoms differently. Some people have mild symptoms that can be monitored and managed at home, while others experience dangerous symptoms that need trained medical supervision.
For the sake of simplicity, here is the typical heroin withdrawal timeline:
First 24 Hours
The first 24 hours after the last dose of heroin are marked by the following symptoms:
- Mild to moderate muscle aches
- Runny eyes
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Cold sweats
- Mild insomnia
After 24 hours, the severity of the heroin withdrawal symptoms intensify. The symptoms can become painful and more difficult to manage. These symptoms can last anywhere from 2 to 5 days.
- Severe nausea
- Dilated pupils and blurry vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- Severe abdominal cramping
- High blood pressure
- Severe headaches
After 72 Hours
Generally, most people find that their symptoms begin to subside after 72 hours. However, if there are symptoms that persist beyond a week without significant improvement, you should consult with your physician or check into rehab to help manage these symptoms.
How to Help
If you or someone you know going through heroin withdrawal, it is important to get help as soon as possible. The first step is finding a licensed drug treatment councilor or physician who has experience treating patients who suffer from heroin withdrawal. It will further help if they know how to manage heroin withdrawal symptoms.
They will recommend the right course of treatment, whether it is through medically-supervised detoxification, checking into a rehab center, or getting drug counseling services. Finding a reputable treatment center can be difficult, so you can check the National Institute on Drug Abuse for resources. Or you can give us a call today. We know what heroin withdrawal is like and we know how to help.