As a fast acting and addictive opioid, heroin is a severe addiction affecting many people from all walks of life regardless of ethnicities, age, and income. The number of people it has been affecting is currently on the rise. According to the  U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 600,000 Americans need some kind of treatment for heroin addiction. It’s been heavily associated with celebrities and is the starting drug of choice in adolescents.

The reality is that the substance abuse disorder of heroin is a growing and sad reality which impacts people in communities where drug addiction is common. Its highly addictive nature causes complete and utter dependence robbing a person of identity and everything s/he has. Regular, long-term abuse of heroin has been known to cause long-term effects to the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems and studies have shown irreversible damage to the brain’s white matter due to heroin use that can impair decision-making abilities.

What are the Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

According to the CDC, heroin withdrawal symptoms may be short-lived, but they are used as a cheaper alternative to prescription painkillers especially among newer demographic groups with historically low rates of heroin use including women and higher income people.

The health risks associated with heroin depends on the amount that is used that results in certain physical and psychological effects. Cocaine can be regularly injected, but also smoked or snorted. Injection increases the risk of overdose and serious, long-term viral infections such as HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B along with bacterial infections of the skin, bloodstream, and heart.

An ongoing heroin abuser can experience severe mental and physical symptoms also referred to as heroin withdrawal symptoms. Combining both heroin with other drugs or alcohol can increase the risk of overdose.

What are the Stages in the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline?

Withdrawing from an addiction to heroin is a tough process and is dependent on the length of time the user has been on heroin and whether other drugs were used simultaneously. Understanding the heroin withdrawal timeline depends on the factors such as length of time being dependent on the drug along with the amount taken along with other drugs. These are certain common aspects that are outlined here.

First 6 to 24 Hours

Withdrawal symptoms typically start six to 24 hours after the last drug use. These symptoms can include anxiety, muscle aches and spasms, insomnia, increased sweating, nausea, chills, and abdominal cramping. These symptoms typically peak between two and four days before subsiding altogether.

Within the First 72 Hours

At this stage of the heroin withdrawal timeline, one will start experiencing psychological and physical symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting, mood swings, depression, and insomnia. These symptoms can continue up until the peak withdrawal stage of withdrawal.

Peak Withdrawal Symptoms

After the first 72 hours, symptoms of dysphoria starts appearing in addition to shivers, intense stomach pains, and spasms – these symptoms may continue as late as five or six days into the withdrawal process until one reaches the acute withdrawal stage – the home stretch of the withdrawal timeline.

Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

The appearance of acute withdrawal symptoms indicates the end of the heroin withdrawal timeline. One may undergo these symptoms for several weeks and include mild symptoms of insomnia, loss of appetite, and nausea.

Why Should I Detox?

Quitting heroin cold turkey is never a good idea. In order for a substance abuser to come clean, one needs the support of a medical team of professionals to prevent relapse. The physical aspect of withdrawal is much too demanding to undergo alone. Even if one has a strong intention of quitting, medical detox is recommended for heroin withdrawal. When people with heroin addiction relapse, they end up overdosing This is where a medical detox can help with the process of identifying emotional triggers so one can learn how to cope with them without addictive substances.

What is the Next Treatment Step?

Managing the heroin withdrawal process successfully requires the support of a professional team in addition to the emotional support of family and friends. All cases of heroin addiction – from mild to severe – are best managed at a rehabilitation center.

A full continuum of care is imperative for managing the opioid withdrawal process successfully. It typically includes three levels: detox, residential and outpatient services.


The goal of the first stage of withdrawal treatment or detox is to eliminate the physical need for the drug. Typically, a medical team consisting of doctors, nurses and staff will do a complete medical evaluation to determine the level of addiction and health needs resulting in a detox plan which starts the process. Detox at Arete Recovery also includes FDA-approved medications to manage withdrawal symptoms throughout the entire process. Following medical detoxification, a patient will be admitted to either an inpatient or residential program depending on the medical evaluation and the degree of substance abuse in patients.

Inpatient or Residential Recovery

This next stage of withdrawal treatment is to continue treatment in either an inpatient or residential facility. Depending on the medical detox plan, patients can either spend full-time at a short-term facility (approximately 45 days) or a longer period (60-90+ days) at a residential recovery. They are similar in that they both ease the patient from detox into fewer intensive forms of treatment. They are different in that a resident is learning important life skills and coping strategies at a residential recovery center to prevent relapse so s/he is better equipped for long-term recovery.

Professionals at Arete Recovery provide medical supervision and support in both the inpatient and residential recovery to help the patient transition effectively from treatment to the outpatient stage.


After the successful completion of inpatient or residential recovery, you may transition to an intensive outpatient program designed to provide ongoing counseling as you navigate life beyond the walls of inpatient clinic and residential recovery.

Transitioning to an intensive outpatient program (OP) is imperative for preventing relapses and abstaining from heroin for the long-term. Contrary to on-site programs like inpatient and residential recovery, outpatient clinics give clients the flexibility to commit to their responsibility while supporting them with rehab services at a facility, clinic or hospital for ongoing treatment. A client’s treatment is determined by their level of addiction.

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