Cirque Lodge > Blog > Addiction > How Long Does it Take to Detox From Heroin?

Heroin is one of the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, with roughly 1 million people having reported using heroin within the last year.

Heroin is one of the most dangerous illicit substances to be abused and is classed as a Schedule I controlled substance, as it has no medicinal use and a high potential for addiction. Despite regulations from the drug enforcement administration, the number of opioid-related deaths continues to rise each year.

Heroin detox can be incredibly uncomfortable and painful, but knowing the risks and timeline of withdrawal could help prevent relapse or an overdose in yourself or a loved one.

What Are the Effects of Heroin Use?

Heroin is derived from morphine and is a central nervous system depressant. This means it slows down a person's brain function and can affect their heart rate and breathing. Heroin enters and affects the body very quickly, rapidly reducing pain sensations, breathing rate, and heart rate.

When heroin enters the body, it is metabolized into morphine and 6-acetyl morphine and quickly binds to opioid receptors. This chemical process creates an intense 'rush' of dopamine which produces a euphoric feeling that is both intoxicating and addictive.

The euphoric high that many users describe just after taking the drug is as a result of a rush of dopamine to the brain. The amount of dopamine heroin causes to enter the brain is much more intense than a person can receive naturally through activities like exercise, sex, and eating. The user often experiences a strong desire to replicate this intense pleasurable feeling, thus the dangerous road to heroin addiction begins. Heroin affects the brain reward system and increases the user’s tolerance to the effects of the drug, meaning they eventually need a higher dose to reach the same 'high' as they first did. When someone addicted to heroin stops using, it can take as little as a few hours for withdrawal symptoms set in.

Heroin euphoria is a feeling often described by those who use heroin as a wave of intense pleasure and joy. In addition to the euphoric rush, users usually experience:

  • dry mouth
  • rush of warmth to the skin
  • heavy limbs
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • severe itching
  • drowsiness
  • decreased heart rate and breathing

If too much heroin is consumed, the heart rate can slow to a potentially deadly pace causing a heroin overdose.

How long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

When asking how long does it take to detox from heroin, a helpful way of calculating how long a drug stays in your body is to know its half-life. The half-life of a substance refers to the length of time it takes for half of the concentration of the drug - or half of the dose taken - to be processed by the body into metabolic by-products. This can also be a good indicator of when withdrawal symptoms may begin.

It takes about 5 half-lives for a substance to be eliminated from your system. Heroin has a short half-life of 2 to 6 minutes and is metabolized to 6-acetyl morphine and morphine.

The half-life of morphine is 1.5 hours to 7 hours and the half-life of 6-acetyl morphine ranges from 6 to 25 minutes. Meaning if you have consumed a single dose of heroin, it will take around 30 minutes for half of the drug to have left your system.

However, there are a number of factors that influence how long the drug lingers in the body, including:

  • Age
  • Metabolic rate
  • Genetics
  • Diet and hydration

Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction rates have been steadily increasing since 2oo1, with more opioid-related deaths recorded too. A prescription drug addiction 'epidemic' in the US could be partly to blame. When people are no longer able to source their prescription opiates, either because their doctor has stopped prescribing them or because they are too expensive to buy illicitly, some turn to heroin. What starts as the seemingly harmless action of taking a few more pills than your doctor listed in your prescription each day, can rapidly progress to a prescription drug addiction. About 80% of people who use heroin initially misused prescription opioids.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the length of time and size of the heroin dose generally consumed. Despite the variation in intensity, if you have a heroin addiction or have developed a heroin dependency, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Heroin causes a combination of both physical symptoms and psychological withdrawal symptoms. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) list common side effects of heroin withdrawal as:

Mild Symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweats
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle spasms
  • Diarrhea
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Difficulty concentrating

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia/trouble sleeping
  • Depression
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Drug cravings

Generally, the withdrawal symptoms are the opposite of the feelings that heroin provides. The rush of euphoria is often replaced with psychological withdrawal symptoms of numbness and depression.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The length of time it takes a person to detox from heroin depends on a number of different factors including how long they have been taking the drug, the method of use, the dose that they take, and genetics. The onset of withdrawal symptoms is relatively quick, compared to other commonly abused substances. Heroin users generally begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms between 6 and 12 hours after the last heroin dose.

Days 1-2 It is common for muscle pains and aches to begin on the first day. Over the first 48 hours, these steadily intensify. Other common withdrawal symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking, and diarrhea.

Days 3-5 Heroin detox symptoms during days 3 to 5 often include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers, and nausea/vomiting.

Days 6-7 After a week, most people will be nearing the end of the most intense physical withdrawal symptoms. Psychological symptoms may linger.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)

PAWS can be a major factor in relapse, no matter how committed a person is to their addiction treatment and getting sober. Opioid withdrawal itself is extremely distressing, but some these symptoms continue after the withdrawal process is complete. PAWS can negatively impact recovery and it is important to practice self-care strategies and communicate openly with family members and medical professionals about how you are feeling. Outpatient programs, group therapy, and ensuring ongoing support from those who understand your illness is important. Heroin addiction treatment programs will provide support to people with post-acute heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment for Heroin Abuse and Medical Detox

Due to the distressing withdrawal symptoms of heroin detox, many people opt for a medical detox to increase their chances of successfully completing the detox process without relapse. A medical detox generally takes place in a rehab treatment center or a specialist heroin detox center and medical professionals oversee the withdrawal process and monitor your mental and physical health including your blood pressure and breathing. Medical supervision generally decreases the chances of relapse and in some cases, a treatment provider will prescribe certain medications that can help relieve withdrawal symptoms.

Can I Detox From Heroin Cold Turkey on my Own?

It is not recommended to attempt to quit heroin cold turkey alone. If you have developed a physical dependence, quitting an addictive substance alone is very difficult. Those who have a heroin addiction will have built up a tolerance to the drug. Detox prom heroin often causes powerful cravings for the drug, meaning the risk of relapse is high. Those who have stayed clean for a number or days and then relapse are at a higher risk of heroin overdose. Heroin abuse causes a tolerance to quickly build, so consuming the dose that you normally would at this point in the heroin detox process can cause an overdose, as the body is no longer able to deal with this quantity of the drug.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

After heroin withdrawal symptoms have subsided and the heroin withdrawal process is complete, it is time for the next stage in the recovery process. Treatment centers offer inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment options. Outpatient options allow people to stay at home and maintain their daily routine while going to an addiction center to meet with addiction and mental health professionals to receive substance abuse treatment.

More than one in four adults living with serious mental health problems also has a substance abuse problem. Heroin users can become physically dependent on the substance rapidly, quickly developing a substance use disorder and feeling out of control, but there is help available.

As a dual diagnosis treatment center, Cirque Lodge offers simultaneous treatment for mental illness and drug addiction. Making use of therapies such as trauma therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to support groups, we want to help you overcome drug abuse and live a healthy fulfilling life.

Contact Us

Contact Cirque Lodge today to learn more about our heroin detox program and the addiction treatment process.

Read more: How long does cocaine stay in your urine

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