How does a heroin craving feel?

A drug craving is somewhat similar to a deep yearning. But the craving for an addictive substance such as heroin, is sharper, stronger and much more intense. 5 tips for coping with a craving for heroin here.

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By Guest Writer, Kristie Garcia

How does an unbearable heroin craving feel?

A drug craving is somewhat similar to a deep yearning. But the craving for an addictive substance such as heroin, is sharper, stronger and much more intense. So, how does a heroin craving really FEEL? Kristie tells us from her experience. And, we invite your questions or comments about getting past an urge or craving to use at the end.

A craving is a brain activation

Most people who are withdrawing from heroin experience a strong desire to take more heroin. This is known as experiencing cravings, and cravings are common among people withdrawing from many addictive substances. Part of the craving is driven by the wish to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and part of it is the desire to re-experience the pleasure of the heroin high. Also to stop the uncomfortableness of withdrawal.

When I’m experiencing cravings, it feels like life itself is dependent on getting and consuming either heroin or some other type of opiate substance that is causing those feelings. I usually feel justified in saying or doing whatever it takes to feel that satisfaction and relief. But that relief will only last until that drug starts to wear off, which might just be a few hours or might be a day depending on the quality of the heroin/opiate.

In my personal experience (and research can even back it up), cravings are strong memories that are linked to the effect of drugs on the brain’s biochemistry. Imaging studies have shown intense brain activation when pictures that are linked to drug use (like a pipe, or a white powdery substance resembling cocaine) are shown to addicts.

I know the intoxication you feel the moment that memory hits you and your entire body tingles with anticipation. It’s as if your whole being is crying out saying “This is what we’ve been waiting for. Give it to me!!!” I never know to expect it, but when they hit, there’s no questioning – I know that a craving has just taken over me. It’s no wonder that people go “out and use” over these things, especially, early on in recovery.

Trust me: been there, done that.

How to get over a craving for heroin

So, how can you get past a craving? And are there ways to switch off a craving? Here are some really practical things that have helped me (and continue to keep me motivated).

1. Believe in recovery.

When you’re struggling with drug addiction, sobriety most definitely seems like an impossible goal. But recovery is never out of reach, no matter how hopeless your situation seems even though I can’t convince myself of this, IT IS A FACT. Change is possible with the right treatment and support, and by addressing the root cause of your addiction. Here’s what has helped me.

2. Don’’t give up.

Try again, even if you’’ve tried and failed before. This will actually be my 6th rodeo. The road to recovery often involves bumps, pitfalls, setbacks, and lots and lots of relapse (in my case). But by examining the problem and thinking about change, you’re already on your way.

3. Get professional mental health treatment.

Addiction and the brain go hand-in-hand. You have a better chance of kicking your heroin habit if you get drug counseling (therapy) and other support (namely by your friends and family) early in your decision to become drug-free. Counseling can include 12-step groups like NA, one-on-one counseling, psychotherapy, or entering a day drug treatment program.

4. Look into opiate substitution therapies.

Medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence can include the use of buprenorphine (Suboxone) to complement the education, counseling and other support measures that focus on the behavioral aspects of opioid addiction. This medication can allow one to regain a normal state of mind whilst being free of withdrawal, cravings and the drug-induced highs and lows of addiction. Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and dependence is much like using medication to treat other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, asthma or diabetes.

Taking medication for opioid addiction is not the same as substituting one addictive drug for another. Although I have not tried this myself, the people that I am associated with say that it is much harder to come off of methadone and suboxone, than it is to come off heroin. So just consider doing some research on it and talking with a doctor before you make that decision.

Once established on a regular dose, most people stay on buprenorphine for a long period of time. This is called maintenance and helps you to keep off street drugs. Some people gradually reduce the dose and come off it. This is called detoxification, or ‘detox’. However, it usually takes several months, and sometimes years, before most people are ready to consider ‘detox’. It is often safer to stay on buprenorphine then to ‘detox’ before you are ready. Buprenorphine-naloxone, generically named Suboxone.

Methadone is an opioid and has been the standard form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and dependence for more than 30 years. Methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence is only available from federally-regulated clinics which are few in number and unappealing for most patients. In addition, studies show that participation in a methadone program improves both physical and mental health, and decreases mortality (deaths) from opioid addiction. Like Suboxone, when taken properly, medication-assisted treatment with methadone suppresses opioid withdrawal, blocks the effects of other problem opioids and reduces cravings.

For many years doctors have used methadone to treat heroin addiction. But people who take methadone have to go to their methadone clinic often their medicine. This may be a help to people who need the supports services at their clinic, but for others it can be a barrier to treatment. Many communities do not have methadone clinics, or their clinics do not have room for new patients.

5. Understand the brain science.

When addictive drugs are consumed, they bypass the normal functions of the body that would generate signals of pleasure after activities like sex, eating or other pleasurable actions. The chemicals in the drug trick the body into feeling pleasure, thus the euphoria and sense of well-being a person can get when they are high. However, the chemical feeling that you get is NOT REAL. It’s an illusion. And when you end your physical and psychological dependence on heroin, life can only get better. Really.

So, how does a craving really feel? Now, it’s your turn to share. Because when we bring light to the pain and the difficulty of recovery, we help ourselves and each other. Please share your comments, feedback, or experiences below.

Reference Sources:
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.


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  1. Im on methadone and for me, it has truly saved my life. Forreal. I am 8 year combat veteran, USArmy, Sergeant. I got addicted to literally any pill ?that took pain away!! I was injured in Iraq, Mosul. They put a plate in my Ankle, stiched me and a handful of pills was given to me. Off I went back to Iraq. I got addicted to the pain pills, even after I healed. I was taking the pills for emotional support… So stupid, I know! I never thought pain meds could take cintrol of ones life like they did mine. Now, im recovering slowly :). Please pray for me and I will pray for you


  2. I do not believe necessarily in taking these medications for coming off “hard” drugs but to be in a rehab surrounded by recovery and getting counselling to get to the “roots” of one’s individual needs…to make it “easier” may make it harder and to detox straight from one’s drug of choice is proved all the time in C.A. and the other 12 step programs and to stay clean in a rehab is a priority not to try to do it alone…l have known people substituting their drug of choice for these so called meds. and has not worked…l think getting through the hardship of withdrawal with rehab and 12 step fellowships is “Working your program of recovery” and though can be very difficult their can be the realization when and if an urge comes after a recovery all the work and sweat one has endured to stop is a foundation to not want to go through it again…would l substitute weed for alcohol or alcohol for cocaine or heroin??? An easier softer way is it ???

  3. I’ve been clean for over 20 years. I still have intense cravings sometimes. Like tonight. I’m under a lot of stress at the moment, and that’s how I’ve found myself on this page. I’m glad I moved to a town where I don’t know anyone. I never imagined I would still have days like this 20 years later.

  4. I was heavily addicted to opiates, any and all opiates, for nearly 15 years. Addiction is the ultimate “field leveler”, if you will…it doesn’t make a bit of difference whether you have a genetic component at work in your case or if it long term treatment for pain was the catalyst or you were experimenting and how the time flies and one morning you woke up sick like we all do eventually— the ONLY thing that is germane in this equation is this; Once addicted, everything that went before is irrelevant…you are now fighting an existential battle, literally.
    CRAVINGS— Once, during a period of horrific withdrawal (from which I nearly died) I had an image come to me as regards what was going on inside my organism; It was a vision of BILLIONS of baby birds all crying out at once to be fed their “worm”. Of course, the baby birds are the cells of the withdrawing addicts body. The physiological “noise” of acute withdrawal can scarcely be imagined save by another addict. William S. Burroughs wrote, “A man might die simply because he could no longer bear to remain in his own body.” Another quote from the author (who was an addict from the age of 30 in 1944 until he entered the Methadone program in the early 1980’s and remained on Methadone maintenance until his death in 1997 at the age of 83 ), “No one will stand still for junk sickness unless they cannot score or are otherwise cut off from junk.” THIS is the bedrock truth and segues into what I want to say about abstinence as a way of kicking opiates; The numbers vary slightly, but it is generally believed that sans treatment with an agonist or partial agonist opioid, the relapse rate is an abysmal 95% or higher. I have given “The Rooms” of NA more than one shot and found them to be occupied by people who feel they HAD to say, “Hey, I am not picking up or using”…peer pressure. Of course NA has their success stories but consider this— a person who has an “eating” habit (who takes the drug by mouth and/or snorts) have a MUCH LONGER and SEVERE withdrawal than an IV user. The IV user can expect about a week of acute withdrawal then a marked improvement with the physical symptoms. The person with an eating habit can expect at least 3 weeks of unendurable suffering, sometimes longer…it is usually the eating addict who might die of withdrawal if suddenly deprived of opiates, as in incarceration. So, you would never find a person with an eating habit in a meeting stand up and say, I am John Kicking, and I have not used in 6 days…” No, they would already be knocked flat by shattering withdrawal…I know. So who are all these people saying just that? And you had better not let on that you are ON any treatment medication at a meeting…you will feel the arctic blast of disapproval and be told as much. Peer pressure mixed with judgement, not a conducive atmosphere for recovery.
    Myself, I did do the Methadone clinic experience for approximately 8 months…it served it’s purpose. The breakthrough for me was Suboxone…I reported as directed to the doctor’s office in moderate to severe withdrawal. When got home, I put an 8mg strip on either side of my tongue…two strips. One half hour later I emerged from my room. My wife took one look at my face and burst into tears, seeing the withdrawal was completely arrested and that I was back. Don’t rush to get off of Suboxone or whatever your regimen is…you will always be an addict, so don’t feel bad about yourself if you have to remain on addiction medication for a good number of years, sometimes…often, for the rest of our lives. I wish all of you a full and happy and healthy life!

  5. can you please tell me if molina healthcare is accepted… it’s for heroin addition.. interested in getting help for my grown son. he smokes tar heroin off foil. interested in drug counseling for him. he goes in and out of attending NA meetings. thanks.

    1. Hi Bonnie. Call a toll-free Heroin Helpline on 1-888-988-7934 to get in touch with trusted and confidential helpline professionals available 24/7.

  6. Danny

    I can’t stand 12 step people who try to tell other addicts that there is no other way and that using drugs to detox from drugs is bad. Surely you know, being that you’re a 12 stepper, that it isn’t the drug that’s the problem right? It’s the person who’s at fault and being that they suffer from a spiritual malady, and are morally sick, I doubt a few suboxone or benzos will make much difference.

    You mention that using more addictive drugs won’t work. I’m willing to bet that more people have got clean using some helpful medication for detox purposes than have got clean via na/aa who’s actual success rate IS MASSIVELY LESS THAN 1%

    It has been shown that it is better to receive no treatment at all than the receive the so called treatment of aa. The so called treatment for addicts that is run by alcoholics and junkies, with not a single qualification in medicine or addiction treatment between them yet who feel qualified to tell those suffering from active addiction with potential comorbidity that they shouldn’t take any medication because it means they’re not sober. People are in fact told not to use ANY mood altering substances including antidepressents. Heroine addicts taking methadone or subutex along with anyone who used or drank that day are not able to share in several of the meetings that I attended because they are not classed as clean. Aa is dangerous quakery masquerading as treatment and based on a book that was written almost hundred years ago yet has not updated its advice with advancements in science neither is the first few hundred pages of the big book even allowed to be changed! It’s as if it’s the divine word of God, but really it’s the word of a philandering alcoholic quack psychopath!

    I was forced to attend aa and na during my stay at rehab and was not able to sit in the uncomfortable chair for long due to restless legs and pain from heroin withdrawal. I was told that I was being selfish interrupting the meeting and thinking that my addiction was worse than anyone else’s. Actually I will say that yeah I do think that heroine addiction is worse than Marijuana addiction but that’s just me. But anyway…

    The first time I realised how terrible na is was the first time I saw the steps. Step one… admit we are powerless over alcohol or drugs in my case. Erm no. For a start nobody is powerless over alcohol or drugs. There are very few things that a person is ever completely powerless over. If I was powerless I wouldn’t have been sitting in that rehab reading those steps. If drugs were stronger than me they would never hsve allowed me to even pick up the phone to book myself into rehab. Of course I had lost control and yes my life had become unmanageable but was I powerless? No and neither is anyone else. Telling an addict this is extremely dangerous. Yet it is the basic premise of aa.

    We are also told that unles’s we keep going to aa for the rest of our lives that we will either die or be institutionalised. Hmm. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to get and stay clean without aa. In fact I know it is and I know more people that have stayed clean without na than with. There’s a reason for this I think.

    You see na doesn’t offer away to stop drinking or using. The word recovery isn’t mentioned a single time in the steps and the steps are nothing but an assault on a person’s self esteem. From step one and powerlessness to step two where we are accused of being insane (or rather, it says a higher power can restore us to sanity, which I assume means we have been considered as insane).

    I need to point out here that contrary to aa, the definition of insanity is NOT doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So as well as being totally devoid of professional qualifications and giving out medical advice that can be and has been fatal, aa also has the ability to redefine words!

    Where was I? Oh yes, the steps and the removal of the addicts self esteem. If they had any left to start with that is. So steps 4 5 6 and 7 all are there to remind us of our wrongs, our shortcomings and our defects of character. 8 9 and 10 require us to write down every single time we have resented anyone or had any trouble with peoplearning including any suffered abuse or childhood trauma etc. We are asked then to make amends to these people who we harmed (by the way, people that we harmed includes anyone who might have abused us, including as children, because we have resented them). I’m sure if anyone has actually read this far and hasn’t had the pleasure of being involved with 12 steppery will be thinking at this moment that I’m mad or lying. Alas no. When I volunteered that I didn’t feel as if I needed to make amends to the person who had abused me as a child I was told that I should consider the part that I had played.

    Step 11 advises us to improve our contact with God. We had better hope that we have had contact with God because we are told that unless we have a spiritual awakening we will relapse and die. The lie that the steps program is not a religious cult is disprove st this point because despite being told that it is spiritual and not religious we are told in this step to pray to God. Another con is that as well as God not being part of a religion we were assured that to be part of aa we didn’t need to believe in God or have a religion because a higher power could be anything we liked (even being told a Group Of Drunks would suffice as long as the power was greater than mine). The lie here is that the steps don’t refer to a higher spirit or whatnot or even gods with a lower case g, but to God with a capital G as in the god of the Bible.

    The 12th and penultimate step is probably the most shameful of all in that it is the step that gets us to go out recruiting for the cult that has incidentally promised us that it doesn’t do recruitment.

    Ah yeah I almost forgot step 13. The step that prohibits any relationships between male and female. Indeed one is prohibited from having a sponsor of the opposite gender lest anything naughty occur. We are after all as addicts completely unable to control ourselves in any way when it comes to sex and the opposite gender. I assume they don’t mind sex between members of the same gender? If so they didn’t say, and me having no morals whatsoever will get my cake where ever and whenever I can. I hate to think what aa is doing or will do now that the lgbt community now requires something like 200 genders be acknowledged… It’s also the step that the large amount of sex offenders who attend aa and na by court order like least.

    It’s a wonderful thing to hear that attendance at 12 step meetings is falling. It’s wonderful because it means that people are realising what a con it actually is. It’s worse than a con actually. It’s downright ineffective at helping addicts stop using and as previously mentioned recovery isn’t mentioned at all in the steps.

    The steps are basically a way to keep addicts who are already guilt and shame ridden, to continue to feel guilt and shame ridden and to ensure that they never recover – we are told once an addict always an addict, and that we can only ever be clean just for today. Well I beg to differ. Addicts can and do recover. But I’ve never met one who went to na who stayed in long term recovery. This could be down to the constant reminder of how shit we are, how we’ve hurt everyone and how well always be an addict. Then there’s the reminder that if we stop attending these miserable depressing meetings well relapse and die. And of course if those things don’t send you back to using the knowledge that we are only ever on a daily reprieve, that we can only ever be clean just for today, can stop us having any real faith in ourselves and our recovery, and that a recovery of 20 years is no stronger than a recovery of 20 hours.

    Can you tell that I don’t think much of the 12 step program and it’s method of “treatment”? If I don’t come across as overly enthusiastic you can put it down to the experience I had in the “rooms”, and the experience of others I have known who put their trust in “a Group Of Drunks” who either stopped taking their medication, which could have led to serious health problems (I don’t just mean drug addiction medication I mean a girl who, so petrified of relapse was she, and being young and naive, believed the quakery of aa when she was told that if she took any alcohol ever again she was as good as dead. She refused from then on to take her asthma inhaler when she discovered that it contained alcohol. I told her it didn’t include asthma inhalers but she was adamant and asked the secretary at the next meeting. He told her he wasn’t sure ! She could have died. Like two other people in aa I know of who succumbed to the shocking and irresponsible lies it uses. Both of these people committed suicide because they couldn’t make it without using maintenance medication and had been told that the weren’t winners and that they weren’t clean and sober. Both would still be alive if it wasn’t for the cult that is aa and all that was needed was for the to be told that it was OK and that they would be supported I’m any decision that would ensure that they didn’t relapse onto the drug of choice. Criminal charges were not brought against the idiots who gave the advice. But I really hope they don’t stop thinking about it.

    Anyone wanting a real, evidence based treament program should look into smart recovery or rational recovery. Or try 12 steps. You might like it and it might work for you.

  7. Well, I’m detoxing at home now, and it’s like waves of wanting something more than air. I just want it to end so I can be a good man.

    1. Hi John. It’s not recommended to detox from heroin at home. Withdrawal may be intense and hard. So, if you have any problems, I suggest that you call a toll-free Heroin Helpline on 1-888-988-7934 to get in touch with trusted and confidential helpline professionals available 24/7.

  8. Methadone and suboxone are just as evil, if not worse than heroin ime. KRATOM HAS BEEN MY GO TO AND IT WORKS AMAZING, IS LEGAL IN MOST STATES, and you can buy it at most head shops or order it online for cheap. Kratom is a natural herb that grows indigenous in south east asia. It’s part of the evergreen coffee plant family but contains two opioid alkaloids, which are mitragynine and 7-hydroxymitragynine. It does not contain caffeine. It’s leaves are chewed, but most common form is in crushed leaf (powdered form) that you can mix with tea, water, or any beverage. They even make capsules with the powder already in it. It can completely remove withdrawal symptoms if dosed accordingly to your tolerance. A single/standard dose is 5-10 grams, and you can repeat this throughout the day. Nausea is the only side effect I worry about, but ginger or antihistamines such as dramamine (dimenhydrinate), meclizine, benedryl, promethazine, or hydoxyzine can help significantly. Hydroxyzine and dimenhydrinate work best for me, and many others. Keep in mind antihistamines boost the effect of opioids due to inhibiting the enzyme that processes the drugs (Cytochrome P450 i believe). This will boost kratoms effects and make it more therapeutic. There’s many different strains of it too. Some are pure opiating, while others are more stimulating like cocaine or caffine, but nothing too intense. I’d compare it to how cannabis has “indica” and “sativa” and then the hybrids. Look it up, it could be life changing/saving. You won’t have to worry about overdosing, or true narcotic dope sickness. It can cause withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it, but you have to be using every day for more than 2 weeks for that to happen, but again, it is a more of a minor opioid withdrawal. It’s not NEARLY as bad as true narcotic withdrawal (i.e morphine, heroin, oxy, hydro etc.), so it sure as hell beats suboxone in my book. I’ve never used methadone but i hear it’s easily worse than Heroin in the long run. I’m Literally more afraid of subs than Heroin because it turned my life worse, until kratom. HOWEVER, different things work for different people, and sub/methadone have helped many manage around the clock, and I will say suboxone and methadone beat Kratom in duration by far. Suboxone is about 2 day duration; methadone is about 3. The only downfall is, if you are taking suboxone, the nalaxone will counter the effects of kratom or any opioid, for up to 2-4 days after taking the suboxone. To any out there reading this seeking help, you *CAN* do it. If anyone has any questions or needs someone to talk to, you can text me. Take care everyone


  9. Iv been off opiates for days weeks months at a time for the past 4 years and the craving was allways there especially when I’d sleep dreams about getting high were the worst and I’d allways go back never get treatment nothing well 4 days ago june 12 2016 will be always scared in my head forever the day i watched my mom dad and sister do everything they could do to bring me back when I od in are bathroom I say watched because I was there but gone no I didn’t c white lights all my family who’s gone no hands reaching for above or below thank God for the below part but I watched my dad almost pull my shoulder out of socket to get me flat on ground my sister put her hand on my nose to check if I was breathing such I wasn’t and my mom who’s a nurse look for a pulse that was gone to I was dead think dead at 30 I watched all this how I don’t no all I no is I was watching one minute next minute I opened my eyes alive before the paramedics got there I have an 8 year old daughter that almost lost her dad withdrawal cravings and using do not compare with death

  10. It feels like someone constantly pulling on your sleeve, relentlessly attempting to guide you in the opposite direction you’re trying to go.

  11. I never was on herion but i had surgey in 2012 for tendon repair. every since than ive been experiencing with diffrent types of pain pill. by far the worse withdrawls i experience was morphine 60mg. I was popping them like 2 once a day perscribed by the doctor. i was throwing up green stuff , i couldnt move, shaking and just a downright nasty feel. I eventually went to the methadone clinic. I thought that was the easy way out. this wasnt a very smart idea. then again maybe it was. i just feel like the cravings or really strong after quiting methadone cold turkey. i was just on 30 mg for 2 months once day. i quickly decided i needed control. I felt like a slave to the methadone clinic. I HATE THAT FEELING. i dont really feel anything physcally like last time. its onlyy in my head.Its like a fat girl love icecream. I dont know what worse. morphine or methadone!!! there is not medicine that can cure the disease of a substance abuser only Jesus Christ and im depending on him to get me through this. In Jesus Name I believe that it helped out alot of people, but its not for me. I want to be free. I asked God why he created such a powerful plant like the poppy plant. I was baffled for years. Now i come to the realization that it was made to prevent predators from detroying the plant.

  12. How do you explain a “craving” for something you’ve never used? Lately I’ve had terrible craving for heroin, a drug I’ve never touched in my life. I have a terminal brain tumor, degenerative disc disease, bulged, herniated and fractured discs from my neck to my lower back. I took morphine for a couple of years, but started to have liver problems so I stopped using it. What could be causing my crazy thought about heroin making me feel better? I’m scared.

    1. Hi Marla. I’m really sorry about your situation. This is the first time I’ve ever heard about a “craving” for something you’ve never used maybe it’s best you consult a therapist and talk about this with him/her.

  13. I am trying to understand about heroin cravings to try and be of support to my partner who still uses despite being in a methadone programme. He has been an addict for twenty years, we are close to breaking up because of the lies that go with his addiction. I’m trying to help but not sure how to. Any advice would be greatly appreciated x

    1. Hello Carrie. Heroin cravings some of the strongest people experience during withdrawal, especially when we’re talking about addiction. Have you considered attending counseling sessions? Also, you can go to therapy to learn ways you can support him through recovery, and truly understand the addiction process. Stay strong!

    1. Hello Col. You can fight and overcome addiction, no matter what. Call the helpline displayed on our site to get in touch with our trusted treatment providers who can help you find the most suitable rehab for you.

  14. There are two types of cravings, physiological caused by empty receptors ( that could be eliminated with antagonist medication ) and psychological, usually caused by the necessity to self-medicate emotions. It is crucial to be able to assess and identify the source of the craving in order to control it.

  15. Craving comes after first use, up until then it is an obsession. Find help in a drug rehabilitation program that suggests abstinence and a twelve step program. Treating an addiction with another addictive substance probably want work.

    1. You are right Danny. However, the maintenance medications calm the brain’s cravings for the drug one is quitting. That’s why they are used as a part of a full recovery treatment program that works on learning new coping mechanisms, building a new and positive lifestyle, getting to the root causes of the addictive behavior and dealing with them. A good support system and talk therapy, as well as group sessions promise great results. The thing is, addicted individuals need the maintenance medications to be able to focus on their recovery. If used carefully and as prescribed, there is very little risk of cross-addiction.

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