What are heroin withdrawal symptoms?

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can range from severe pain to excessive sneezing to priapism (persistent and painful erection of the penis). More here on what to expect during heroin withdrawal.

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Thinking about detoxing from heroin?

Heroin addictive properties can make heroin withdrawal a painful and uncomfortable process, although it is technically safer than alcohol withdrawal. Still, sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health can be fatal. Symptoms occur because when levels of heroin in your system start to drop, heroin no longer acts on opioid receptors in the central nervous system, and the body attempts to normalize brain function. More here on what heroin withdrawal symptoms to expect during detox. Plus, a section at the end for your questions about heroin.

Why do heroin withdrawal symptoms occur?

Heroin represses pain receptors and induces states of euphoria. More importantly, if you take heroin over time, you will become physically dependent on it. With physical dependence, the body adapts to the presence of heroin and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced abruptly. And the more heroin you use, the more your body becomes dependent on the drug and the worse the withdrawal symptoms become.

When you start to detox from heroin your body thinks that it needs the drug in order to function properly. This is why the physical need for heroin makes it difficult to stop using heroin and many times relapse is a likely occurrence.

What are symptoms of heroin withdrawal?

Heroin cravings alone makes it difficult to cope with withdrawal symptoms – coming off the euphoric high and feelings of depression and agitation make it difficult to combat symptoms. You can expect to feel heroin withdrawal between 6-24 hours after your last heroin use. The degree and time you go through withdrawal symptoms fluctuates depending on the dose of heroin you’re used to. There are a variety of symptoms you may experience withdrawing from heroin. Symptoms include:

  • akathsisa (inner restlessness)
  • cold sweats, chills
  • constipation
  • excessive yawning
  • fever
  • malaise
  • nausea
  • pain and cramps the body
  • priapism (persistent and painful erection of the penis)
  • sweating
  • tearing (involuntary tears in the eyes)
  • vomiting

Latent symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea
  • diluted pupils
  • disturbed sleep
  • depression
  • drug cravings

Heroin withdrawal symptoms: How long?

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can manifest a few hours after you missed an expected dose and peak around 42 to 72 hours after the last administered dose. Major heroin withdrawal symptoms won’t subside til about a week after the last heroin dose. However, some symptoms of withdrawal, called “protracted withdrawal symptoms” or PAWS, can last for weeks to months after your last dose. And the psychological effects of heroin addiction may last your entire life. You may find yourself always battling heroin cravings as the presence of stressors emerge in your life.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms treatment

It is important to be monitored while you are withdrawing from heroin. And that you have supportive care in place to prevent relapse. There are several possible treatments that you can seek. Some doctors prescribe Clonidine which reduces anxiety, agitation, muscle cramps, sweating. Buprenorphine has also been said to shorten detox.

Some have used a method called, “detox under anesthesia” or “rapid opiate detox”. Here you are put under anesthesia and injected with opiate-blocking drugs to speed up the bodies return to normal opiate function. However, this method comes with unnecessary risks and has not been proven to shorten heroin withdrawal or reduce the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. In fact, there have been a few deaths reported with this procedure (heroin withdrawal causes vomiting).

Longer term treatment is also recommended. Perhaps opiate substitution therapy can help you live a productive life (Ex. methadone maintenance). Psychological counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy can also help address the root causes for drug seeking. Support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART recovery can also help with the physical and psychosocial addiction to heroin. Addiction is a life time condition and having these supports are always helpful to keeping from abusing heroin again.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms questions

If you have anymore more questions about Heroin ask them below. We are happy to respond to you personally, and will try to answer your questions ASAP. And if we don’t know the answer, we will refer you to someone who does.

Reference Sources: PubMed Health: Opiate withdrawal
National Institute of Drug Abuse Drug Facts: Heroin
NIDA Research Reports on Heroin: Abuse and Addiction

New York City Department of Health and Hygiene: Heroin Abuse and Addiction
Indiana Criminal Justice Institute Indiana Point Of Youth: Heroin
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. I’ve tried time after time to quite. But I keep going back. I been do heroin since the age of 18 I’m now 32, in two months. This last time I was clean for two years, then I relapse November of 2016. Well I’m on my way to be clean. Wish my luck iam gonna need it , I hope this time its longer then 2 years.

  2. I just went through this with my daughter..detoxing at home..no medication…This is day 5 and she is now in treatment center…First i say be prepared for long nights..neither of us slept she took bathes constantly..a string support group around the clock..No phone for them..no car..no contact except for the support group that’s at your house..no interference.
    Best advice No contact outside home/Keep busy/Don’t argue or say anything back to whatever they say/when they say they are sick suggest hospital..they will go back to bed..
    Dedication to not leave the home..no one can go anywhere.
    While detox is going on ..its horrible..get them ready for treatment center..You can do this… DON’T WAIT….day 5 and she just realized today how much weight she has lost..

  3. I have a family member who has been addicted to heroin for a while now. He tries to stop, but it never lasts. Last night, I witnessed him fully high- it was extremely scary and he looked like he was mentally retarded (don’t mean to offend anybody). He couldn’t talk straight, stand straight, was falling over in his chair, sweating profusely, gagging into a towel. Is it safe to assume he had just done the drug? After about an hour, he seemed more together and was talking better, being friendly. Is this normal? My other question…will he start withdrawing if he doesn’t have it again by tonight (24 hours later)? He smokes pot every single day, all day. Does this alleviate the pain of withdrawal symptoms? It is clear that he cannot be helped. I am sickened by what I saw.

    1. Hi Lori. Yes, heroin withdrawal starts soon after the last dose has faded away. 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.

  4. I have been very confided about this for a while. Haven’t spoken to anyone besides my husband; I’m afraid I won’t be believed and judged on my sanity or something of the sort. I have chronic pain along with peripheral neuropathy and rsdiculopathy on both arms , hands…amd sciatica. Rsdiculopat3hy on both legs though. Non STOP pain.nevermind .never stops. Grin three moment I own eyes legs are throbbing. I need to know why I never get withdrawal symptoms.its been 6 years… been taking opiates. I have stopped abruptly many times. Never nothing but irritation. But then again that’s just my reaction to my husband at times.he also takes them. He gets so sick when he doesn’t have. I’ve even thought to myself that he HAS to be exaggerating or lying about 6it all. Also I’ve wonderered of this whole getting sick bc withdrawing is all made up by heroin or opste

  5. Hi there, now is embarrassing but why when i stop using does my sex drive go through the roof and i suffer from constant erections? And believe me this is no joke when you’re a delivery driver and have to find some way of hiding it. And is there something i can do about it because it’s a big obstacle for me when considering getting clean yet again? Many thanks Jas.

  6. Hi Lisa. Heroin withdrawal can persist for up to 7-10 days, depending on volume and frequency of use. Perhaps consult with a doctor and see if you may benefit from opioid substitution therapies such as buprenorphine or methadone.

  7. me and my fiance have been using heroin for about 3 months straight. we decided to take this weekend to quit cold turkey. we only smoked it and our last time was thursday night (3 days ago) but here we are sunday still feeling w/d.. i was just wondering how long this would last and how can we feel better??

  8. Hi Mary. Have you also consulted with a doctor? Clonidine and/or bupropion (Wellbutrin) can help manage symptoms typical of opiate withdrawal. Additionally, detox clinics are professionals at withdrawal, and can also provide you with the psycho-emotional support that you need to get off opiates. And they can connect you with post-detox resources so that you can stay off after detox. I’d suggest that you talk with your general physician and seek help there first, especially if you have a good relationship with her/him. Otherwise, you can call 1-800-662-HELP to connect with a national drug hotline and learn more about where you can go to get clean.

  9. i have been using opiates and heroin off and on for about a month and ten days with 2 to 3 days iff in between, i smoked heroin for about ten days straight toward the end. i am no on 72hours clean but ive been taking soma to combat w/d , its helped alot but i dnt want to get addicted to that so im stopping friday, ive been using up to two soma a day for about 8 or 9 days

  10. Hi Jessica. It is a very difficult and trying time to help a heroin addict during detox. In fact, detox is almost something that one needs to go through ALONE. No one else can ease the pain of withdrawal, and while your presence is probably appreciated, it might not be the best solution in the long term.

    I’d suggest that you seek help for yourself by attending an Al-Anon meeting and learn how others deal with alcoholics and addicts. It’s quite possible that you’ve gotten into a cycle of denial and enabling and that the best way to help your boyfriend is to take some distance from him. Also, you might seek help from a psychologist trained in family drug addiction for help. The bottom line is: If you boyfriend is emotionally and mentally sick and cannot stop using drugs, you may be as well. This can be a very difficult realization. But if you’re honest with yourself, you can probably start to see a pattern of trying to “save” others, either in your family or people who are close to you. Does any of this resonate with you?

  11. My boyfriend is trying to detox, and he has tried it multiple times prior without success for very long. Relapse after relapse. Is there anything you could suggest that I could do to help him? In terms of his psyche, he is getting pretty depressed, and I don’t have the right words for him… I have no vocabulary for this type of experience, its the first time I’ve dealt with it. I could use some advice in navigating. Thanks so much.

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