Dealing with Heroin Withdrawal and How to Get Past It

Heroin withdrawal is something many addicts have experienced on a number of occasions. Most addicts will eventually reach a point where they realize that they’ve had enough and are ready to stop using heroin for good. Unfortunately, the one thing that can hold them back from giving up the drug is the process involved in dealing with heroin withdrawal.

At First, It’s Physical

When people attempt to give up heroin, it means that the body has to go through a period of readjustment. Physical symptoms will appear causing discomfort, often intense. Cravings for the drug and other mental anguish will arise because they have become psychologically dependent on the substance, fearing and believing they are unable to cope without it.

The truth is that things can get quite uncomfortable as the body adjusts to the new situation, but these symptoms can be compared to a severe case of influenza. Although heroin is a very lethal drug, the process of withdrawal itself is not life-threatening. While it may feel like the individual going through withdrawal is on their death bed, the human body will NOT simply cease to function (as could happen with alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal).

Still, it is strongly advised to seek professional assistance or consider medication-assisted detox in order to comfortably and safely endure dealing with heroin withdrawal.

Signs a Loved One May Be Using Heroin

The symptoms of active heroin use and subsequent withdrawals will vary in severity depending on the amount of heroin used, the longevity and frequency of use, and the existence of physical or mental health conditions.

Signs of heroin withdrawals include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings to use again
  • Inability to sleep at night
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Muscle aches and other body discomfort
  • Feelings of depression
  • Goose bumps – this is where the name cold turkey comes from
  • Agitation or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Yawning
  • Lack of energy and motivation to do anything
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Elevated heart rate

When Do Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Begin?

As the body and the brain become accustomed to receiving the effects of heroin use, removing the source can be a shock the internal systems. As such, withdrawal symptoms usually start within eight hours of giving up heroin and peak at about 48 to 72 hours. Some people in the heroin detox phase will continue to exhibit symptoms for up to a week after stopping use; however, there are cases where these aspects can linger.

Post-Acute Heroin Withdrawal

After the initial heroin withdrawal has been completed, there are those who will also suffer beyond the typical timeline of detox. Known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, though mild, they can last a few months and show up intermittently for up to two years.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Brain fog, unable to think clearly
  • Abnormal sleeping patterns
  • Inability to manage stress
  • Emotional extremes
  • Cravings for heroin
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty dealing with others
  • Repetitive or obsessive thoughts
  • Trouble concentrating

Medications Available to Ease Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

There are certain medications such as buprenorphine or naltrexone that can help people going through heroin withdrawals and provide a gentler approach to the detox, treatment and recovery process.

Heroin withdrawal medications work by staving off withdrawal symptoms and blocking the effects of opioids, like heroin, within the brain itself. This means that individuals who attempted to use heroin after taking the opioid-blocking meds would not actually experience the effects that heroin would normally induce. In essence, it prevents them from getting high.

These medications can only be obtained by prescription, and you would need to seek help from an addiction specialist in order to obtain them.

Getting Through Heroin Withdrawal and Avoiding Relapse

Expectations that people have about their future can have an impact on what they actually experience, much like visualization can do on a person’s reality. If the thought of heroin withdrawal being severe is the expectation, more than likely, it will present that way. Why?

When humans overly focus on what is happening with their body, they tend to notice every twinge. The fear of symptoms will increase their severity because fear causes us to tense up.

When people feel tense it causes an escalation in discomfort and this will have a snowball effect. Positivity about the withdrawal process can go a long way in reducing the anxiety about it, lessening the symptoms and reducing the likelihood of relapse.

Distracting Yourself from Heroin Withdrawal

Taking the focus away from what’s uncomfortable to what’s enjoyable assists in any undertaking that is arduous. During the heroin detoxification stage, it is important to stay occupied and mildly active during this time.

Distraction can make a difference when it comes to dealing with heroin withdrawals. The benefit of doing this is that by not focusing on every discomfort in the body the individual will not be overly disturbed by them. If people are suitably distracted by something that engages them they may even completely forget about their withdrawals for a period of time.

Top Distractions That Help When Dealing with Heroin Withdrawal

  • Spending time with positive, healthy-minded people
  • Watching TV or streaming videos – particularly comedy
  • Reading a book
  • Practicing mindfulness such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi
  • Listening to music, but nothing that will trigger memories of trauma or drug use
  • Going for a walk

Making Heroin Withdrawal Easier

The following is a list of action items for you or the person you care about who is stuck in heroin addiction and seeking a way out. In addition to taking opioid-blocking medications, there are things that you can do to make the transition from heroin withdrawals to clean and sober easier:

  1. Keep in mind that withdrawal symptoms are temporary. If you can endure them – especially with the help of opioid-blocking medications – you will be well on their way to a much better way of living.
  2. Mental attitude is everything. Ambivalence about the decision to quit it will make the process much more difficult.
  3. Entering a drug rehab can greatly increase your odds of success. A confidential, protective and supportive environment makes the process more attainable.
  4. Consider the many other people who have successfully made it through heroin withdrawals and gone on to build a satisfying life. If these people can do it there is no reason why you can’t do the same.
  5. Stock your kitchen with plenty of easily digestible foods and beverages that help calm the stomach.
  6. Make sure to have magazines and books to read.
  7. Eat a balanced diet as soon as possible to speed up recovery.
  8. Companionship can be a big help when going through heroin withdrawal. This is another good reason for why an in-stay rehab is helpful.
  9. Form a strategy for success. Plan for life after heroin detox. If you’re questioning whether life skills training and education are needed, even a refresher can boost self-confidence. This is just come of what is provided in individualized addiction treatment programs.
  10. Join a fellowship such as NA, CA, and AA and attend meetings regularly.
  11. Have realistic expectations about removing heroin from your life. Nothing’s perfect. Be patient with yourself and others. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Start to Create a Custom Heroin Detox, Treatment and Recovery Program Now

Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, Chief Clinical Officer

Chief Clinical Officer
Foundations Wellness Center

Meet author Justin Baksh, LMHC, MCAP, the Chief Clinical Officer of Foundations Wellness Center. A former United States Marine, Justin holds a Master’s in Mental Health Counseling and has also attained the Certified Master’s Level Addiction Professional credential.

Justin has over 10 years of experience working with substance use and polysubstance use disorders, as well as anxiety, depression, life stressors, life transitions, trauma, PTSD, ADHD, ADD, OCD, and a variety of other disorders using cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT, biofeedback, strength-based and solution-based modalities. Read Full Bio

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