How Long Does It Take to Detox From Heroin?

Written by Chloe Nicosia

If you’re preparing to Break Free from Opioids, it’s Time to Ask Questions like How Long Does It Take to Detox from Heroin.

Our society is experiencing an opioid use disorder crisis. In fact, over 2 million people in the United States have a disorder related to prescription opioid use. Additionally, over 400,000 people have a heroin use disorder. While some people can find it difficult to imagine transitioning from a prescription medication to an illicit drug, studies have shown that there is a link to the non-medical use of prescription narcotics to heroin use. Even if you’re familiar with opioid withdrawal, you may wonder how long does it take to detox from heroin because the experience of heroin is significantly different than prescription drugs.

There are a few different reasons why people may transition from prescription medication to heroin and this can be further explained by discussing the science behind opioids. Opioids include prescription medications like hydromorphone, morphine and street drugs such as opioids. These drugs work by attaching to specific receptors in our brains. When they attach to these areas, they can reduce pain and, when used in high doses or for non-medical reasons, can also create pleasure. Over longer exposure, our body’s own supply of opioids shuts off and this can result in the experience of withdrawal symptoms if we stop administering the extra opioid medication. Another idea that is important to explore is the idea of tolerance. If we have ongoing exposure to these medications, our receptors and brain adapt accordingly and we will need to take more of the same substance to get the same effect.

If you have transitioned from prescription narcotics to heroin, it is likely because you are experiencing those two phenomena previously discussed. Heroin, unlike prescription medications, is quicker acting on the receptors in our brains and so this creates a more intense pleasure sensation that an orally administered opioid medication. This can be very rewarding to the brain and can often put the user into an addiction cycle. It can be difficult to break the cycle because of both the cravings for the pleasure of the drug as well as the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. While thinking about your addiction, you’ll find yourself asking how long does it take to detox from heroin.

What are the withdrawal symptoms that I can expect while detoxing from heroin?

Withdrawing from heroin cold turkey can be an uncomfortable process. A common question people ask is how long does it take to detox from heroin. Heroin is a short-acting opioid and thus, the heroin withdrawal timeline is quick. You may start to appreciate withdrawal symptoms within hours after stopping heroin use. These effects will usually peak after 3-4 days but some people have lingering symptoms that can persist for up to a month. Luckily, withdrawal is rarely life threatening. Withdrawal symptoms can include:

Diarrhea
Vomiting
Nausea
Yawning
Sneezing
Dizziness
Shivering
Fast heart rate
Insomnia
Agitation

I understand that the heroin withdrawal timeline can be short but I’m worried about managing my symptoms. How can I make it more comfortable?

During the time you spend detoxing from heroin, it can be helpful to have a medical plan in place to help get you through the withdrawal process. This can also help you manage your addiction moving forward. Because opioids can be significantly addictive and the withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, many healthcare providers suggest using opioid replacement therapies.

The two most commonly used drugs for this are Methadone and Suboxone. Methadone is a slow-acting drug that acts on the opioid receptors in our brain that patients part of a medical addictions program may have access to. It prevents patients from using the medication for a high but provides good coverage for withdrawal symptoms. Suboxone contains buprenorphine as well as naloxone. Buprenorphine has a partial effect on the opioid receptors in our brain so that it prevents the drug cravings that come with heroin or opioid addiction but does not cause a high. Naloxone blocks opioid receptors and is in the suboxone to prevent abuse because if someone was to attempt injecting naloxone, they would experience opioid withdrawal symptoms. If taken as intended, the naloxone will not cause a negative effect on the patient.

While the first question to ask is how long does it take to detox from heroin, ongoing plans around addiction management should also be considered. Certain patients can find these drugs helpful moving forward into their heroin-free lives as they can help manage drug cravings and withdrawal. Furthermore, they can also be useful as a way to slowly taper the amount of opioid in your system to spare you from some of the more severe side effects.

Now that you’ve armed yourself with some information about heroin and opioids, you’re ready to take the next step to conquer your addiction. Don’t be afraid to continue your research and ask for help from healthcare professionals as you move forward.