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Heroin Detox and Withdrawal Timeline

Heroin is a highly addictive, psychoactive opioid drug. It is made from morphine, which is derived from the opium plant, poppy.

The DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration) classifies heroin as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning the drug is not currently accepted for medical use and has a high potential for abuse. Heroin can be brown or white colored powder, or a black sticky substance (black tar heroin). Heroin goes by a variety of street names (i.e. Big H, Hell Dust, Dope, Snow, Brown, China White…etc.). Due to the fact that heroin is illegal, it is an unregulated drug. Hence, the precise ingredients included in each batch are completely at the discretion of each manufacturer. In many cases, the additives that a manufacturer decides to include in the manufacturing process are not disclosed to the consumer. This can lead to serious health risks for the consumer, as he or she does not know the potency of the drug nor exactly what is being purchased and subsequently ingested.  

woman with borderline personality disorder

Heroin and the Brain

Heroin works in one’s body by affecting the neurotransmitters in one’s brain. The drug attaches to the opioid receptors, which regulate one’s breathing as well as the perception of pleasure and pain. A typically developing brain creates neural pathways that are strengthened through repetitive behaviors and actions. When opioid receptors are externally stimulated (i.e. via heroin use) they activate the reward center of the brain and release excessive amounts of dopamine. The euphoric feeling that occurs as a result of ingesting heroin reinforces drug taking behavior, and strengthens neural pathways that have developed from engaging in heroin abuse. Furthermore, an individual that habitually abuses heroin will likely develop a tolerance to the substance. This means that in order to obtain the same euphoric experience, an individual will need to increase the amount of substance ingested. The fact that heroin is unregulated, making the precise dosage impossible to know, increases an individual’s risk for overdose with every dose of heroin taken. 

Detox Timeline

Detox is the process that an individual must go through to rid his or her body of heroin upon commencing substance abuse and/ or addiction treatment. Detox begins from the time of an individual’s last dose of heroin. The first withdrawal symptoms will likely begin between six to twenty-four hours after one’s last heroin dose. The peak of the detox process generally occurs between forty-eight to seventy-two hours after one’s last dose of heroin. The last stage of the acute detox process occurs between four to ten days after one’s last heroin use. After ten days, any subsequent withdrawal symptoms that occur are known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Although the withdrawal symptoms that occur from heroin detox are not known to be lethal, it is best to undergo detox from heroin in a supervised setting, to ensure the safety of the individual for the duration of the process.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms occur as a result of an individual’s body recalibrating and learning to function without the presence of heroin in its system. While the withdrawal symptoms from heroin can be incredibly unpleasant and uncomfortable, unless an individual has abused heroin in addition to other substances, withdrawal symptoms will not likely be deadly. According to Addiction Center, commonly reported withdrawal symptoms from heroin abuse include any combination of the following examples:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle aches

Every individual is different and will respond differently to the detox and recovery process from heroin abuse. The length of time it takes for the withdrawal symptoms to subside will depend on each individual’s circumstances, and several contributing factors. Some of the factors include the length of time the individual abused heroin, the frequency of heroin use, the method of ingestion (i.e. snorting, smoking, injecting…etc.), as well as the personal health history of the individual. Most individuals detoxing from heroin begin to experience withdrawal symptoms between six to twelve hours after their last heroin dose. 

Further Information

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. 

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