Heroin is an illegal opioid drug derived from morphine that is often mixed with other substances. More than 500,000 Americans are addicted to heroin, many of whom have turned to the street drug after becoming addicted to prescription opioid medications, such as Percocet and oxycodone. People who abruptly stop taking heroin after prolonged use can experience painful physical and mental symptoms known as heroin withdrawal. Without medical treatment, heroin withdrawal can result in side-effects, such as vomiting, insomnia, and severe cravings for the drug.

The Risks of Stopping Heroin Cold Turkey

Withdrawal without medical assistance is painful and difficult, but generally not life-threatening. However, withdrawal can exacerbate other underlying health conditions, which can lead to complications including death. Stopping heroin cold turkey is physically painful, but extremely mentally taxing as well. Some heroin users have committed suicide while trying to quit without medical help.

For these reasons, it’s highly recommended that users who want to stop using heroin seek treatment at a detox facility. Please call our 24-hour helpline at (855) 619-8070, and one of our agents will assist you in locating a facility. You can also search for facilities in your area using our Find a Rehab search.

Other Health Complications Due to Heroin Use

Abscesses, painful swelling of the skin, are common among heroin users who use with intravenous (IV) needles. The boils can occur when the user injects heroin into the subcutaneous skin or the muscles, instead of intravenously. Abscesses are most common among users who mix heroin with cocaine or meth, called “speedballing.” These abscesses can become infected and cause serious health problems. A drug treatment or detox facility can treat heroin users with abscesses and prevent serious infection.

HIV, a virus that attacks the immune system, can be transmitted through the use of IV needles or using contaminated drug paraphernalia. About 10 percent of HIV infections in the US are the result of IV drug use. There is no cure or vaccine for HIV, but there are treatments available to help to keep the virus in check, enabling infected people to live relatively healthy lives. However, if left untreated, HIV can be fatal. A drug treatment or detox facility can provide testing for HIV and, in the event of a positive result, can begin to lay the groundwork for a client’s long-term treatment.

Hepatitis B and C
Hepatitis B and C, viruses that inflame the liver, can be transmitted through the use of IV needles. Left untreated, hepatitis B and C can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and eventually death. There is no cure for either form of the virus, but treatments are available. Hepatitis C is highly contagious, and cases are increasing among IV drug users. A drug rehab or detox facility can provide testing for these chronic conditions and start those infected on the road to long-term treatment.

Need Help Finding Treatment in Your Area? Drug Treatment Center Finder Can Help

Drug Treatment Center Finder has a database filled with drug rehabs in all 50 states. We can help you find a drug treatment center in your area. If you have questions on withdrawal detox and treatment, call our 24-hour hotline at (855) 619-8070, and one of our call agents will walk you through the addiction treatment process. You can also search for facilities in your area using our Find a Rehab search. Your privacy is guaranteed.

Common Heroin Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

Common Heroin Withdrawal Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of withdrawal vary depending on how long a person has been using the drug and how much they use. Heroin use affects the central nervous system, suppressing heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and body temperature. Heroin also activates pleasure receptors in the brain, which results in a high. When an addicted person stops using heroin, these effects are reversed.

Mild Symptoms

  • Abdominal cramps
  • Chills
  • Muscle and bone aches
  • Nausea
  • Sweats
  • Runny nose
  • Tearing
  • Yawning

Chronic Symptoms

  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Goose bumps
  • Poor concentration
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Severe Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty feeling pleasure
  • Drug cravings
  • Impaired respiration
  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Rapid heart rate

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline
    • First 12 Hours

      Heroin has a short half-life, which is the amount of time a drug takes to leave the body. The drug quickly leaves the bloodstream in about eight to 12 hours, leading to withdrawal symptoms for dependent users.

    • First 1-3 Days

      Withdrawal symptoms begin to peak during this period. On day two, many heroin users start to experience the most severe symptoms–including anxiety, cravings, depression, dilated pupils, and physical pain–because of the low opioid levels in the body as it readjusts to its equilibrium state. On day three, symptoms typically worsen to include nausea, muscle cramps, vomiting, insomnia, and chills. Users also begin to sweat profusely as their body temperature and blood pressure rise.

    • First 4-10 Days

      At this point, physical withdrawal symptoms begin to fade, but users still experience pain, insomnia, and nausea. Mental withdrawal symptoms become pronounced during this time as many experience powerful cravings for the drug. Medical detox from heroin can last up to 10 days for severely addicted users of heroin.

    • First Few Months

      Many former heroin users experience Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS) in the months after physically detoxing from the drug. These symptoms are primarily psychological rather than physical. They include mood swings, depression, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and continued cravings for the drug. Continued drug treatment at a rehab facility after the physical detox stage of withdrawal will help prevent relapse.

Heroin Treatment and Detox

Heroin Withdrawal Treatment and Detox

How to Safely Withdrawal from Heroin

Health professionals recommend that people suffering from heroin addiction to seek drug treatment to safely go through withdrawal. At a drug rehab center, clients can wean themselves off heroin in a controlled setting with medical help.

At a detox facility, clients can be given longer-acting opioids, such as suboxone to ease withdrawal symptoms. The medications also can prevent cravings, but longer-acting nature of the drug does not result in a high.

Medications to Expect During Detox Treatment for Heroin Addiction

  • Methadone Maintenance: Methadone is a long-acting synthetic opioid antagonist that is used to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in opioid addicts. Methadone is often used as a long-term alternative for those who have a history of heroin or opioid relapse.
  • Buprenorphine Maintenance: Buprenorphine is an opioid analgesic, meaning it affects the same receptors as heroin and opioids, but it doesn’t create the same high. This drug is most commonly used to treat opioid dependence and comes in the form of a single tablet or dissolvable film.
  • Suboxone: Suboxone is a drug that consists of a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, an opioid analgesic and antagonist. Similar to methadone, suboxone is a depressant used to limit cravings and withdrawal symptoms in people addicted to heroin.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone is a once-a-day pill that blocks the euphoric and sedative effects of opioid drugs. The drug is also available in a once-monthly injectable form called vivitrol.

Also, specific symptoms like nausea and depression can also be treated with medications.

Continue Treatment after Detox

After detox, clients are encouraged to enroll in an inpatient or outpatient drug treatment program to prevent a return to use. Although most physical withdrawal symptoms subside after about a week, psychological symptoms, such as depression and cravings, can persist. Inpatient or outpatient drug treatment programs can help clients throughout these Post Acute Withdrawals (PAWS).

Heroin Withdrawal FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about Heroin Addiction
    • Can stopping heroin cold turkey lead to death?

      Although stopping heroin cold turkey rarely results in death, it is extremely difficult. Treatment at a detox facility vastly improves the chances of staying off the drug, allowing a person to comfortably ease themselves off the highly addictive substance.

    • How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

      Physical withdrawal symptoms typically begin to develop for addicted users about a day after their last use. Symptoms worsen two to three days after use. By day four, physical symptoms begin to fade, but psychological issues like depression, anxiety, and cravings can last for weeks.

  • What’s the best way to get off heroin?

    The best way to get off heroin is to seek professional drug treatment and have a medical team supervise your withdrawal process. If you need help finding a drug rehab in your area, Drug Treatment Center Finder can help you begin your journey toward recovery. Call our 24-hour hotline at (855) 619-8070, and one of our call agents will be available to answer any questions you may have about heroin addiction and the right treatment methods to pursue.

Heroin Statistics


of people in drug and alcohol treatment in the US abused heroin, according to a 2008 study – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)


of people who use heroin become addicted to the drug – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)


45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)