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Guide to Heroin Detoxification.

Written By Jeff Mahre BA MFA MLIS - January 12th, 2017

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug and is derived from morphine. It is typically sold in a highly addictive powder form. Heroin is relatively cheaper and easier to obtain than most prescription opioids, making it a dangerous street drug of growing importance. Contact someone who can help you today.

For a comprehensive guide on opioids, the class of drugs that heroin falls under, please click here.


heroin abuse facts

Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Detox |  Back to top

Sadly, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). The same statistics also show that overdose deaths secondary to heroin increased from 2010 before reaching a plateau. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018) show in further statistics that;

  • In 2016, 948,000 Americans had used heroin in the past year
  • The greatest increase in usage was in the age group of 18-25 years.

Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain that are responsible for pain and pleasure (Fareed et al., 2011). It has an incredibly high potential for addiction and a tolerance is quickly developed. This means that most addicts never get that same “first high” again, and forever “chase” this high. This addiction thus creates a vicious cycle that leads to a person taking ever-increasing dosages. These ramped-up doses are often behind overdoses and deaths.

Intoxication results in the following (Fareed et al., 2011):

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Relief of anxiety
  • Constipation
  • Numbing of pain
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Impairment of memory, concentration and attention

Eventually, the user experiences feelings of apathy and decreased bodily movement. It can produce convulsions, decreased breathing and confusion if used in high enough doses. As highlighted by Darke & Hall (2003), large doses can be potentially lethal and accidental overdose is the commonest cause of death in heroin users. This risk increases with the concomitant use of other depressant drugs such as alcohol, other opioids and benzodiazepines.

Studies focusing on long-term heroin usage have shown deterioration of the white matter in the brain (Li et al., 2013). This impacts a person’s decision making, increases anxiety and changes behavior. People who repeatedly snort heroin damage their nasal septum and can perforate it. Other long-term complications specific to heroin include the following (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018):

  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual cycle disturbances
  • Scarred/collapsed veins
  • Bacterial infections of blood vessels and heart valves secondary to impure or contaminated heroin and/or needles
  • Abscesses and soft tissue infections
  • Hepatitis B and C, HIV and other blood-borne viruses secondary to sharing of needles

symptoms of heroin withdrawal

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Detox |  Back to top

Heroin is a short-acting opioid. Because of this, it can lead to a quick-onset of withdrawal symptoms. Users in heroin withdrawal typically display symptoms 8-12 hours after the last dose of heroin (Fareed et al., 2011).

Withdrawal symptoms include (Fareed et al., 2011):

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Muscle aches and cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Elevated pulse and blood pressure

heroin withdrawal timeline

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Detox |  Back to top

After the last dose of a short-acting opioid such as heroin (Fareed et al., 2011):

  • Withdrawal symptoms start within 8-12 hours after the last dose
  • If untreated, symptoms peak at 36-72 hours. Exhaustion, apathy and pain (joint pain, muscle pain and abdominal cramps) are prominent during this period.
  • Symptoms usually subside substantially by 5 days

Please peruse our guide on opioids to see how this withdrawal timelines changes with a long-acting opioid.

symptoms of heroin detox

Abuse facts  |  Withdrawal symptoms  |  Withdrawal timeline  |  Back to top

A heroin addict’s life revolves around chasing after their “first high.” Everything else in their world begins to lack meaning and pleasure. However, there is effective medical treatment available for this addiction and withdrawal. Substitute medications can be offered to assist with withdrawal symptoms. Please note that using medication to assist with withdrawal symptoms should only be carried out by a professional in a facility. The entire process should be monitored by health care providers that have specific knowledge and expertise in the field of drug addiction treatment (Kleber, 2007). Give us a call today to find the right center for you.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Opioid overdose: understanding the epidemic. Retrieved February 26, 2019, from

Darke, S., & Hall, W. (2003). Heroin overdose: research and evidence-based intervention. Journal of Urban Health80(2), 189-200.

Fareed, A., Stout, S., Casarella, J., Vayalapalli, S., Cox, J., & Drexler, K. (2011). Illicit opioid intoxication: diagnosis and treatment. Substance Abuse, 5, 17-25

Kleber H. D. (2007). Pharmacologic treatments for opioid dependence: detoxification and maintenance options. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience9(4), 455-70

Li, W., Li, Q., Zhu, J., Qin, Y., Zheng, Y., Chang, H., Zhang, D., Wang, H., Wang, L., Wang, Y., & Wang, W. (2013). White matter impairment in chronic heroin dependence: a quantitative DTI study. Brain Res, 1531:58-64.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Heroin. Retrieved February 26, 2019 from

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.