Heroin Withdrawals

heroin withdrawals wolf creek recovery
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Is the fear of going through heroin withdrawal preventing you from seeking help? While withdrawal can be uncomfortable, it is not something you have to go through alone.

Heroin use continues to be a prevalent problem in Arizona. Between 2020 and 2021 there were 2,994 opioid-related encounters in Yavapai County. Many of these people were discharged routinely or discharged for further care, meaning they were referred to an inpatient program or other care facility. Unfortunately, some lives were lost.

It’s normal to feel apprehensive about starting your recovery from heroin, but support is available. Wolf Creek Recovery will lead you down a path of hope and healing. We introduce our clients to various activities and hobbies to help them form healthy habits while receiving intensive therapy and support. Because our staff is in recovery, they can also relate to what you’re going through.

Let’s learn more about heroin withdrawals, the signs and symptoms you may experience, and the treatments available to keep you comfortable.

What are Heroin Withdrawals?

Heroin withdrawal refers to a range of symptoms that occur after stopping or drastically reducing the use of heroin following heavy and prolonged use. Heroin alters brain chemistry and body functions, leading to physical dependence. When someone dependent on the substance stops using it, their body, which has become accustomed to the drug, struggles to adapt to its absence. This results in withdrawal symptoms.

What Causes Heroin Withdrawal to Occur?

Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system, causing them to release a surge of feel-good chemicals (neurotransmitters). This is what produces the euphoric “high” associated with heroin. The brain likes this feeling and wants the person to use the substance again. If they use it regularly, the brain learns to maintain balance by adjusting its normal functioning. Heroin is artificially supplying the brain with neurotransmitters, so it stops making them on its own. The body also adapts to having heroin in its system, and it begins to rely on it to function normally.

When heroin is no longer available, the brain and the body struggle to regain balance, leading to the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. Furthermore, the brain’s reward system suffers. There is a noticeable decrease in neurotransmitters, causing depression, anxiety, and mood swings. The brain needs time to adjust and begin producing neurotransmitters on its own again, which is why the psychological symptoms of withdrawal can take longer to subside.

what causes heroin withdrawals to occur

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically occur within 6 to 24 hours of the last use and last up to 10 days. Many people compare heroin withdrawal to a bad case of the flu. The intensity of withdrawal effects can vary among individuals depending on how much heroin they use, the route of administration, and their overall health.

Although the symptoms of heroin withdrawal generally aren’t fatal, they can be extremely distressing. Additionally, the gastrointestinal effects can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and elevated blood sodium levels. This is one of the reasons why medical supervision is recommended during heroin detox.

Mild Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Some symptoms of heroin withdrawal may be uncomfortable, but they don’t typically pose a threat to your health or well-being. We consider these to be the milder symptoms of heroin withdrawal:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Watery eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Goosebumps
  • Stomach cramps
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Yawning

Moderate Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Moderate symptoms of heroin withdrawal are uncomfortable and can lead to complications, such as dehydration or panic attacks. Fortunately, these symptoms can be managed with the right therapies and medications:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Sweating
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood sodium levels

Severe Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

While heroin withdrawal is traditionally not a life-threatening process, complications can still occur. Severe withdrawal symptoms require immediate medical attention and include:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Coma

Heroin Cravings

Feeling an intense desire or urge to use heroin is considered a craving. Heroin cravings can happen at any time and be triggered by the briefest thoughts or reminders of past heroin use. Cravings are typically strongest in the early stages of recovery because the brain is learning to function without the substance. Common examples of heroin cravings include:

  • Physical urges to use heroin
  • Intrusive thoughts about heroin use
  • Desiring the pleasurable effects
  • Unable to think about anything else
  • Emotional distress when thinking about heroin

Heroin Use and the Brain

Heroin is a substance that affects the brain. It slows down heart and breathing rates and affects the part of the brain responsible for decision-making and judgment. Structurally, the brain begins shrinking as it loses connections between neurons. Fortunately, you can reverse some of the shrinkage if you stop heroin.

Regular heroin use also alters the way the brain produces and uses neurotransmitters. This happens because the brain learns to rely on the substance to release neurotransmitters artificially. Therefore, it stops producing these chemicals on its own, tricking you into thinking that only heroin can make you happy. When you stop heroin, your brain attempts to regain balance. It needs time to adjust and begin producing neurotransmitters on its own again.

How Long Does Withdrawal From Heroin Last?

The acute symptoms of heroin withdrawal generally last 3 to 10 days. They can be painful and uncomfortable, prompting a person to return to heroin use. However, with medical intervention, it is easier to get through this process and continue on the path to recovery. Each day is a work in progress, but one step closer to your goal.

Long-term heroin withdrawal symptoms are symptoms that last beyond the acute phase, and they can last for months or even years. These symptoms tend to be more psychological in nature and include anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and irritability. People also report feeling down and losing pleasure in everyday activities. Eventually, these symptoms do subside.

what causes heroin withdrawal to occur

Heroin Withdrawal Treatment in Prescott, AZ

When you are ready to stop heroin use, heroin addiction treatment is available. You’ll need to break the cycle of heroin use, which can be done through medically assisted detoxification. Heroin will be flushed out of your system, and various medications will be used to manage your symptoms if needed.

After detox, you’ll transition to a residential or outpatient program where you’ll receive treatment such as therapy, medication, and other well-being activities. You’ll also work with your therapists to identify the underlying causes of your heroin use, as well as learn healthy coping strategies that will extend into the regular world. While many therapies are effective at treating heroin use disorder, some of the more common ones are cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and family therapy.

Wolf Creek Recovery in Prescott, AZ has experience treating heroin use disorder. We meet clients where they are and provide them with the support and understanding they need to heal. Each person is unique, and because of this, the journey to recovery looks different for everyone. Let us help you build a life you love. Contact our team today at 833-732-8202.

FAQs About Heroin Withdrawal

What is heroin withdrawal? 

Heroin withdrawal refers to a wide range of symptoms that can occur when a person quits or drastically cuts down the amount of heroin they are using. As the brain and body try to adjust to the absence of heroin, withdrawal symptoms occur.

What are common heroin withdrawal symptoms? 

The most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include sweating, muscle aches, agitation, sweating, yawning, teary eyes and nose, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea.

How can I avoid withdrawal symptoms?

While you can’t exactly stop withdrawal symptoms from occurring, you can reduce their intensity so that you can cope with them more effectively. This is done through treatment, with medications such as lofexidine and suboxone.

When are withdrawal symptoms the strongest?

Heroin withdrawal symptoms generally peak within 24 to 48 hours from the last use. At the peak stage, it’s normal for people to feel very sick. It’s important to remember that these symptoms will subside.