Drug and Alcohol - Opioid Addiction

Heroin Withdrawal: Understanding Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms and Recovery

Heroin withdrawal is infamous for being unpleasant and difficult. But with the right help, it's much easier. Learn more in our blog.

What is Heroin Withdrawal?

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

September 28, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Heroin withdrawal is a difficult process that can cause intense physical and psychological discomfort for those who are trying to break their addiction. But it is also the first step in getting rid of the drug and taking control of your life.

This article will provide an overview of heroin withdrawal, including its symptoms and potential treatments.

Stats About Heroin Use:

According to a 2021 NSDUH research, around 1.1 million people aged 12 and up reported using heroin in the preceding year.

Heroin Withdrawal: What is Heroin?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid narcotic manufactured from morphine. Morphine is extracted from opium poppy seeds. It is generally an opioid, a family of medications that act on opioid receptors in the brain to cause pain relief. This can also create sensations of euphoria, which is why many people continue to use heroin.

Heroin is usually sold as a white or brown powder but can also come as a sticky black substance known as "black tar" heroin.

Heroin has a lengthy history of misapplication and abuse, extending back to the late 1800s. Its appeal stems from its potent effects on the central nervous system, which provides profound emotions of pleasure and relaxation.

Unfortunately, these euphoric benefits are fleeting, and regular use of heroin may soon develop into dependency and addiction.

Heroin Withdrawal: How Does Heroin Work?

When heroin enters the human body, it quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier & binds to opioid receptors, mainly in parts of the brain that control reward and pain perception. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked with pleasure and reward, is released due to this interaction. As a result, the user feels a tremendous surge of euphoria, followed by sleepiness and a sensation of peace.

Despite the early euphoric benefits, heroin is fraught with perils and risks. Tolerance might develop after repeated usage, needing greater dosages to produce the desired benefits. An increase in dosage raises the risk of heroin overdose, which can be deadly. Heroin use is linked to various health problems, including respiratory depression, cardiovascular problems, infectious infections, and mental health difficulties.

Heroin Withdrawal: Understanding Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

The duration and extent of heroin effects vary, but they often begin between a few hours to a day following the last dose of heroin. These symptoms are the body's way of adapting to and healing from the absence of the substance.

For example, physical withdrawal symptoms from heroin might include:

  • Restlessness

  • Individuals may experience a constant feeling of unease and an inability to sit still

  • Muscle and bone pain: Aching muscles and joint pain are common during withdrawal, often described as flu-like symptoms

  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a common withdrawal symptom

  • Diarrhea and vomiting

  • Gastrointestinal distress, including diarrhea and vomiting, is a common manifestation of heroin withdrawal

  • Cold Flashes

  • Sudden and intense episodes of feeling cold and shivering can occur during withdrawal

  • Involuntary leg movements: Restless leg syndrome, characterized by uncontrollable leg movements, can be experienced

In addition to physical symptoms, heroin withdrawal also involves psychological symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety

  • Feelings of unease, worry, and tension can be heightened during withdrawal.

  • Irritability

  • Individuals may become easily annoyed or agitated, reacting more sensitively to minor stressors.

  • Depression

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities can be experienced.

  • Mood dwings

  • Emotional instability and rapid shifts in mood are common during withdrawal.

  • Difficulty Concentrating

  • Focusing on tasks and maintaining attention may become challenging.

CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

Would you like more information about heroin withdrawal? Reach out today.

Recognizing the Signs of Heroin Withdrawal

Recognizing the signs of heroin withdrawal in oneself or a loved one is essential for timely intervention and support.

In addition, physical signs of heroin withdrawal may include.

Dilated Pupils

The pupils appear larger than usual and may not constrict properly in response to light.

Watery Eyes

Excessive tearing or watery eyes can be observed during withdrawal.

Runny Nose

Nasal congestion, sneezing, and running nose are common symptoms.


Frequent yawning, unrelated to tiredness, can occur during withdrawal.


Excessive sweating, even in cool temperatures, can signify heroin withdrawal.


The appearance of goosebumps or "goose flesh" is another physical sign.

In addition to these physical signs, certain behavioral and psychological signs may indicate heroin withdrawal:

Restlessness and Agitation

Individuals may exhibit an inability to relax or sit still, as well as signs of unease or agitation.

Strong Cravings for Heroin

The intense desire to use heroin and the preoccupation with obtaining and using the drug can be prominent signs.

Psychological Symptoms

Anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and depression may be evident in a person going through heroin withdrawal.

Risks and Effects of Heroin Withdrawal

The withdrawal process from heroin can be difficult and unpleasant, but the risks of ignoring it can be considerably more severe. Individuals experiencing heroin withdrawal without proper therapy may encounter consequences such as.

Severe Dehydration

If not adequately managed, diarrhea, vomiting, and sweating during withdrawal can result in considerable fluid loss, leading to dehydration.

Electrolyte Imbalances

The loss of fluids during withdrawal can upset the body's electrolyte balance, which is necessary for healthy cellular activity.


During heroin withdrawal, people may lose their appetite or experience gastrointestinal distress, leading to a lack of nutrients and malnutrition.

Immune Dysfunction

The stress exerted on the body during heroin withdrawal can damage the immune system, making people more susceptible to infections and illnesses.

The tremendous physical and psychological pain of withdrawal may increase the likelihood of relapse. In addition, cravings for heroin can be intense, and people may be tempted to use it again to reduce withdrawal symptoms and find brief relaxation.

Seeking expert help during heroin withdrawal is critical for reducing these risks and ensuring a safer and more successful recovery journey. Addiction medicine specialists can provide complete support, including drugs and therapies, to successfully manage withdrawal symptoms and boost the chances of a successful recovery.

Heroin Withdrawal: Is Heroin Addictive?

Heroin is an extremely addictive drug that affects the reward system in the brain. When heroin enters the body, it swiftly transforms into morphine and attaches to opioid receptors in the brain, causing tremendous pleasure and euphoria. Unfortunately, this rapid reward promotes heroin use, resulting in profound psychological and physical dependence.

Heroin's addictiveness originates from its propensity to cause quick and dramatic alterations in brain chemistry. The brain adjusts to heroin over time, requiring greater dosages to elicit the same pleasure. Tolerance is the name given to this occurrence. Individuals become more prone to addiction when they increase their heroin use to overcome tolerance.

Heroin addiction is defined by obsessive drug seeking and drug usage in the face of negative consequences. When people get hooked on heroin, their attention turns from regular everyday activities to obtaining and consuming the drug. This drug obsession can have a broad range of detrimental impacts on their physical, emotional, and social well-being.

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms experienced when attempting to quit adds to heroin's addictive nature. These previously mentioned symptoms can be highly unpleasant and difficult to bear without expert assistance. The dread of suffering withdrawal symptoms deters quitting and adds to the addiction cycle.

CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

Do you have more questions about heroin withdrawal? Reach out.

Heroin Withdrawal: What Does Heroin Look Like?

Heroin comes in various forms, and its appearance varies depending on its purity & how it has been processed. The following are the most frequent types of heroin.

Powdered Heroin

One of the most prevalent types of heroin is powdered heroin. It is often a fine white or off-white powder. The hue varies with purity, with higher-purity heroin frequently appearing as a dazzling white powder.

Brown Powder Heroin

A brown or tan powder is another type of powdered heroin. This heroin is less refined than white powder heroin and may include contaminants.

Black Tar Heroin

This kind of heroin has a tar-like consistency and is sticky, dark brown, or black. It derives its name from the fact that it resembles a sticky tar-like material. Black tar heroin is usually less processed than powdered heroin and may contain more contaminants.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

The detection window for heroin in the body varies based on a variety of factors. Including the individual's metabolism, frequency of use, dose, and the kind of drug test used.

The following is a basic guideline for how long heroin can stay in your system:

Urine Test for Heroin

Heroin may usually be identified in urine between 2 to 7 days after the last usage. However, it may be evident for longer in some circumstances, particularly with chronic and severe usage.

Blood Test for Heroin

Heroin is detectable in circulation for a shorter time than in the urine. It is generally detectable within hours after use and can last up to 6 hours or potentially somewhat longer.

Saliva Test for Heroin

Heroin may be identified in saliva quickly after usage and can often be detected for up to 1-2 days.

Hair Follicle Test for Heroin

Compared to other tests, hair follicle tests offer a larger detection window. Heroin can be found in hair follicles for up to 90 days, if not longer.

“Krokodil” Heroin

Krokodil (Russian for “crocodile”) heroin, also known as desomorphine, is a lethal and illegal opioid substance. It rose to prominence in Russia and portions of Eastern Europe in the early 2000s. The term "crocodile heroin" refers to the severe skin damage it may inflict, resembling crocodile scales.

Krokodil heroin is extremely impure and dangerous, having been produced in homemade laboratories utilizing codeine-based drugs and household chemicals. Because of impurities and toxins, injecting the substance has serious health repercussions. 

Users near injection sites suffer significant vascular, skin, and soft tissue damage. Toxic compounds used in manufacturing cause necrosis, infections, abscesses, and ulcers, giving the skin a scaly look similar to crocodile skin.

Krokodil heroin is very addictive and dangerous to one's health. It creates social and psychological issues in addition to physical injury. In addition, because of contaminants and unmanaged production procedures, users suffer addiction, overdose, and life-threatening problems.

CTA background

We’re here to help you find your way

Do you need advice about heroin withdrawal? Reach out today.

Heroin Withdrawal: Detoxing From Heroin

The process of enabling the body to cleanse itself of heroin and its byproducts while managing withdrawal symptoms that occur when the substance is ceased is known as heroin detoxification. Heroin detox is a necessary first step in heroin addiction rehabilitation. Here are some essential things to know about heroin detox.


The primary purpose of heroin detox is to treat the physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that occur when heroin usage is discontinued safely. Individuals who undergo detox can eliminate their physical need for the substance and are better prepared for continued addiction therapy.

Medical Supervision 

Heroin detox should be done under medical supervision, preferably in a specialist detoxification center or a hospital environment. The presence of medical personnel protects the individual's safety and well-being during the withdrawal process.

Withdrawal Symptoms 

Heroin withdrawal symptoms may be extremely unpleasant. Restlessness, muscular and bone pain, sleeplessness, gastrointestinal trouble, anxiety, depression, and drug cravings are some of the symptoms. However, medical experts can provide medication and supportive care to help manage these symptoms successfully.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) 

Medication is sometimes used in heroin detox to ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. In MAT, the three most prevalent drugs used for heroin withdrawal are methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. The use of these medications can aid in stabilization and subsequent withdrawal from heroin.


Individual factors such as the intensity of addiction, the history of heroin use, and any co-occurring illnesses can all influence the length of heroin detox. In general, heroin detox might range from a few days to a few weeks.

Transition to Treatment 

Heroin detox is not a stand-alone therapy for addiction; instead, it is an important initial step. Following detox, it is essential to seek complete addiction treatment. This includes residential or outpatient rehabilitation programs, counseling, and support groups, to address the underlying issues contributing to addiction and encourage long-term recovery.

Support and Aftercare 

The road to recovery from heroin addiction is a lifetime one. After finishing heroin detox and addiction treatment, it is critical to have continued support and aftercare programs. This might involve therapy, counseling, support groups, and a network of people who understand the difficulties of addiction recovery.

Seeking Professional Help: Treatment Options for Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin addiction is the world's leading healthcare concern. The number of heroin users is rapidly increasing. Heroin addiction affects people of all ages, including children, teens, older adults, and the elderly. Unfortunately, people suffering from this illness have difficulty accepting the facts. As a result, many people are unaware that their bodies are gradually getting addicted to heroin. 

They refuse to admit it out of fear, shame, or humiliation and continue to ignore their situation. This state of denial exacerbates health problems. Their once-capable body quickly succumbs to heart difficulties, liver damage, HIV, cardiovascular problems, lung troubles, arthritis, sadness, anxiety, and suicide.

It is advisable to seek medical assistance when you see any indications or symptoms of heroin addiction in a family member or friend.

Heroin Withdrawal is Hard, But it’s Easier with Professional Help. Reach Out to The Forge Recovery Center

Heroin withdrawal is infamously difficult, especially when done on one’s own. With the right help, however, it’s possible to be comfortable and safe while effectively detoxing from heroin. Forget detox kits, fast drug detox, or other gimmicks – there’s no better way to detox than with medical professionals.

The Forge Recovery Center will help you find safe, effective heroin detox. Our evidence-based heroin addiction program effectively treats opioid addiction. Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our center is ideal for building a new life.

Don’t deny yourself the life you deserve. Contact The Forge Recovery Center today and start your journey away from heroin.

Newsletter banner

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay updated with the latest news, resources, and updates from The Forge Recovery Center.