What Heroin Withdrawal Is REALLY Like
Like all substances of abuse, the use of heroin causes chemical and physical changes to the brain. Whenever a person performs any activity necessary to survival, such as eating or reproduction, the brain produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure. This is a “reward” that trains the brain that the activity should be repeated.
Heroin also triggers a dopamine response, but the surge is much faster, heavier, and longer-lasting. Over time, the brain’s dopamine receptors become exhausted from over-stimulation. In response, the brain reduces dopamine production – not just to the drug, but to ALL pleasurable behaviors.
For the heroin addict, this means that the ONLY way for them to experience pleasure or even feel normal is by seeking ever-the greater doses of the drug, which paradoxically deliver ever-diminishing pleasurable sensations.
These brain changes are not necessarily permanent, but they can be long-lasting. For this reason, heroin withdrawal can be characterized by several symptoms, that while not life-threatening, can nevertheless be harshly unpleasant:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Wild mood swings
- Severe muscle cramping
- Abdominal pain
- Profuse vomiting
- Uncontrollable diarrhea
- Tremors and shaking
- Nervousness and agitation
- Anxiety and depression
- Extreme craving for drugs
How long will withdrawal last? The symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically begin 6-12 hours after the last use, will peak in severity after 48-72 hours. The initial physical symptoms can last up to 10 days. It’s important to note that the battle is not over. Many addicts will make it through the detox only to succumb to the drug due to emotional issues.
Dr. Marc Myer, a Minnesota-based addiction specialist, says, “I think one of the most difficult parts is the mental withdrawal. (It’s a combination of) a severe depression and feeling that you’re never going to pull out of that state. It’s pretty well-known among providers that, because of that feeling of hopelessness, the anticipation of the withdrawal is oftentimes worse than the actual thing.”
Because quitting heroin is so difficult both physically and mentally, it is ALWAYS recommended that a person not try to go “cold-turkey” on their own. Instead, they should undergo a drug detoxification safely under the care of a qualified medical staff in the controlled confines of a professional facility.
Afterwards, the newly-clean-yet-still-fragile recovering heroin addict should participate in a long-term drug rehabilitation program, in order to get the assistance and support they will so desperately need during the coming months. This is their best chance to achieve successful recovery while minimizing the risk of relapse.
In Idaho, the region’s premier drug rehab program is offered by . The experienced clinical staff at Northpoint uses the most widely-accepted Evidence-Based Treatment protocols to create individualized recovery plans for each client.
Most importantly, Northpoint Recovery uses multiple treatment approaches to combat the disease of addiction on every level – physical, mental, psychological, nutritional, and spiritual – to maximize the person’s chances of regaining their stability, sobriety, serenity, and sanity.