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Heroin is also known as smack, China White, Snow, and by a variety of other names on the streets by its appearance. Heroin is usually a fine white powder in the purest form. However, with so many different ways to mix heroin, there is no one single description as to its appearance. If heroin is mixed or “cut” with other substances, it could be a brown, gray or black tar-like substance. It is mixed with anything from sugar to cocaine. Heroin is a semi-synthetic opiate made from morphine. Morphine contains pain relieving properties that interact with receptors in your brain by depressing the central nervous system. Even though heroin is illegal and highly addictive, because of its euphoric effects, people tend to use it to self-medicate for pain and stress relief in addition to recreational use. Heroin is smoked, snorted, swallowed or melted down into a liquid and then injected.

Even though heroin can be difficult to quit, just like any other drug it is possible to overcome the addiction. Typically individuals who have mental illness disorders or other addictions may become dependent on heroin faster. Since heroin is fast-acting, it dissolves into your bloodstream quickly, and it can take up to seven days for the body to completely filter out the toxins from the drug. Since no two people are the same and react different while detoxing from heroin, it is best to seek treatment from medical professionals. There are many different types of therapy and treatments offered to help with heroin withdrawal and these can be tailored to each need.

Side Effects of Heroin

Side effects of heroin use vary from one person to another. The following is a short list of side effects an addict may experience.

  • Dilated pupils
  • Red colored skin
  • Fatigue in the arms and legs
  • Runny eyes or nose and dry mouth
  • Decreased heart rate and breathing
  • Trouble concentrating and staying level-headed

Over time, the more heroin an addict uses, the body builds up a resistance, and it may take a more significant quantity to achieve the same level of “high.” After being exposed to heroin for an extended length of time, the brain becomes dependent and sensitive. The brain believes that it is starved and unable to function correctly when the heroin supply is cut off. This dependency makes it more dangerous and difficult to quit “using.”

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal symptoms vary for all addicts. The longer the use, the method of use, the quantity consumed, and how dependent someone is on it will affect the severity and duration of withdrawal. Heroin addicts may feel severe depression when their brain is deprived of the drug. Heroin is an opiate that overpowers how the central nervous system works by clinging to the opioid receptors which increase chemicals in the brain that creates the feeling of pleasure.

Heroin usage can alter the brain’s chemical formation when large amounts are ingested or used for an extended amount of time. For those who did not have extended heroin abuse, the withdrawal process is often less severe with a shorter duration. Heroin addicts may experience some or all the following withdrawal symptoms:

Mild withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Stomach pains
  • Tearing
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • A runny nose
  • Excessive yawning
  • Bone and muscle aches

Moderate withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble focusing
  • Goosebumps
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors

Severe withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fast heart rate
  • Muscle spasms
  • Trouble with feeling pleasure
  • Decreased breathing
  • High blood pressure
  • Drug cravings

Heroin withdrawal is not considered life-threatening. However, the psychological and medical symptoms associated with withdrawal complications can be fatal. Some individuals addicted to heroin or other drugs that suffer from depression may often have suicidal thoughts or tendencies. Therefore, heroin should not be stopped abruptly without assistance from a medical or mental health professional to help manage the side effects with several different treatment options.

Phases of Heroin Withdrawal

The different phases of heroin withdrawal symptoms can be scary and overwhelming. This can be discouraging to many heroin addicts who may never take the first step to recovery and treatment. However, knowing the phases of withdrawal and knowing what to expect through the phases can also help an addict take that first step. The withdrawal phases are detailed below and can help an addict begin.


When quitting any drug, a person needs to be prepared for severe withdrawal symptoms. Heroin is known for the short high which approximately lasts for 3-8 minutes or as long as 30 minutes. Because of its half-life, the withdrawal symptoms can begin as quickly as a few hours after the last dose. It can be hard to refrain from additional drug use, so it is advised to seek professional assistance with the withdrawal process right at the beginning. Professionals and the therapy provided in rehab facilities can help patients get through these difficult times of detox and withdrawal.

“Coming Down”

When an addict is “coming down” from their “high,” the sense of euphoria can then turn to an empty feeling. The brain can feel starved, making the addict feel as though they cannot live without another high.

Reducing Symptoms

Within a couple of days, severe symptoms will start to diminish. Some mild symptoms may be present for up to a week as the body starts learning how to function without heroin. The duration of acute withdrawal could last between one and two weeks depending on a person’s metabolism and the amount of drug used. Even though most of the symptoms will decrease with time, some symptoms can last for months or even years. These symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Drug cravings
  • Physical symptoms
  • Anxiety

These are long-term effects of heroin, also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Professional assistance in a substance abuse facility is often needed to prevent post-acute withdrawal syndrome, and to avoid future relapse.


Continuing treatment and substance abstinence is the essential life-long final step of withdrawal. During the withdrawal process, the risk of relapse is high and can even result in an overdose. During recovery, a former addict’s body loses its tolerance for heroin. If the addict uses again and returns to the same dose they were using; an overdose can happen. Finishing treatment and providing yourself with the skills to avoid relapse and remain sober is important to living a healthy life. Receiving help and support when struggling with heroin addiction lowers the chance of becoming a statistic in the heroin overdose epidemic.

Heroin Detox

Detoxing at a rehabilitation facility is the safest option for your physical and mental health. Choosing to detox with medical assistance gives you a higher chance of a successful recovery. The full process is observed and monitored by professionals including doctors, nurses, and health care providers with training focused solely on the detoxification process. If necessary, medical professionals can provide safe medications to help control and manage pain and cravings.

The Process of Detoxing

Heroin addiction can be treated with several rehab options such as inpatient rehab where you participate in group and individual therapy, receive well-balanced meals, and live in a drug-free setting. Once rehab is completed, recovering addicts can benefit from attending 12-step meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery.) Below are a few medical detox settings that are available.

Inpatient: This treatment plan is offered in a detox center, hospital or rehab facility such as Serenity Acres Treatment Center. Inpatient rehab centers are residential facilities which provide supervision 24-hours a day, concentrated monitoring, and pharmacotherapy.

Outpatient: This program is offered in a doctor’s office, medical center, free clinic or rehab facility. Patients who opt for outpatient treatment are provided with medical supervision during business hours. This may make the recovering addict susceptible to relapse when they are not attending therapy and meetings.

Holistic Detox: This treatment plan is typically offered in a naturopathic doctor’s office. Holistic detox depends on herbal medications and therapies to help detox the body and mind. This program also includes yoga, acupuncture, and spiritual counseling.

Going through detox at an accredited facility like Serenity Acres can ease the symptoms of withdrawal as our team supervises our clients 24/7. Once detox is complete, clients can then progress through further stages of treatment.

Getting Help with Heroin Withdrawal

When you are ready to leave your heroin addiction in the past, joining an inpatient treatment program at Serenity Acres is a great first step. Our medical professionals can offer continuous supervision during the withdrawal and recovery process to help lessen withdrawal and to provide safety before, during, and after detox.

To take the first step to heal and overcome your addiction, call Serenity Acres today or use the contact form below. Addiction professionals can assist you with any questions you have regarding treatment, withdrawal, and detox. Call today to get started on your road to recovery and to living a life free from pain and addiction.