Heroin is one of the most addictive and harmful substances that someone can get their hands on. Since time immemorial, humans have used opium in order to get high, but it wasn’t until the gradual distillation of the opium poppy into morphine, and eventually, into heroin, that mankind was able to mass produce the potent substance on a scale never before seen.
Although the 20th century was punctuated by multiple legislative actions that banned the sale and usage of heroin in the United States, this drug has seen a significant rise in the last several years, with first-time users more than doubling between 2006 and 2016. Likewise, the number of people meeting the diagnostic criteria for heroin dependency rose from 214,000 in 2002 to 626,000 in 2016. Heroin use has also proliferated out of urban areas and spread into rural ones, with suburbs near Chicago and St. Louis reporting increasing amounts of heroin seizures by police.
Signs of Heroin Abuse
Heroin is incredibly addictive and even first time users may find themselves itching to use again as soon as the high wears off. Many long-time users will find that they are unable to feel normal or happy without the drug. If you suspect that someone may be using heroin, here are a few tell-tale signs to look out for.
- Unexplained laziness, lethargy, and euphoria
- Constricted pupils
- Wearing long sleeves to hide “track marks” (However, most first time users don’t inject the drug)
- Secretive behavior
- Sudden, unexplained weight loss
- Listless and unresponsive, unmotivated
- In financial trouble constantly
Signs of Heroin Addiction
Someone who is addicted to heroin will likely show one or more of the signs above, but there will be additional behavior that could indicate that their addiction has descended to a deeper level. If you think that someone has been recreationally using heroin and that it may have progressed past the addiction threshold, here the diagnostic criteria:
- Taking heroin in larger amounts or for longer than you're meant to.
- Wanting to cut down or stop using heroin but not managing to.
- Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from use of heroin.
- Cravings and urges to use heroin.
- Not managing to do what you should at work, home, or school because of heroin use.
- Continuing to use, even when it causes problems in relationships.
- Giving up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of heroin.
- Using heroin again and again, even when it puts you in danger.
- Continuing to use, even when you know you have a physical or psychological problem that could have been caused or made worse by heroin.
- Needing more of the substance to get the effect you want (tolerance).
- Development of withdrawal symptoms, which can be relieved by taking more of the substance.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
Someone with a severe enough addiction will exhibit withdrawal symptoms if they have been using long enough. Withdrawal symptoms can start to occur within the same day that they last use heroin. The exact timeline differs from person to person depending on their body chemistry and history of abuse, but most withdrawals follow a similar trajectory and share the same symptoms.
1 - 3 Days
Within the first 24 hours of someone quitting heroin, withdrawal symptoms will assuredly start to surface. These symptoms can be painful and during the first phase of withdrawal, the addict is most likely to slip and relapse. Symptoms at this time will include:
- Stomach Problems
- Muscle Pain
- Loss of Appetite
- Runny Nose
3 - 5 Days
Once you’ve overcome the first few days of withdrawal, the worst of the symptoms have passed. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms varies by person, but around 5 days that body should have kicked the worst of these and progressed to the next phase of withdrawal. This phase is characterized by:
- Stomach Cramps
- Muscle Aches
1 Week +
After about a week, the physical withdrawal symptoms should have abated to the point where you feel partially or fully functional again. However, some addicts experience what are known as PAWS, or Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms. These symptoms are common among people who use a large amount of intoxicating substances over a period of time. These ongoing withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological and mood-related and can persist for any amount of time afterward. However, PAWS do not affect everyone.
- Cognitive Impairment
Heroin Withdrawal Testimonials
The following testimonials have been gathered from Reddit as a means to show what heroin withdrawal actually feels like. These views are in no way endorsed by Landmark Recovery.
“Gatorade, and time. I have cold-turkeyed on heroin about 5 times total when I was addicted and each time was brutal and three times I ended up in an ER because I could not stop vomiting and was losing electrolytes which can become life-threatening. Rehab is the move. A serious recovery plan and a safe place to change is required.”
“I've done the home detox more times than I'd care to admit, days 2-4 are pretty much as bad as it's gonna get. I would usually start sleeping thru the night at around day 5-6. At this point, there's really no need to throw narcotics into the mix like methadone or suboxone, the worst of it is over and even in a clinical detox environment they only taper conventional opiates for 5 days. Tylenol, tons of water, some kind of anti-histamine to maybe get some sleep/ relieve anxiety, Immodium for your bowels. Should be good as new by day 10 or so. Everyone's different, but that's just my experience.”
“Constant alterations in temperature, one moment you're overheating and sweating, 10 seconds later you're freezing cold plus the sweat. No appetite, pain, sneezing and a general increase in fluid production like tears and nose drip. Diarrhea. Nausea. Insomnia. Irritability.”
“The most prominent sensation is a combination of being completely exhausted and being incredibly overstimulated at the same time. Imagine you just got done running a marathon, your whole body is sore, you can barely move; now imagine this on 5 cans of red bull. Basically, you desperately want to sleep, but every two minutes, the energy buildup in your body makes you jerk around and wakes you up. Add to that painful hypersensitivity all over your body, a fever dream brain-state, an unquenchable hunger (for junk, but it's comparable to bring food starved or being unbearably horny), and a handful of other things (for me, everything tasted horrible, including cigarettes) and you have the general idea.”
Treatment for Heroin Addiction and Withdrawals
To successfully detox from a heroin addiction, your best option is to enter into either an outpatient or inpatient treatment center. Here, patients will receive the assistance of trained professionals in detoxing the body from the effects of heroin while minimizing the risk of relapse, suicide, or overdose. A residential treatment center will help patients to build long-term sobriety strategies and coping mechanisms. The more dangerous option to try is going cold-turkey, but this method is not recommended because it is extremely painful and could lead to potentially lethal consequences
When detoxing from any type of hard substance, you’ll need to maintain as much fluid in your body as possible. The body will be expelling liquid through sweat, vomiting, and diarrhea, so replenish yourself with electrolytes and water.
You should avoid fatty or carb rich foods in favor of healthy sources of nutrients. Drink plenty of orange juice, and get a balanced mix of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and meats. You can also try over the counter medications like magnesium, Vitamin C, and melatonin.
Take Off Work
Don’t try to be a superhero and take on the world. You should take the time you need to fully detoxify your body and get your brain back into the right place. So take the time off work and school obligations.
Light exercise is advised after you’ve passed through the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. You can do some low intensity activities like walking, jogging, or swimming to help relieve the anxiety and help you with sleep.
Inpatient treatment, also known as residential treatment, involves the recovering addict attending a 30-90 day treatment program where they stay within the confines of a safe and secure facility. While enrolled in an inpatient treatment program, recovering heroin addicts will undergo a medically supervised detoxification process to help them entirely withdraw from the substance. Clinicians may use the assistance of anticonvulsant medication or painkillers to wean the patient off the substance in the most safe and pain-free way possible. For heroin users, this process typically takes less than a few days.
The rest of the time spent in residential treatment is dedicated to teaching the patient about ways they can live a healthy and productive life without the influence of substances such as heroin or other stimulants. They will attend group and individual therapy sessions to learn more about the underlying psychological components of addiction and learn to deal with their problems in ways that don’t involve substances. In this supportive environment, patients learn to build a long-term network for recovery. Inpatient rehab offers the best chance for heroin addicts to not only withdraw from their substance but also learn how to live the rest of their lives without it.
Outpatient treatment is structured similarly to residential treatment but is not as intensive and is confined to the facility. The patient may live at home or in a sober living environment while attending outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment is suitable for those patients who do not meet the medical criteria for inpatient treatment. When the patient is not participating in outpatient sessions, they must voluntarily abstain from drugs and alcohol.
Those who receive outpatient care still have access to a support network and are not facing recovery alone. Outpatient care includes support groups, counseling sessions, and access to Narcotics Anonymous as well as Alcoholics Anonymous. The resources provided through the outpatient program supports the patient with the goal of maintaining long-term sobriety.
Addiction destroys the body and weakens the spirits. Landmark Recovery is a place where people struggling with chemical dependency problems can find answers to the issues that have tormented them for months, years or decades. Our dedicated clinicians, nurses and medical staff will help you or your loved one find solutions that work for a lifetime. For inspiration, read heroin poems for extra guidance. Call one of our caring admissions consultants today to find out about our comprehensive treatment programs for drug and alcohol recovery.