Most people know that heroin is a powerful and dangerous drug. When your body develops an addiction to heroin, you cannot function well without it and you may psychologically and physically more of this dangerous opioid.

If you use heroin on a regular basis, you will become dependent on it. As tolerance for larger doses grows, you’ll need more and more heroin to keep withdrawal at bay. Heroin is so powerful that many people dread the idea of heroin withdrawal, even if entering a sober lifestyle is the only way to save their lives.

This is certainly Ambree’s story: “One night at a bar I was introduced to heroin. One use was all it took — I was hooked. From that day on, nothing else in the world mattered to me anymore…Getting clean and sober was not easy. Nothing worth having comes easy. My biggest impulse was always to run, even when it starts hurting just a little bit. If you can just sit through it, and don’t run from it, you find a way better life on the other side. I finally stayed in it long enough to go through the pain. I had to remember those things in order to find healing. I ran for so long. I wish that someone would have told me earlier to wait, instead of run.” -Ambree B., HeroesInRecovery.com

Withdrawal from heroin tends to begin between 6 to 24 hours after your last use of the drug. The severity and duration of withdrawal will vary from person to person, based on overall health, tolerance levels, and even the size of the last dose. Symptoms often reach their worst point between day one and three of the process and level off by five to seven days into withdrawal.1

What Is Heroin?

Heroin is an opiate-based drug derived from the pod of the opium poppy plant. Sometimes referred to as “smack,” “black tar,” or “horse,” this morphine alkaloid substance is often mixed with other products(like sugar, household cleaners, or cornstarch) until it becomes a powder that can be smoked, snorted or dissolved into a water-based solution for injection.

HeroinInjectable heroin one of the most dangerous drugs on the black market because it can lead to infections disease. It is also powerfully addictive, as those who use it will readily attest. Across the nation, approximately 669,000 people use heroin each year. Over 4.2 million Americans older than 11 years of age had used heroin at some point in their lives as of 2011.2

Heroin is highly potent. It is possible to become addicted to heroin after one use. This heightened strength means withdrawal is far more severe than with milder drugs like marijuana. There are unique risks to heroin use, as well. Street dealers cannot be sure that their batches of drugs are consistent from one to the next. Thus, the supply of heroin you bought last week could very well be a strong concentration, often because it’s cut with less filler, whereas next week’s supply could be far milder or laced with household products. When this happens, a regular user is at an increased risk of overdose. The overdose rate for heroin jumped to 2.1 per 100,000 in 2014, up from 1 per 100,000 in 2012.3

Withdrawal from Heroin

Withdrawal keeps addictions alive because it can be painful and distressing. Heroin users can become desperate enough to spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars to obtain the next dose. Withdrawal can be an uncomfortable process, and it isn’t safe to attempt suddenly quitting without medical supervision.

Generally, you can expect to experience the following side effects while withdrawing from heroin:

  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Cramps, nausea, appetite changes, and gastrointestinal distress
  • Cravings
  • Perspiration
  • Runny nose
  • Depression or lethargy
  • Anxiety and mood swings
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable mood
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle and joint pain

Some people try to detox from heroin at home. This practice is dangerous and not advisable. The risk of hallucinations, tremors, and suicidal ideations are multiplied in an unmonitored, home-based setting. Your chances of recovery are far greater if you seek professional treatment than if you attempt to detox at home on your own.

People who detox at home are at a much higher risk to relapse and overdose as well. Many fatal heroin overdoses occur in people who have recently detoxed from the drug. They automatically assume their body can still tolerate the same dose of heroin that they were accustomed to before detox began, and they’re wrong. This mistake has cost many their lives.

Are Some People More Prone to Heroin Addiction?

Heating heroin in spoonWhile no one is truly exempt from drug addiction, there are certain individuals who are more likely to fall prey to it. Genetics play a 40 to 60 percent role in the game of addiction.4 Your environment matters, too. Growing up in a household where drug abuse is prevalent will significantly increase your risk of engaging in the same behavior in your own adulthood. Likewise, individuals who try drugs at younger ages are more likely to develop addiction.

People with mental health disorders are also at an elevated risk of struggling with drug addiction.Up to 53 percent of people who are addicted to drugs have one or more serious mental health disorders. Injection drug users are more likely to become addicted than those who use other abuse methods. This is concerning for heroin users, as many prefer injection methods.5

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use

Some of the signs and symptoms of heroin addiction include mood swings, disorientation, track marks and constricted pupils, as well as:

  • Evidence of needles and syringes
  • Burned spoons
  • Pipes or other paraphernalia used for smoking heroin
  • Burnt straws
  • Traces of a white powder

If these red flags noted sound like you or someone you know, it’s time to ask for help.

Life After Heroin

Michael's House Men's Center EntranceIf you’re suffering from a mental health condition along with a heroin problem, both issues can be treated at the same time in integrated treatment to assure you leave rehab with a foundation to help you avoid relapse. Detox is just one part of the treatment process in the path to wellness.

Group and individual therapy, support groups, diet and exercise programs, adventure therapy, meditation, and more can help you to build the path to lasting sobriety, and you can access all of these things in treatment with us. Our dedicated treatment professionals work with each patient to form an individualized treatment plan. Your wellness is our top priority.

The dedicated, experienced staff at Michael’s House are here to help. One confidential call can put you in touch with a recovery professional that will help you learn more about recovery options for you or someone you love. Call now to learn more.


NIDA. “Heroin.” National Institute on Drug Abuse. 13 Nov. 2014. Accessed 9 Aug 2017.

The Drug Policy Alliance. Heroin Facts. N.d. Accessed 9 Aug 2017.

Zadronzy, B. Heroin Overdoses Double in Two Years. 02 Oct 2014. Accessed 9 Aug 2017.

Healthline. Risk Factors for Addiction. Accessed 9 Aug 2017.

NAMI. Dual Diagnosis. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed 9 Aug 2017.

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