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Medically Reviewed

A Breakdown of the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

- 5 sections

Medically Reviewed: September 24, 2021

Medical Reviewer

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Getting help for heroin addiction is the most important thing you can do to overcome your problem and achieve long-lasting sobriety. The bad news is that many heroin addicts attempt to detox and go through withdrawal on their own, without medical supervision or support. This is extremely dangerous, as users are at a high risk of relapse throughout the heroin withdrawal timeline.

The good news is that heroin withdrawal is not life-threatening. But the uncomfortable and miserable withdrawal symptoms can make it difficult to remain abstinent. The best way to minimize suffering through heroin detoxification is by seeking professional medical help. Detoxing under the watchful eye of trained medical professionals who can administer prescription medications will allow you to maintain your physical comfort during the entire heroin withdrawal timeline.


What Causes Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin is a type of opioid, which means that it works similarly to how your body naturally produces endorphins. It binds to the opioid receptors in your brain and spinal cord, interfering with the transmission of pain messages from these parts of your body to your brain.

When you take heroin over a long period of time, it actually changes the structure of these opioid receptors, which can cause an intense craving for more heroin and flu-like withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. This “rebound effect” is what drives addiction and compels people to take too much heroin or go back on after a relapse.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

When heroin binds to the opioid receptors, it stimulates them. When you abruptly stop taking heroin after a long period of time, these opioid receptors are being stimulated but don’t have any endorphins or other opioids to bind to. This causes a surge in your stress hormones and your body goes into “fight-or-flight” mode as a response.

These stress hormones cause heroin withdrawal symptoms, such as:

heroin withdrawal symptoms

  • extreme cravings for more heroin
  • increased anxiety
  • increased irritability
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches and pains
  • uncontrollable leg movements (kicking, fidgeting)
  • chills
  • sweats
  • fever
  • drowsiness
  • tiredness
  • general discomfort

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The amount of time heroin withdrawal lasts can vary from one person to the next. For some people, the worst of the symptoms only last for a few days, but others may experience severe heroin withdrawal symptoms for weeks or even months.

This is because each person’s body copes with heroin withdrawal differently, depending on how it metabolizes (breaks down) and eliminates (gets rid of) the drug. Scientists also believe that underlying psychological conditions like anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression can influence how long heroin withdrawal lasts. Other factors that influence the heroin withdrawal timeline include:

  • Length of heroin abuse
  • Severity of heroin addiction

There are three main phases that make up the heroin withdrawal timeline:

1. Acute phase: This is when you first stop taking heroin – your body goes into fight-or-flight mode due to the decreased levels of endorphins in your system, and heroin withdrawal symptoms start to appear.

The acute phase typically lasts 1-2 days after last use.

2. Early withdrawal: Once the acute phase of heroin detox is over, most of your physical symptoms (flu-like symptoms and aches and pains) should start to ease up in a few days. However, your psychological cravings may still be very strong during this phase.

The typical duration of the early withdrawal stage is 3-7 days after last use.

3. Protracted phase: This is when most of the withdrawal symptoms disappear, but you feel depressed and tired for weeks or even months afterward. It’s important to note that these feelings do eventually go away – they’re just part of the normal process of healing from addiction.

The protracted phase generally occurs 2 – 4 weeks after last use and can last for several months. Protracted withdrawal is sometimes also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

three phases of heroin withdrawal

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

No two individuals are the same, so it’s impossible to say exactly how long heroin withdrawal lasts. The acute and early withdrawal phases typically only last for a few days, but the protracted phase may last weeks or even months. As a result, it’s important to seek long-term treatment for your heroin addiction.

Start Heroin Detox in Charlotte, North Carolina Today

Drug detox and treatment programs in Charlotte, North Carolina can help you cope with the full duration of the heroin withdrawal timeline. Treatment medications like Suboxone and Subutex can not only reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms but can also shorten the amount of time withdrawal symptoms are experienced. Additionally, holistic therapies can teach you how to relax, nourish your body, and improve your overall well-being to cope with any lingering symptoms.

If you think you may be struggling with heroin addiction and want to find out more about your substance abuse treatment options, we can help you find the best rehab center near you. We’re here 24/7 to answer your questions and will get back to you as soon as possible. Contact us today to get started.