How Long Does It Take To Detox From Heroin

heroin detox lengthPeople believe detox is the most painful part of kicking a bad habit such as substance or alcohol abuse. The truth is that the pain comes from the withdrawal symptoms that happen during the detoxification process.

This is why it is not uncommon for people to want to know about the detox duration before they commit to it. One of the first queries is usually “how long does it take to detox from heroin?” as one of the most common form issues relevant to substance abuse has to do with heroin.

The latest figures from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that as of 2020, at least 0.3% of all American adults are heroin users. 2020 also saw one of the biggest heroin overdose-related deaths, with a number of 13,165.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the sudden reduction or complete stoppage of substance or alcohol use. It comes in the form of physical and mental effects that could be anything from simply being immensely uncomfortable to life-threatening.

Just as chronic alcohol or drug use changes the body, the sudden decline and eventual elimination of these substances from the body also creates a massive change. On top of that, these massive changes also tend to be immensely stressful and, in some cases, require medical attention.

How Does a Detox Program Help?

These symptoms, however, could be better managed if the person undergoes a detox program. Some people are more than willing to do whatever it takes to kick the habit but are under the misguided notion that they could do so by themselves. A detox program is designed so that all the necessary precautions are put in place during the detox process.

These precautions become a vital necessity should complications arise in the detox process. In many cases, the sudden loss of substances or alcohol in the body causes a shock to the system, leaving the person in either a coma or causing massive organ failure and death.


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What are the Common Withdrawal Symptoms?

For those who happen to have a heroin substance abuse disorder, withdrawal symptoms could typically include:

  • Restlessness
  • Muscle pain
  • Pain seemingly originating from the bones
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Hypersensitivity

These symptoms could further be accompanied by the more general withdrawal symptoms experienced by most who go through detox, such as:

  • Profuse sweating
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle tension
  • Tremors
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure)
  • Poor concentration
  • Impaired memory
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizures

There are also a number of factors that affect the duration and severity of the withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Substance used
  • Duration of substance abuse
  • Method of taking substance (orally, nasally, intravenously)
  • Quantity/dosage taken
  • Medical history
  • Current health
  • Pre-existing conditions

Outside of these factors, and within the confines of a detox facility, the physical symptoms could run from anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. The psychological symptoms, however, including depression, could last for far longer.

In some instances, the need for medication-assisted treatment is the only way to facilitate a successful detox, as the craving could be so intense that the person is in constant agony without taking whatever it is they have a dependency on.

What is the Withdrawal Timeline for Heroin?

Depending upon the frequency and severity of the heroin abuse, the timeline for heroin withdrawal could come in two phases, the primary withdrawal phase, and the period associated with a post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

The symptoms start to manifest within the first 24 hours, and the severity largely depends on the length of use and frequency.

This is a crucial point as the symptoms start to increase in severity. Complications could start to arise at this point if the person is at risk of it. Psychological issues also start to worsen at this time, as severe discomfort, pain, and the cravings for whatever it is they gave up steadily increase in strength. Without a detox program conducted in a detox facility, most people would be in so much agony at this point that they would opt to give up on detoxing and go straight to a relapse.

By now, whatever substances taken by a person should be completely out of the system already, and withdrawal symptoms would have already lessened significantly. Those who have had a substance abuse disorder for a longer period, however, could still feel most of the withdrawal symptoms even during this period. Those who happen to have a pre-existing condition could also the same, and might even suffer from rebounding symptoms.

Those who have been using heroin for far longer than others might still feel some symptoms even after a week, and concurrent mental issues could still be present, requiring the attention of a psychotherapist. For others, cognitive and motor functions could already be close to normal by this point.

Those who have been long-term users or could have a pre-existing condition that was made worse by substance abuse could still feel most withdrawal symptoms well past the first week, with some experiencing it for up to a month or more. People who experience this are known to be suffering from post-acute withdrawal syndrome, and could require medical care for far longer than others.

What are the Three Levels of Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Heroin is a substance that directly affects the central nervous system, often suppressing or causing irregularities in the proper functioning of some autonomic processes, such as blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, and even body temperature regulation.

With such wide-scale effect, it is no wonder that heroin abuse appears to be among those dependencies with the most withdrawal symptoms. In fact, heroin withdrawal symptoms could even be classified into three categories:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Teary eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Profuse sweating
  • Chills
  • Yawning a lot
  • Muscle aches
  • Pain that appears to be coming from the bones
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Tremors
  • Impaired concentration
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Muscle spasms
  • Irregular breathing
  • Anhedonia (difficulty or inability to feel pleasure)
  • Intense cravings to use substances

While these three levels do have a classification that is considered to be “severe,” most of these are not life-threatening at all. What makes heroin withdrawal particularly worrisome is that some people tend to have a serious adverse reaction by way of complications. As some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms include issues that involve the cardiovascular system, those with a particular susceptibility to heart disease could potentially be at great risk.

Heroin Addiction Treatments Northfield New JerseyHeroin also affects the mental health of many who have developed a dependency on it. Depression is a common psychological issue that arises as a withdrawal symptom, and there are many cases of heroin withdrawal-induced depression lingering in the person for up to years at a time. Many of those who experienced depression as a symptom while in a detox program admitted to having suicidal thoughts at times.

Critical complications such as suicidal tendencies brought on by depression and impaired breathing stemming from heroin withdrawal are just a couple of reasons why detox should always be done in a clinical setting and not attempted at home.

What Treatments are Prescribed for Heroin Addiction?

The massive behavioral changes and alterations in normal thought patterns caused by heroin abuse require intensive and extensive psychotherapy to treat. This is why heroin addiction rehabilitation includes more psychotherapy than most other rehabilitation programs.

Examples of these psychotherapy approaches include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an approach in psychotherapy that helps people manage problems by altering the way they think and behave. It is typically used to treat anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.

This type of therapy works because it helps the person identify negative thoughts that could lead to self-harm, such as resorting to substances to deal with stress or problems.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an approach in psychotherapy that is derived from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It is particularly developed to help people who have minimal to no control over how their emotions dictate what they do.

In many instances, people engage in adverse or harmful behavior because they are driven to do so by intense emotions. DBT helps people understand and accept these intense emotions so they can manage them.

Trauma is one of the most powerful influences on human behavior and thinking. Many people develop conditions and disorders due to unprocessed trauma. Somatic experiencing therapy works on the principle that trauma gets trapped in the body, leading to irrational fears and behavior, and also a warped way of thinking relevant to the trauma.

This approach has been used on people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and panic attacks. This method works on releasing this stress caused by the trauma from the body.

Motivational interviewing is a conversation-based therapy geared to learning about and strengthening an individual’s motivation for changing behavior. This approach basically emphasizes the “why” of therapy, removing the clutter and complexity of problem-solving and creating a simple direction to goal-achieving by simply pointing a straight path to the goal.

This approach establishes a person’s personal goal as the motivation for change. Different people could have different goals, which is why this approach is said to be highly personalized. Contact us today if you or a loved one is in need of help.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What is the scope of heroin use in the United States? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2018. Accessed January 1, 2023.
  2. Gupta M, Gokarakonda SB, Attia FN. Withdrawal Syndromes. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 1, 2023.
  3. Bluthenthal RN, Simpson K, Ceasar RC, Zhao J, Wenger L, Kral AH. Opioid withdrawal symptoms, frequency, and pain characteristics as correlates of health risk among people who inject drugs. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020;211:107932. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.107932
Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Recovery Unplugged, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 1, 2023

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