Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal & How To Manage Them

Published on

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be unpleasant or dangerous to experience. These symptoms can be treated at an evidence-based recovery program.

What Are Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Heroin withdrawal syndrome can be very unpleasant to experience. Often people facing heroin abuse will keep it going rather than face the symptoms of heroin withdrawal.

However, you can prepare for heroin withdrawal by knowing what symptoms to expect, how to manage those symptoms, and when to seek help for heroin addiction.

What Are Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Heroin withdrawal affects both physical and mental health and symptoms may vary in severity depending on the length of time using heroin, overall health, and how much heroin is used.

Monitoring Symptoms With The Short Opioid Withdrawal Scale (SOWS)

One way to manage withdrawal symptoms that result from heroin or opioid use is through the Short Opioid Withdrawal Scale (SOWS).

The scale assigns a number of zero, one, two, or three (for not present, mild, moderate, or severe) to each symptom.

Comparing the total of your numbers to the range for each state of severity can help you gauge whether or not you should get help.

Symptoms on the SOWS include:

  • feeling nauseated
  • abdominal cramps
  • muscle aches
  • muscle tension
  • muscle twitching
  • yawning
  • feeling cold
  • watery eyes
  • heart pounding
  • difficulty sleeping

The range of mild symptoms is from zero to 10, while moderate symptoms range from 10 to 20, and severe symptoms from 20 to 30.

Severe symptoms typically require the use of opioid medication.

Physical Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal

The physical effects of heroin withdrawal can resemble a bad case of the flu, often including gastrointestinal discomfort and fever.

These symptoms result when your body has become physically dependent on heroin and you stop taking the drug.

Muscle Pain

Heroin withdrawal can affect your muscles causing discomfort.

Muscle discomfort can feel like:

  • pain
  • tension
  • twitching or spasming


When your opioid receptors suddenly stop receiving the drug that they have become dependent on, you can experience nausea and stomach cramping.

Vomiting And Diarrhea

If nausea and stomach cramping are severe enough, you can also experience vomiting and diarrhea that can last as long as a week.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms of withdrawal from heroin abuse can include high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and runny nose.

Mental Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal

The withdrawal symptoms of physical dependence on heroin are not the only side effects you may experience.

You may also experience mental discomfort as a result of heroin abuse.


Heroin withdrawal can cause poor sleep or periods of no rest due to the level of discomfort experienced during withdrawal.


Withdrawing from heroin drug use can also cause mental health issues such as anxiety or agitation.

This occurs because the opioid receptors are no longer receiving the drug and are overcompensating as a result.


Depression is a type of mood disorder that may result from heroin addiction. Symptoms of depression may include feelings of sadness, hopelessness and irritability, and sleep disturbances.

People oftentimes develop depressive disorders while going through heroin withdrawal due to a lack of the pleasure-causing neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.


When withdrawing from heroin, a person is likely to experience intense drug cravings because the body has grown used to having heroin in the system.

Timeline Of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin or other opioid withdrawal symptoms usually begin within the first day and can even start within eight hours of the last use.

Acute symptoms of heroin use can last between four and 10 days. This is also true for prescription opiate painkillers such as oxycodone and fentanyl.

Learn more about the timeline of heroin withdrawal.

Mild Vs. Severe Heroin Withdrawal

If you are experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms from heroin drug addiction, then you may be able to go through the withdrawal process at home with only symptomatic care.

If you are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms as described above, then you should consider detox or inpatient acute treatment options. This can significantly reduce discomfort.

Can Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms Be Dangerous?

Withdrawing from the use of heroin is not usually life-threatening. However, withdrawing from it can be dangerous due to complications that may arise.

For example, repeated vomiting and diarrhea can cause severe dehydration. It is also possible for a person to aspirate vomit or develop pneumonia during withdrawal.

Learn more about the dangerous and potentially fatal outcomes of heroin withdrawal.

Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey

Quitting “cold turkey” refers to when a person stops using a substance without medical guidance.

Without medical detox and medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using methadone, you are more likely to experience dangerous withdrawal effects when quitting cold turkey.

Due to the dangers and complications that can result from heroin withdrawal, healthcare professionals advise against attempting to quit cold turkey.

Heroin Withdrawal For Pregnant Women

Pregnant women addicted to heroin should immediately seek help at an addiction treatment center. Withdrawal symptoms while pregnant, especially if severe, could result in a miscarriage.

A substance abuse treatment facility may offer pregnant women medication-assisted treatment using methadone, detox, counseling, and other research-based treatment options.

Managing Heroin Withdrawal From Home

It is possible to manage heroin withdrawal from home if the symptoms are not severe. Below are some of the ways you can manage withdrawal while detoxing at home.

Over-The-Counter Medications

You can usually manage mild heroin withdrawal symptoms such as nausea or muscle aches with over-the-counter medications.

Supplements such as vitamins C and B can also be very helpful.

Stay Hydrated

One of the dangerous complications of heroin withdrawal is dehydration, so it is important to stay hydrated while going through this process.

It’s advised to drink two to three liters of water a day to replace fluid lost through vomiting or diarrhea. If you can’t keep fluids down, this may be a sign of severe withdrawal symptoms.

Help From A Trusted Friend

A trustworthy support system is essential while attempting heroin withdrawal from home.

Friends or family members should stay present to help with care and identify severe withdrawal symptoms if they develop.

When You Should Seek Medical Detox

You should seek medical detox when you are experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.

For example, if you are unable to keep fluids down and you are getting more dehydrated, you should seek help.

This is also true if you are experiencing severe symptoms of depression such as thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

What To Expect During Heroin Detox

Treatment providers who offer medical detox manage your withdrawal in a controlled environment that involves the use of specific medications, depending on your needs.

Medications Used To Treat Heroin Withdrawal

Medications used to treat heroin substance abuse and withdrawal are called opiate agonists or partial agonists.

They work by attaching to the opioid receptors in the brain and blocking other drugs from reaching those receptors.

Medications used for heroin treatment or withdrawal include:

  • methadone
  • buprenorphine
  • naloxone
  • naltrexone

Next Steps After Heroin Withdrawal

Whether you go through medical detox or successfully complete withdrawal at home, you should consider what to do next.

An outpatient or inpatient addiction recovery center can help you prepare for long-term sobriety and well-being.

Treatment options may include:

Find Treatment For Heroin Addiction Today

If you are battling heroin withdrawal symptoms, you can find treatment in your area.

Call our helpline to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one find the opioid use disorder recovery program that best fits your needs.

For 24/7 Treatment Help Call:
(888) 859-4403

Detox Rehabs