Heroin Detox & Withdrawal

For those struggling with a heroin addiction, pursuing a detox and withdrawal may seem like a difficult and intimidating process. Also known as diamorphine, heroin dependence can be overcome with the right tools and support. To help you learn of your options and to achieve sobriety, we explore the process of detox, withdrawal symptoms, and steps to take to restoring a balanced lifestyle.

What is a Heroin Detox?

A heroin addiction is a form of opiate use disorder. It involves an inability to refrain from using the substance, craving the drug, or controlling the amount used.

Along with an inability to manage its use, heroin withdrawal is associated with an addiction. When an individual stops using heroin, the body will undergo a process of withdrawal. A heroin detox takes place before withdrawal in which the substance is gradually reduced and removed from the body. For those battling a heroin addiction, a supported detox within a heroin rehab clinic can help with overcoming substance dependence.

What is Heroin Withdrawal?

As heroin influences the reward system of the brain, individuals will develop a tolerance with regular use, over time. With a need for a more intense “high” each time, larger amounts of the drug are ingested, and an addiction develops.

Addiction Center defines a heroin withdrawal as occurring as soon as the substance is no longer used and involves withdrawal symptoms.

During a heroin withdrawal, individuals will experience symptoms as the brain and body adjust to the absence of the chemical. The heroin withdrawal is best overseen and managed by an inpatient programme with a recovery centre or a medical facility.

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Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline

The severity of a heroin withdrawal will depend on the consumption of the substance including the physiological and psychological state of the individual. The process of detox and withdrawal symptom management are best performed under the guidance of clinical experts. This also ensures that individuals with an underlying psychological condition (a dual diagnosis) receive the appropriate levels of care and therapy. A therapist will focus on addressing both the detox and the mental or emotional health of the client where a dual diagnosis is present.

The withdrawal symptoms for heroin can start between 6 and 12 hours after its last use (Foundation for a Drug Free World).

The faster metabolism of the drug means that you will experience withdrawal symptoms faster. A typical withdrawal includes the feeling of having the flu. Individuals can also experience more severe withdrawal symptoms only 48 to 72 hours into the withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Irritable mood
  • Sweating
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia.

How Long Does Heroin Stay in Your System?

The duration for a heroin withdrawal will depend on the frequency of use and the amount of substance ingested. The presence of active heroin in the body is also influenced by the way the heroin was used (injecting, snorting, smoking), and the presence of an underlying psychological condition.

Many heroin addicts also experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that can last up to 24 months.

A detox and withdrawal symptoms can last between 7 to 14 weeks. At the third day, symptoms such as sweating and body cramps occur, and after at least 6 days individuals begin to feel a sense of normal.

a woman going through a heroin detox assessment

How to undergo a Heroin Detox

Seeking a heroin detox is a necessary step towards your recovery. It is important that a medical professional is sought to oversee the process.

We look at the home detox and private rehab options.

Home Heroin Detox

A home detox is attempted by many but owing to the difficult symptoms of withdrawal, a relapse can occur. If you are considering an at home detox, first consult with your GP or medical practitioner. They will advise on the safety of home detoxification especially of you are taking prescription medication.

A GP will advise on opiate substitutes such as buprenorphine and methadone to ease the symptoms of withdrawal. It also supports a reduction in the need to inject the drug into the body.

For your safety and comfort, it is important to seek the services of an experienced GP. Medical practitioners can oversee the entire process and intervene with clinical support where deemed necessary. If you are unsure of the process, we encourage you to call us for professional support.

There are also private home detox services in the UK, which allow you to detox from heroin at home with prescribed medication and online therapy and support.

Opiate Substitutes

Opiate substitution has become a therapeutic alternative for those who wish to reduce and quit their usage. Unfortunately, opiate substitutes can simply replace the heroin dependence with another addiction. It does not address the underlying causes for fighting an addiction (Substance Abuse Policy).

The best approach for any person struggling with a substance addiction, is to seek therapy. A therapeutic approach will support combatting the addiction. It will also address any co-morbid conditions that would otherwise complicate the process of recovery.

Is a home detox safe?

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid that can be difficult to manage during a home detox. Challenges are owed to both a physical and a psychological withdrawal. Individuals are overcome by body aches and sweating which increases the risk of relapse (Withdrawal.net).

A heroin detox is most suited to a medical or inpatient treatment programme to prevent the risk of relapse. While a detox from heroin is not usually life threatening, it can lead to medical complications and should be overseen by an experienced GP (Withdrawal.net).

A residential heroin rehab programme is encouraged for those who want to overcome a heroin addiction. Here you are provided the 24 hour safety and support of medical professionals.

Medically Assisted Heroin Detox

A medically assisted detox is performed at a detox clinic. The advantage of such a programme is the chance to receive clinical support and supervision round the clock. A medically assisted detox can be done alone, or part of a wider residential heroin rehab programme.

The Benefits of a Medically Assisted Heroin Detox

The Rehabspot Lists the following Benefits of a Medically Assisted Heroin Detox

  • Can reduce the occurrence of relapse soon after rehab
  • Will reduce the experience of physical and psychological symptoms
  • Receive round the clock monitoring by medical staff
  • Private rehab allows for quick access to treatment followed by therapy where dependence is present.

two women supporting each other

Coping with Heroin Withdrawal

If you are considering a detox from heroin but you have concerns about withdrawal symptoms, you can rest assured that a professional and supportive programme will help you get through the difficulties and to live a healthier, rewarding life. With steps to cope with a withdrawal, you can achieve successful results. We look at coping with a heroin withdrawal.

Take Time Off Work

Detoxing from an opioid can leave you feeling irritable and tired. This is sure to perform your focus and productivity at work. Booking a holiday is a suitable and confidential alternative to disclosing where and why you will seek treatment.

Remove Heroin Paraphernalia

When returning home, it is important that your environment be clean and free from heroin paraphernalia. From needles and lighters to spoons, all these items must be removed to prevent cravings and temptation.

Stay Away from Tempting Environments

If you were hanging out in social environments where drugs were accessible, avoiding these settings and places can help you work your motivation and confidence. Do not hang around friends who actively use heroin. If they cannot understand your values, then they aren’t worth keeping in your future social circles.

Eat Healthy & Exercise

One of the greatest supports for your recovery is to change your diet. Healthy eating and exercise will release natural “feel-good hormones.” As you become fitter and stronger, you will also become more self confident.

Talk to Friends & Family

Only when friends and family understand what you are going through, can they be there to support your needs. Speak to them, educate them, and ask them to make a commitment as much as you are.

Remind Yourself Daily the Reasons You’re Quitting

Create a roster, a list, or a set of notes concerning the reason for quitting heroin. By reminding yourself of your reasons for quitting, you can strengthen your motivation and prevent relapse.


To achieve a healthy mind and body requires the proper hours of sleep. Where heroin use is severe, individuals may experience disruptions in sleeping patterns. This means a lack of sufficient rest and an inability for the body to heal (Pubmed).

Preventing a Relapse

If someone has been using heroin for a significant period, they are more likely to have formed a tolerance. Along with the tolerance comes a higher level of dependency. It also increases the risk of cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Preventing a relapse is about self-motivation and support you can trust. We look at the following programmes to manage a heroin addiction.

Treating the underlying causes of heroin dependency

For a heroin dependency to be effectively treated, a therapist assisting in the underlying cause for symptoms can assist. While a detox and withdrawal can address the physical aspect of an addiction, it does not resolve any underlying psychological conditions.

Therapy can help you deal with daily challenges, a past trauma, or other factor that is maintaining the addiction. Therapy focuses on keeping you away from a relapse by introducing coping strategies and tools for recovery.

a women getting help for heroin addiction

Residential rehab

A residential rehab is a type of inpatient programme but with a warm reception and a feeling of home. When you enter a residential rehab for heroin addiction, you feel safe. The facility is less like a clinical environment while providing access to experienced and qualified medical staff. Clients stay at the residential rehab with access to therapy.

Along with private rehab and therapy, a holistic programme focuses on all aspects of individuals to help them improve their health, both physical and psychological. This includes exercise plans, changes in diet, and other factors to improve their well-being.

Outpatient services & support groups

An outpatient service allows individuals to maintain their jobs and connect to family but will be required to check in to meetings and therapeutic sessions. These meetings can occur weekly or daily and depend on the severity of the addiction.

The NHS and similar charity programmes can assist those battling with heroin addiction. If you wish to overcome addiction but cannot afford a private centre, then free addiction services are available.

Owing to the nature of a charity programme, waiting lists may be required before entry into a facility. To increase your chances of acceptance, consult with a GP for a referral. Referrals involve a complete assessment to advice on programme suitability.

Support Groups

Groups such as Narcotic anonymous and Heroin Anonymous are examples of support groups. Individuals visit a group session once or a few times a week, and are led by individuals who have been in recovery for many years. Support groups are designed to support individuals in long term recovery by following the 12 step framework, and allow individuals to feel empowered with self responsibility. They are also useful for fighting loneliness, and encourage individuals to help others in recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions
You may have a lot of questions about heroin detoxification. If you are unable to find the answer below please give us a call and speak to one of our addiction specialists today.
Is a heroin detox dangerous?
A heroin detox is not considered life threatening; however, it can include withdrawal complications that may require medical attention.
How long will I experience withdrawal symptoms?
Heroin is fast acting and can remain in the body between 7 and 14 days. It can also involve PAWS in which symptoms are felt weeks after withdrawal.
Does the NHS provide a heroin detox?
The NHS does offer services for a heroin detox. To improve entering into such a program, speak to your GP. You can also learn how to life a healthier lifestyle and discover your role in the dependence with therapy. A keyworker will help with this.
What is the fastest way to detox from heroin?
A “cold-turkey” approach to detox from heroin can be effective but often lead to withdrawal symptoms increasing the risk of relapse. Seeking professional advice is a better way of managing detox.
What does Heroin withdrawal feel like?
A heroin withdrawal leaves your body aching and feeling as though you have the flu. Your mood is upset, and you feel a lack of energy. Many people also feel higher levels of anxiety.
How much does a private heroin detox cost?
A private heroin detox can cost anywhere from around £1500 to £5000. It depends on the duration of the detox and the programmes available.

Jason Sheirs
Author / Jason Shiers / Dip. Psych MBACP
Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.