In 2012, approximately 467,000 were dependent on heroin.[1] It is estimated that around 23 percent of people who use heroin will become addicted to it.[2]

A highly addictive substance, heroin is derived from the opium poppy pod. The harvesting process includes scoring the pods and allowing the inner contents — a latex-like resin — to seep out over a period of a few days. Once this substance dries, it is scraped from the pods and refined into heroin by mixing it with morphine.

Despite how many needed help, only 285,451 people were admitted for treatment of a heroin addiction in 2012.[3]

The symptoms of heroin abuse and addiction include:

  • Slumped appearance
  • Disoriented state of mind
  • Cycling between being alert and drowsy
  • Constricted pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Trouble breathing
  • Paranoid mood
  • Depressed mood
  • Weight loss
  • Scabs from picking the skin
  • Bruises or track marks at injection sites
  • Withdrawing from activities and interaction with loved ones
  • Irritable or agitated mood
  • Repeat respiratory infections
  • Itching
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Diminished performance at school or work

The Last High

For many, the last high is what catapults them into the place they’re in when they seek help. Sometimes they’ve had the scare of a potential overdose. Every heroin user should be aware of the signs of such, because only about one in every eight overdoses actually takes place immediately following drug use; most occur one to three hours later.[4] Other times, the depression has gotten the best of them and they’re ready to stop feeling this way. Little research exists regarding rates of depression among heroin abusers, but data shows that people who use opioid painkillers for three to six months were at a 25 percent increased risk of developing depression, and that risk goes up to 53 percent for persons using the drugs for more than six months.[5]

Some discover they have contracted an infectious disease and make the decision that it’s time to stop. In 2010, around 17,000 people became newly infected with hepatitis C, and 53 percent of those cases were due to injection drug use practices.[6]

The last high is even planned for some addicts. They know they’re going off to rehab, and they set out to have one last go around with their beloved but hated heroin.

The effects a user feels from heroin are euphoric. The heightened pleasurable experience is almost indescribable to the non-addict who has never tried it. Effects of the drug include pain relief, elation, an induced relaxed state, and all-over warming sensation. Notably, increased or more potent doses of heroin can inflict the user with some uncomfortable side effects, such as:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble regulating body temperature

Coming Back Down

As with any substance, when you stop using, the side effects aren’t so pleasant. Withdrawal from heroin begins anywhere between six and 12 hours since the last use. Symptoms of it include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Goose bumps
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • Restlessness
  • Diarrhea and cramps
  • Excessive salivation
  • Trembling

Those who attempt to detox on their own may also experience feelings of paranoia and panic attacks.


Between the mix of horror stories told by fellow users and the reported price tag of heroin addiction treatment at a lot of institutions, many addicts try to attempt detox from heroin on their own. This is a highly dangerous feat and never recommended. Supervised medical detox is safer because the user is gradually weaned off heroin rather than quitting cold turkey the way they would at home. Quitting heroin in a cold turkey manner puts you at risk for a myriad of side effects that are out of your control, including coma and death.

Many will attempt to wean themselves off the same way professionals do by taking measured doses that decrease at set intervals, but it’s just not possible to enforce those controls in a home setting. Equipment isn’t always sterile. In one report among injection drug users in 2012, only 54.3 percent of them attested to having had sterile equipment when they last injected a substance.[7]

In addition, the supply you buy next week could be far more potent than what you have right now. Therefore, decreasing the dose may not actually serve any purpose. In a given supply of heroin, its purity could range anywhere from 20 to 70 percent.[8] Due to the lack of any ability to regulate concentrations and doses, home detox for heroin addicts can be life-threatening. In fact, the majority of opiate overdoses take place after detox or withdrawal.[9]

Day One

The first step is reaching out for help to a professional facility that specializes in heroin detox. Remember that anything you divulge to staff or medical professionals is confidential. Upon your admission to a facility, you’ll sit down with a doctor, psychotherapist, or counselor. They will perform your intake interview and ask you questions about how much heroin you use, how regularly, and when you first began using the drug. In addition, they’ll want to know how you use it.

Expect some questions regarding your past as well. It’s important to know from a treatment point of view if mental illness runs in your family and about any medical or health problems you may have. Undiagnosed issues of mental health can seriously complicate detox. For this reason and more, concerns regarding mental wellness should be discussed during the intake interview. Around 53 percent of all drug addicts have at least one severe mental health disorder.[10] Of 716 opioid users seeking methadone maintenance, 47 percent presented with a co-occurring mental health issue. Of that group, 47 percent were men and 48 percent were women.[11]

Day Two

On day two, you can expect to feel tired and agitated. You probably won’t be sleeping or eating well. Depression might set in today, too. The drug is wearing off, and if you weren’t in treatment, you would be reaching for another dose right now.

Day Three Onward

The symptoms of withdrawal mentioned above are at their strongest between three and five days after last use of the drug. Their intensity generally correlates with how much heroin you have been using and how frequently.

One Week Out

Most of the withdrawal symptoms you’ve been experiencing will taper off and dissipate altogether by day seven. Lingering nausea or diarrhea may be present, but not for long. The psychological urge for heroin may never completely go away for some addicts.


Treatment for heroin abuse and addiction is vital. Left untreated, the dependency grows stronger and often consumes its victims. Heroin overdose deaths doubled from 2010 to 2012 going from 1 in 100,000 to 2.1 per 100,000 in a study of 28 states, more than doubling.[12]  In some states, these rates have tripled. For example, in West Virginia, heroin-related overdose deaths totaled 22 in 2007 and more than three times that many — at 67 — in 2012.[13]

Treatment options for heroin addiction are varied, and the most successful approaches include medication therapy. There are both outpatient and inpatient options for today’s heroin addict. Mediations assist the user by getting them through detox and weaned off heroin without having to feel the intensity of withdrawal symptoms that make them want to keep using the drug. The at-home detox patient doesn’t have this option and almost always resorts to using heroin after not being able to handle the effects of withdrawal. Buprenorphine touted an 88 percent success rate after six months in early studies. It came along in later years as a step up from methadone due to the inability for a user to get high on it, but methadone remains more popular nonetheless. Research points toward a 60 to 90 percent success rate in methadone patients.[15]

Additionally, inpatient care virtually eliminates the possibility of relapsing while admitted. Thus, cravings are far easier to control. Sometimes additional medications can also be provided, such as benzodiazepines, to assist in decreasing the cravings, making them more manageable from a psychological standpoint. Controlling cravings is far more difficult when attempting a do-it-yourself detox at home.

Since relapse rates for heroin addiction are quite high, follow-up treatment is always recommended — something that is easier to obtain while already in residential care. Research shows that patients who start such continued care within 30 days of finishing detox take 40 percent longer to relapse back to drug use, if they even do.[16]

Reach out to us today to discuss your detox options and take the first step in ridding your body and life of heroin for good. Our caring staff members here at Palm Beach Detox are waiting for your call.

You May Be Interested In

Opioid Withdrawal and Detox

Opioid withdrawal symptoms are a natural part of the detox process, but these symptoms may need to be managed with medication or supervision by a medical professional.

Woman laying on stomach looking sad
Florida’s Women at Increased Risk of Opioid Abuse

Although there are more men than women who self-report a drug addiction, women are more likely to abuse opioids and become addicted more quickly.

Kratom in different forms
Is Kratom An Opioid?

Kratom is a medicinal plant that interacts with opioid receptors and has the potential for abuse similar to that of opioids and opiates.

Treatment For Opioid Addiction

It can be hard to recover from opioid addiction alone. If you’re struggling to stop using opioids, our addiction experts can help support you throughout your healing journey.

How Long Does Fentanyl Stay In Your System?

Many variables affect how long fentanyl will stay in your system after you take it including your age, weight, genetics, and more.

Sources/Works Cited

[1] “America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin[…]cription Drug Abuse.” (2012 May 14). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[2] “DrugFacts: Heroin.” (Oct 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[3] “Topics of Special Interest.” (n.d.). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[4] “Prevent Overdose.” (n.d.). New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[5] Dr. Mercola. (2013 Nov 14). “Risk of Depression Increased by Long-Ter[…]ription Painkillers.” Mercola. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[6] “Heroin.” (Nov 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[7] “The Global State of Harm Reduction Towar[…]Integrated Response.” (2012). Harm Reduction International. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[8] “Heroin.” (2010). Gale Science in Context. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[9] “Opiate Withdrawal.” (n.d.). MedlinePlus. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[10] “Substance abuse and co-occurring disorders.” (n.d.). National Alliance on Mental Illness. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[11] Brooner, R.K., King, V.L., Kidorf, M., Schmidt, Jr., C.W. & Bigelow, G.E. (Jan 1997). “Psychiatric and substance use comorbidit[…]king opioid abusers.” Archives of General Psychiatry. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[12] Zadrozny, B. (2014 Oct 2). “Heroin Overdoses Double in Two Years.” The Daily Beast. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[13] Eyre, E. (2014 Apr 21). “W.Va. Heroin Overdose Deaths Triple.” The West Virginia Gazette. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[15] “Methadone Treatment Issues.” (n.d.). California Society of Addiction Medicine. Accessed November 15, 2014.
[16] Join Together Staff. (2006 Nov 21). “Relapse Rates Lower When Treatment Follows Detox.” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed November 15, 2014.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.