Heroin is a depressant that slows down messages traveling between the brain and body. When heroin enters the body, it’s converted back into morphine, giving its users an extraordinary sense of well-being. Once a person’s brain experiences this effect, it begins to continuously crave it. This is because heroin binds to and activates certain receptors in the brain called mu-opioid receptors (MORs). Activating opioid receptors with an externally administered opioid (ex. Heroin) results in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018). Dopamine is described as “the feel-good chemical”, meaning that your body naturally releases dopamine during pleasurable events (i.e. sex, eating a delicious meal, etc.). Users of heroin stimulate the release of dopamine every time they use. This results in a vicious cycle. People will use heroin to experience the euphoric feeling (the rush when first taking heroin), only to need to continue to take the drug more frequently, at greater doses, in order to feel the same level of “rush”. This is not a sustainable model for behavior, and eventually the user will begin to experience signs and symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
Short and long-term effects
Users of heroin describe the “high” as a rush of pleasure and euphoria. Heroin is a depressant that slows down messages traveling between the brain and body. After the initial “high rush”, users experience “the nod”, which lasts for several hours. Heroin users will alternate between a state of drowsiness and wakefulness during this time period. Picture a middle school student dosing in and out of History class– heroin users appear in a similar state as heroin is a sedative. Heroin users often display “the nod”, which is a dangerous state for the user to be in since they are at risk of losing consciousness. It’s easy for heroin users to slip into a comatose state, resulting in an overdose where their breathing slows dramatically and eventually stops. Although most heroin users know the high risk of overdose, once they are addicted, they no longer think about the negative consequences such as the potential of a fatal overdose or withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin.
Those who have never experienced this high often don’t understand the level of addiction that heroin users experience. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, describes it as, “It’s bliss. It removes any sense of discomfort. Things that in the past would produce pleasure no longer do.” (Haupt, 2014). Imagine that. Something that can produce so much pleasure and euphoria that you no longer care for other things that once produced pleasure such as family, friends, hobbies and career. All of what was important goes out the window. This is very difficult, if not an impossible feeling to comprehend to a non-drug user, but it’s critical to understanding the mindset of someone in active addiction.
Side effects commonly associated with short and long-term heroin use include:
• Inability to focus
• Going in and out of consciousness
• Heart arrhythmia and palpitations
• Decreased respiration
• Low blood pressure
• Anxiety and depression
• Dry mouth
• Itchy skin
• Heavy sweating
Can a person experience heroin withdrawal symptoms?
• Muscle and bone pain
• Difficulty sleeping
• Diarrhea and vomiting
• Cold flashes with goosebumps
• Uncontrollable leg movements
• Severe heroin cravings
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
As previously mentioned, individuals may experience heroin withdrawal symptoms as early as six hours after their last dose. Various factors such as frequency, duration of using and dosage will all play factors as to how long it will take for all heroin withdrawal symptoms to subside. There are three distinct phases to heroin withdrawal:
The start of heroin withdrawal symptoms begin between 6-12 hours after the last dose. Patients will likely experience nausea, shaking and sweating.
Peak heroin withdrawal symptoms happen between 1-3 days after the last dose. Symptoms will be most severe during this timeframe. It is in an individual’s best interest to undergo medical detox under the supervision of a licensed medical professional due to the potential severity of discomfort.
After about one week, the majority of heroin withdrawal symptoms will subside, though some individuals have reported symptoms persisting weeks and months after discontinuing heroin use.
While it’s difficult to say how long withdrawal symptoms will last, most people who undergo detox under medical supervision typically experience heroin withdrawal symptoms for 5-7 days (Sissons, 2019). Following medical detox, patients continue to the next level of care known as residential treatment.
What should I expect of residential treatment?
After completing medical detox, patients transition to residential treatment levels of care. Patients are able to focus their time and energy completely on their recovery now that they have successfully eliminated all drugs, alcohol and other toxins from their bodies. Harmony Ridge Recovery Center prides itself in providing a safe, comfortable and compassionate setting for those wanting to overcome addiction. Our judgement-free approach to heroin addiction treatment begins as soon as you call us. We accept most major insurances as well as cash pay. Upon admission, patients receive a full medical examination and our licensed medical staff takes note of patient history. Based on each patient’s specific needs, our doctor will create a custom treatment plan tailored to each patient. Our staff is onsite 24/7 to ensure only the best care is provided to all patients. Regardless of where a patient is on their path to recovery, our team of caring medical professionals is here to provide everyone with the tools and information needed to lead a life free from heroin addiction and withdrawal symptoms.
Our rustic facility was designed to blend the wonders of the great outdoors with a nationally-recognized addiction treatment program. Nestled in the Mid-Ohio Valley surrounded by 50 acres of scenic tranquility, lakes and forestry, Harmony Ridge Recovery Center provides a tranquil setting for a successfully journey to recovery. We have helps countless people, just like you, overcome their addiction to heroin and their fears of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Should a patient experience any temporary discomfort from heroin withdrawal, our kind and compassionate team of nurses are ready to administer medications, when appropriate, to reduce feelings of withdrawal. Ready to begin your journey to sobriety? Give us a call 24/7. Our admissions professionals are available to answer any question you may have or if you just need someone to talk to. (888) 771-8372
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018, June) What effects does heroin have on the body? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/how-heroin-used
Haupt, A. (2014, February 10) The Facts About Heroin. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2014/02/10/the-facts-about-heroin
Sissons, B. (2019, September 2) What to know about opiate withdrawal. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326223.php