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A Closer Look at the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

A man sits on a set up steps outside a building with a serious, contemplative look on his face.
Are you—or is someone you know—taking too many risks with heroin?


When it comes to heroin withdrawal, there’s no room for ambiguity. The distinction between use and addiction is stark and unforgiving. With alcohol abuse, the line can sometimes blur.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse paints a grim picture, estimating that 23 percent of those who experiment with heroin will become addicted. But how fast can this occur?

Addiction can manifest after just a few uses, particularly if there are underlying psychological conditions like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder; the timeline differs from person to person.

Here, we discuss the common timeline associated with heroin addiction and withdrawal. Continue reading to learn more.

How Quickly Can Someone Become Addicted to Heroin?

The speed at which someone can become addicted to heroin can vary widely from person to person. Heroin is a highly addictive opioid, and the potential for addiction is influenced by several factors, including an individual’s biology, genetics, method of use, frequency of use, and underlying psychological or emotional issues.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Rapid Onset: In some cases, heroin addiction can develop very quickly. Some individuals report becoming addicted after just one or a few uses, especially if they experience intense euphoria or relief from emotional pain.
  • Regular Use: Heroin addiction often develops more rapidly with regular and frequent use. Daily or near-daily use increases the likelihood of addiction.
  • Underlying Issues: People with preexisting mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder may be more vulnerable to heroin addiction.
  • Dose and Purity: The dose and purity of the heroin used can impact the speed of addiction. More potent forms of heroin can lead to a quicker onset of addiction.
  • Method of Use: Intravenous (IV) use, where the drug is injected directly into the bloodstream, tends to be associated with a higher risk of rapid addiction.
  • Social Environment: Social factors, such as peer pressure and exposure to a drug-using community, can also influence the speed of addiction.

It’s essential to recognize that addiction is a complex process, and individual experiences can vary. Once addiction takes hold, it can be challenging to break free, as the withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be intense.

Physical Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal can be accompanied by various physical symptoms, varying in intensity from person to person.

Common physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes.
  • Muscle aches and pain
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping
  • Sweating and chills
  • Restlessness and tremors
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sleeping problems, including insomnia or excessive fatigue
  • Cravings
  • Dehydration

These physical symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and challenging, so many individuals seek medical detox or medication-assisted treatment to help manage withdrawal symptoms.

Supportive care, including proper hydration and nutrition, can also be essential.

It’s important to remember that while the physical symptoms are challenging, the psychological and emotional aspects of withdrawal can also be intense, and addressing the individual’s overall well-being is crucial in addiction recovery.

Heroin Withdrawal Psychological Symptoms

While drugs may make you feel good, it’s always a loan that needs to be paid back. So, if heroin made you feel joyful, carefree, and comfortably numb, you can expect to feel pretty much the opposite during your initial recovery phase. Think of it as your body’s way of balancing everything out.

Everyone is different, but it’s expected to experience psychological symptoms of withdrawal that may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Emotional instability

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The duration of heroin withdrawal can vary from person to person, but there is a general timeline for the different stages of withdrawal:

  • Onset (6-12 hours after the last dose): Withdrawal symptoms typically begin within the first 6 to 12 hours after the last use. The initial symptoms are often mild, including restlessness, anxiety, muscle aches, and cravings.
  • Peak (24-48 hours after the last dose): The most intense withdrawal symptoms occur around 24 to 48 hours after the previous dose. During this period, individuals may experience severe symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, chills, and muscle cramps. Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia are also common.
  • Subsiding (3-7 days): After the peak, withdrawal symptoms gradually subside. Physical symptoms become less severe, and the individual may start to feel better. However, psychological symptoms may persist.
  • Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAWS): Some individuals may experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms, lasting for weeks or months after the acute withdrawal period. These symptoms can include mood swings, anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

It’s important to note that the duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms can be affected by various factors, including the individual’s overall health, the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders, the use of other substances, and the support and treatment they receive.

Effective and Safe Heroin Detox in Colorado

Heroin recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but long-term sobriety and healing are possible.

At The Raleigh House, we’ll work with you to help you find the right path for you—and help you manage and overcome your heroin withdrawal symptoms.

Fill out our form or contact us today to learn more about the heroin addiction treatment program at The Raleigh House and how it can help you build a new life.

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