Withdrawal may be the most frightening part of drug addiction. Some heroin and opiate addicts resist getting help because they’re afraid of the withdrawal symptoms that would come if they try to quit.
While it is not a pleasant experience, withdrawal is a necessary part of addiction recovery. Knowing what to expect from the process can help you recover more quickly and avoid relapsing.
Basic Withdrawal Timeline
How long does withdrawal last? It depends on the type of drug abused and the duration of use. Some heroin or opiate addicts experience withdrawal symptoms for years after getting clean. Certain withdrawal symptoms may continue for the rest of their lives.
This does not mean you or a loved one will live forever in agony. There is a general withdrawal timeline to be aware of, and it can help addicts work through their respective journeys.
The First 48 Hours
Withdrawal symptoms usually begin six to 12 hours after your last dose of heroin or an opiate. Relapse most often occurs during the first 24 to 48 hours. During this time, you may feel muscle pain, because your muscles have forgotten how to function when not numb. The pain will be intense, even excruciating.
You also may experience agitation and the first of many drug cravings. These cravings can be severe. Do not go through them alone! Always have a support system nearby, especially the first couple of days after you stop using.
Vomiting, diarrhea and profuse sweating are common during this time too. Stay close to a bathroom and keep a bucket nearby. A trusted friend, family member or detox program professional should stay with you to help you manage the symptoms. This happens to everyone. It is another step on the road to recovery and shouldn’t be a cause of shame.
Days Three Through Five
Between the third and fifth days of withdrawal, symptoms will lessen considerably, even if they don’t disappear completely. It will be difficult to keep food down, but try to eat and to stay hydrated.
You may still experience cramps and vomiting. Fluids help alleviate these symptoms. People usually start to shiver or get goose bumps during this stage. This is normal. Use extra blankets or heavier clothing if needed.
Ten Days Strong: Staying Focused
The worst of your withdrawal symptoms will be over in five to 10 days. Find another focus to alleviate symptoms of cravings or depression, such as light exercising (walking or jogging), socializing with supportive family and friends, reading, or filling in crossword puzzles. Do anything that will force your brain to think of something other than drugs.
Tips for Coping With Heroin And Opiate Withdrawal
Although withdrawal will be difficult, the worst-case scenario need not happen to you. There are several ways to make withdrawal more bearable. For instance, don’t try to stop “cold turkey.” This almost never works, and it often increases cravings and makes your addiction harder to beat the next time you try.
Confiding In Others And Seeking Their Advice
Admitting your problem may be the hardest part of your addiction. Tell a family member or a trusted friend. And always tell your doctor. These individuals will help you determine the best course of action for your particular addiction.
Although doctors often prescribe the drugs that lead to abuse, they do not want to see their patients hurt or sick. In fact, they take an oath to “first, do no harm.” Doctors know these drugs well, and can recommend specific treatment plans and facilities.
Enlisting The Right People To Monitor And Help
Always have a support system in place before you stop using heroin or opiates. Going through withdrawal alone only makes the physical and psychological processes feel worse. Many people check themselves into drug rehab facilities to navigate the withdrawal process, while others turn to friends or family for help.
It’s important to determine the best support system for yourself. If there are enablers among your friends and family members, or if your symptoms are chronic, a treatment facility might be the only suitable option.