Call Mon-Sun:
1 (800) 301-3753
Alternative to Meds News & Blog Articles

Heroin Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering

Last Updated on August 10, 2022 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD

Heroin is an illicit opioid street drug, with the chemical name “diamorphine,” and is chemically related to opioid painkillers like morphine, fentanyl, OxyContin, Vicodin, Norco, Percocet, and other prescription drugs. In the United States, heroin is considered an illicit and illegal Schedule I drug, with no medical purposes.

15 Years Experience by Professionals Who Understand Your Journey.
Up to 87 ½% Long-Term Success Rate.
Click to Call7 Days a Week

  • By completing this form, you will be added to our mailing list. You may opt out at any time.
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Where Does Heroin Come From?

The sap is extracted from poppy plants extensively grown in South and Southeast Asia, rural China, Mexico, Columbia, and other locations where growing conditions are most ideal. The sap is opium. Opium is the white gummy liquid harvested by hand from the ripened seed pods but is also extractible from stalks and leaves in mechanized large pharma-based commercial production. Drugmakers also use opium poppy extracts to make their infamous opioid products. Opium contains roughly 10% morphine. The morphine is extracted from opium through heat and chemical processing. Further processing the morphine residue with solvents and other chemicals produces heroin. Opium, morphine, and heroin have all been used historically in medicine, and all three substances are highly addictive.1,2,3

Depending on purity after various refining methods, heroin comes in powder or tar form and can vary in color from pure white to off-white, to dark brown or black.

What Are Heroin Withdrawals Like?

When a person who is chemically dependent on heroin stops taking it, withdrawal symptoms will begin within hours of the last dose. Withdrawal symptoms can also occur if an addicted person cuts down the amount they use. Specific heroin withdrawal symptoms are described in detail below. The characteristics of heroin withdrawals could be described as incapacitating, dreadful, or similar to a very bad flu, and in severe cases, can be life-threatening if left untreated.14

How Long Do Heroin Withdrawals Last?

There are typically two major phases of heroin withdrawal: acute withdrawal, and post-acute withdrawal. What we think of as classic withdrawal usually takes place in the acute withdrawal phase. The acute withdrawal phase usually begins about 6 hours after the last dose and lasts about 7 – 10 days. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms after a week or so can linger for months and even years — though they tend to decrease with every day you stay sober in recovery.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal is a potentially life-threatening condition. The process can be intolerable without some assistance and support. Initial symptoms are listed first, and an expanded description follows.15

Heroin withdrawal symptoms within the first 6-12 hours include:
  • cravings
  • muscle aches and pains
  • chills, shaking, piloerection (goosebumps)
  • yawning
  • dilated pupils
  • nausea, vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • anxiety
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • excessive perspiration
  • tearing of the eyes
  • runny nose

Within the next day, and for the next approximately 10 days, and for some, much longer periods, other symptoms may arise including excitation, insomnia, restlessness, muscle spasms, elevated blood pressure, tachycardia, low back pain, depression, and dehydration. The severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on many factors, including how long the individual has been dependent on heroin, the amount the person has been using, and general health including the presence of infections or other conditions.

• Heroin Cravings

One of the first withdrawal symptoms to show is cravings. As the last dose of heroin wears off, the body responds by triggering cravings — similar to needing water in the desert, or the need to satiate severe hunger pangs. This craving is for heroin, in particular, meant to coax you into using more heroin in an attempt to block the more severe withdrawal symptoms that are coming.

• Muscle Aches and Pains

Heroin and opioids work on the brain to block pain signals — that is why we often use these types of drugs to treat pain. However, during withdrawal, there is a rebound effect. The nerves become hypersensitive and can report phantom pains back to the brain in the form of muscle cramps, aches, and other severe pains.8

• Nausea & Vomiting

Recovering addicts describe the nausea and vomiting portion of heroin withdrawal as the most relentless and draining symptom. Nausea and vomiting are usually accompanied by an increase in body temperature (fever), along with hot and cold sweats. It is important to replace fluids by drinking 2-3 liters of water per day.6

• Fever

Common during the peak of heroin withdrawal, a slight fever is not unexpected. However, if the body temperature is elevated too much, more than 106° (hyperpyrexia) the individual needs immediate emergency care as they can be in danger of convulsions and even death.5

• Diarrhea

To prevent dehydration it is recommended to drink 2-3 liters of water per day to replace fluids lost through perspiration and diarrhea.6

• Anxiety & Restlessness

Heroin withdrawal-induced anxiety and restlessness are the withdrawal symptoms that heroin addicts often complain are the most difficult to endure. Anxiety during withdrawal can feel like you are unable to sit still or concentrate, accompanied by racing heart and panic attacks.6,7

• Lacrimation & Runny Nose

The body begins to produce excess bodily fluids during heroin withdrawal. These fluids — with nowhere else to go — begin to leak from the body wherever they can. An individual will notice this as an increase in sweat tears and mucous from the nose. Teary eyes that won’t stop (lacrimation) is common in heroin withdrawal, as is a runny nose. Again, hydration is vital during recovery6,8

Long-Term Side Effects of Heroin Abuse and Addiction

Overdose is always on the horizon for a heroin user. Heroin users are at risk of many more long-term health effects, as shown below.8-13

Long-Term Consequences of Heroin Use include:

  • Respiratory illness
  • Heart damage
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Collapsed veins and blood vessels
  • Skin and muscle abscesses and Infections
  • Cancers
  • Dental — the erosion of teeth, oral infections
  • Increased risk for HIV (AIDS), hepatitis, and other bloodborne diseases
  • Depression and other mental health disruptions

Heroin Addiction Alternative Treatment:  How Alternative to Meds Provides an Alternative to Addiction

Heroin is a powerful invasive drug that overtakes natural endorphin production, produces pain, damages neurochemistry, taxes the heart, dangerously impairs the respiratory system, and inflicts many other tragic consequences. 

A person addicted to heroin can feel there is no escape because the withdrawals are too debilitating, too horrific to withstand. The “solution” of continuing to use the drug to stave off the withdrawals, becomes an ever-present burden. There is nothing lovely about heroin addiction, evermore so in its last stages. There are ways to accomplish heroin cessation without punishing yourself with these horrific withdrawal effects. Our Sedona heroin rehab program can help.

There is much more to ending heroin addiction than just ceasing to use the drug. The damage that the drug creates in the body, mind, and soul can linger long after and needs to be walked back with real healing, and corrective actions. These are the components of our heroin rehab program. Opiate users can opt for a short one or two-week conversion to a less potent medication, and taper gently off that to make a starting point possible for the remainder of the program. The cold turkey approach is not the only choice. The Methadone program is not the only choice. The 12-step approach may be very helpful to some and may have genuine supportive value, but it is not the only choice. We believe a more comprehensive, compassionate health-based approach makes a valid option. More is understood about opioid addiction than in earlier times, but innovative clinical research continues to reveal many aspects of addiction that can inform our treatment options. Treatment at Alternative to Meds Center is vastly different than the traditional “white-knuckle” approach that has perhaps disappointed many in their sincere quest for freedom from addiction.4

Sedona Heroin Cessation

heroin withdrawal SedonaOur facility resides within walking distance of the majestic Red Rocks where fresh air, blue skies, and sunshine are abundant virtually all year round in Sedona. Our staff of over forty highly skilled doctors, caregivers, and therapists understand the pain of addiction and were hand-picked for their compassion and dedication to helping others overcome the liability of addiction to heroin and other drugs.

We are not a methadone maintenance-styled program, nor are we based on the 12-steps of AA recovery. We offer new choices and methods that were likely missing from any earlier attempts that may have failed to get you out of the trap.

Summary of what we offer:

  1. Lab testing to diagnose deficiencies in essential vitamins, minerals, and genetic markers, and to show the presence of poisonous neurotoxins, including drug residues, heavy metals, industrial or household chemicals, pesticides, food additives, and so on.
  2. We clear these neurotoxins out of the body using various methods. Exercise, chelation, sauna, conjugators (supplements that convert fat-soluble toxins to water-soluble for natural elimination), nebulized glutathione treatments, mineral baths, ionic foot baths, specialized diet, and supplement regimens, provide many more ways to help the body to shed and repair the damage from damaging toxins.
  3. holistic heroin withdrawalToxins prevent the absorption of nutrients. Removing them allows us to flood the body with the precise nutrition and diet that will aid the body and speed up the re-set of healthy endorphin and neurochemistry function. These are areas that drugs attack and destroy, and are profoundly vital steps in recovery after addiction.
  4. Life coaching and personal counseling offer clients, at an appropriate point in their recovery, the chance to revisit their life choices and circumstances and make new decisions, relieve stress and shed trauma from the past. A fresh start is possible, much more clearly seen without the drug haze, and with experienced guides to help you restructure your beautiful new life.
  5. Physical therapies provide pain relief, and relaxation, and can also contribute to the rebuilding of healthy neurotransmitters after addiction damage. We offer a wealth of these comforting adjunctive therapies, including therapeutic massage, bentonite clay packs, ionic foot baths, cranial-sacral work, music therapy, art therapy, acupuncture, mild exercise classes when physically able to benefit from such, and deeply soothing mineral baths, Qi Gong, Equine therapy, and many more.
  6. Education classes on how the healthy brain works and how drugs influence and damage the brain, how to effectively rebuild and maintain healthy neurochemistry forever, “Empowering Yourself” class, “Reclaiming the Best of You”, and many more designed specifically for the ATMC client base.

How to Find Out More

It is easy to contact us by calling the number on this page. You will be greeted by one of our informed and friendly staff, who can answer any questions about treatment, costs, insurance coverage, arranging a tour, or any other requests for information you may have about our Sedona rehab and treatments. Call today, and get the info you need to help make the best decision for heroin withdrawal treatment and recovery, and to arrange the very best outcome possible using a health-focused treatment for heroin cessation.

1. Hosztafi S. A heroin. II. Rész: elóállítás, hidrolízis, stabilitás, farmakokinetika [Heroin. II. Preparation, hydrolysis, stability, pharmacokinetics]. Acta Pharm Hung. 2001 Oct;71(3):373-83. Hungarian. PMID: 11961908.[cited 2022 Aug 10]

2. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2021). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 5288826, Morphine. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

3. DOJ/DEA information sheet: Opium Poppy Cultivation and Processing in Southeast Asia published Sept 1992 [online] [cited 2022 Aug 10]

4. Rehni AK, Jaggi AS, Singh N. Opioid withdrawal syndrome: emerging concepts and novel therapeutic targets. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2013 Feb 1;12(1):112-25. doi: 10.2174/1871527311312010017. PMID: 23244430. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

5. McGugan EA. Hyperpyrexia in the emergency department. Emerg Med (Fremantle). 2001 Mar;13(1):116-20. doi: 10.1046/j.1442-2026.2001.00189.x. PMID: 11476402. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

6. Grasing K, Wang A, Schlussman S. Behavioral measures of anxiety during opiate withdrawal. Behav Brain Res. 1996 Oct;80(1-2):195-201. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(96)00035-6. PMID: 8905143. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

7. Rothwell PE, Thomas MJ, Gewirtz JC. Distinct profiles of anxiety and dysphoria during spontaneous withdrawal from acute morphine exposure. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009 Sep;34(10):2285-95. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.56. Epub 2009 Jun 3. PMID: 19494807; PMCID: PMC2726902. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

8. Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Withdrawal Management. Available from: [cited 2022 Aug 10]

9. Rosenstein DI. Effect of long-term addiction to heroin on oral tissues. J Public Health Dent. 1975 Spring;35(2):118-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1752-7325.1975.tb04035.x. PMID: 236385. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

10. Rashidian H, Zendehdel K, Kamangar F, Malekzadeh R, Haghdoost AA. An Ecological Study of the Association between Opiate Use and Incidence of Cancers. Addict Health. 2016 Fall;8(4):252-260. PMID: 28819556; PMCID: PMC5554805. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

11. Selcuk M, Yildirim E, Saylik F, Deniz O, Mutluer FO. Effect of heroin on right ventricular cardiac performance. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2020 Sep/Oct;31(5):241-244. doi: 10.5830/CVJA-2020-002. Epub 2020 Mar 5. PMID: 32140699.[cited 2022 Aug 10]

12. Hosztafi S. A heroin addikció [Heroin addiction]. Acta Pharm Hung. 2011;81(4):173-83. Hungarian. PMID: 22329304. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

13. Lewer D, Hope VD, Harris M, Kelleher M, Jewell A, Pritchard M, Strang J, Morley KI. Incidence and treatment costs of severe bacterial infections among people who inject heroin: A cohort study in South London, England. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020 Jul 1;212:108057. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.108057. Epub 2020 May 6. PMID: 32422537; PMCID: PMC7301433. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

14.  Shah M, Huecker MR. Opioid Withdrawal. [Updated 2022 May 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: [cited 2022 Aug 10]

15.  Hodding GC, Jann M, Ackerman IP. Drug withdrawal syndromes– a literature review. West J Med. 1980 Nov;133(5):383-91. PMID: 7008358; PMCID: PMC1272349. [cited 2022 Aug 10]

Originally Published Sep 13, 2018 by Diane Ridaeus

This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Michael Loes, M.D.


Dr. Michael Loes is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Pain Management and Addiction Medicine. He holds a dual license in Homeopathic and Integrative Medicine. He obtained his medical doctorate at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, 1978. Dr. Loes performed an externship at the National Institute of Health for Psychopharmacology. Additionally, he is a well-published author including Arthritis: The Doctor’s Cure, The Aspirin Alternative, The Healing Response, and Spirit Driven Health: The Psalmist’s Guide for Recovery. He has been awarded the Minnesota Medical Foundation’s “Excellence in Research” Award.

Social Profile: LinkedIn

View Bio

Heroin Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering
Medical Disclaimer:
Nothing on this Website is intended to be taken as medical advice. The information provided on the website is intended to encourage, not replace, direct patient-health professional relationships. Always consult with your doctor before altering your medications. Adding nutritional supplements may alter the effect of medication. Any medication changes should be done only after proper evaluation and under medical supervision.

We Accept Most PPO Insurance Plans for Partial Coverage of Fees

Call Now to Verify BlueCross BlueShield Cigna Aetna

Our Success Stories

Medication Withdrawal Success Stories

Can you imagine being free from medications, addictive drugs, and alcohol? This is our goal and we are proving it is possible every day!

Read All StoriesView All Videos