Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin and Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an opioid drug that is synthesized from morphine, which is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the opium poppy plant, Papaver somiferum. Heroin after processing is normally seen on the street as a white or brown powder, or as a black sticky substance, which is also known as “black tar heroin.” Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs known and has become a terrible challenge in the world.
oceanfront recovery heroin withdrawal opium poppies in the wild
The drug can be snorted, smoked, or injected. Any of these methods of use deliver the drug to the user’s brain very quickly, and produce an intense euphoria and sense of well-being. Especially when injected, there is also an extreme “rush”. These profound physical and mental effects contribute to the health risks of heroin and to its high potential for addiction. Once addicted, which can occur very quickly with heroin, the addict experiences the phenomenon of craving, which compels them to seek the drug to avoid heroin withdrawal symptoms. Heroin addiction is a chronic disease characterized by an almost uncontrollable need for the drug, no matter what the potential consequences to the user may be. Statistics are clear that overdose death rates in general and especially the number of deaths from heroin overdose have skyrocketed in recent years.

oceanfront recovery heroin withdrawal overdose deaths 2014

If you ask the question “What is the most addictive drug?” many people would respond “Heroin.” But this is a hard question to answer objectively because it depends upon many factors in both the drug and the person who uses it. So comparing the addictive power of different drugs is difficult and controversial, and there is still a general lack of research on this topic. However, some available evidence points to heroin as highly addictive, just as our intuition and experience lead us to believe.
One study on the subject was published in 2007 by author David Nutt in the journal The Lancet called Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse.” Heroin was found to be the most addictive drug in this study.
In an attempt to define more clearly what is meant by addiction, and thus which drugs are the most addictive, Dr. Jack E. Henningfield of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. Neal L. Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco ranked six psychoactive substances on five different criteria.

  • Withdrawal – The severity of withdrawal symptoms produced by stopping the use of the drug
  • Reinforcement – The drug’s tendency to induce users to take it over again and again
  • Tolerance – The user’s need to have greater and greater doses to get the same effect
  • Dependence – The difficulty in quitting, or staying off the drug, and thus the number of users who eventually become dependent
  • Intoxication – The degree of intoxication produced by the drug in typical use

The tables listed below show the rankings given for each of the drugs. Overall the ratings between the two scientists for the drugs are very consistent. The rating scale is from 1 to 6. 1 denotes the drug with the strongest addictive tendencies, while 6 denotes the drug with the least addictive tendencies. Note that heroin has the average score closest to 1 for both tables, and thus is the most addictive drug according to this study.

Henningfield Most Addictive Drug Ratings


Substance   Withdrawal   Reinforcement   Tolerance   Dependence  Intoxication
Nicotine         3             4             2           1            5
Heroin           2             2             1           2            2
Cocaine          4             1             4           3            3
Alcohol          1             3             3           4            1
Caffeine         5             6             5           5            6
Marijuana        6             5             6           6            4

Benowitz Most Addictive Drug Ratings


Substance   Withdrawal  Reinforcement   Tolerance   Dependence  Intoxication
Nicotine        3*             4             4           1            6
Heroin           2             2             2           2            2
Cocaine         3*             1             1           3            3
Alcohol          1             3             4           4            1
Caffeine         4             5             3           5            5
Marijuana        5             6             5           6            4

*equal ratings

Heroin Withdrawal and Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Clearly we see that heroin is an extremely dangerous and addictive drug, so it’s not surprising that heroin withdrawal is such a difficult process. Heroin is an opioid, and like all opioids, and some other drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates, is able to cause physical dependence in its users. Physical dependence results in the appearance of both physical and psychological symptoms caused by physiological adaptions in the central nervous system and the brain due to chronic exposure to a substance. Thus during withdrawal from heroin profound changes occur in the body and mind as the organism physically adapts to the removal of the drug.
oceanfront recovery man suffering from heroin withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal symptoms can develop as soon as a few hours for someone who has used the drug for a prolonged period. Some of the effects of withdrawal include:

  • Intense and unrelenting craving for heroin
  • Severe muscle aches and pains
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Extraordinary sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Cramping limbs
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Crying spells
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold sweats
  • Death can occur when other medical conditions are present

Anyone who is withdrawing from heroin abuse and dependence is at risk of serious medical complications and should seek professional medical personnel for help. It is sometimes possible to withdraw from heroin use on ones own – often called “cold turkey” – but it is an unpleasant and dangerous choice. Sudden withdrawal from heroin, and opioids in general, can cause an extremely physiologically and psychologically painful withdrawal. Although it  is very rarely fatal in patients of general good health and with medical treatment, it can be fatal in conjunction with other medical conditions, many of which are common in practicing heroin addicts, and especially without medical assistance and monitoring.
Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically begin about 12 hours after the last dose of heroin. These symptoms usually reach their peak at one to three days into withdrawal, and then decrease gradually after approximately five to seven days.  Although the worst symptoms are over in this time period some symptoms may persist, although in milder forms. In cases of unusually severe heroin abuse, in terms of length of addiction or amount consumed, it may take weeks or even months for the heroin withdrawal symptoms to completely subside.

Heroin Withdrawal Treatment and Heroin Addiction Treatment

Those who are addicted to heroin not only become physically and psychologically dependent on the substance, but are also afraid to stop using for fear of these symptoms they may experience caused by that same dependence. Thus there is a vicious cycle that often perpetuates itself indefinitely in the addicts life. So one of the primary challenges in getting a heroin addict to seek treatment is to overcome the horror they associate with withdrawal. Making the withdrawal process as comfortable as possible can be a tremendous help, and even the deciding factor, in bringing a heroin addict into treatment and then lasting recovery.
oceanfront recovery man in treatment after heroin withdrawal
The Oceanfront Recovery Heroin Rehab Program features a medically supervised drug detox program, during which the addict receives medication depending on their needs at the time of admission. Suboxone is a synthetic opiate that substitutes for the preferred drug, and sometimes can be helpful in ending an opiate addiction.
Once stabilized through the detox process and with proper medication, the individual can then enter one of our residential treatment or intensive outpatient treatment programs. This choice depends on the individual and their situation. An Oceanfront Recovery admissions adviser can help you or your loved one decide on the proper treatment program and the appropriate length of stay in treatment. We use a variety of therapeutic methods in a highly contemporary approach to heroin addiction treatment.
Attempting withdrawal from heroin without medical supervision is dangerous and painful, and a lasting recovery from heroin addiction usually requires a treatment program. The good news is that help is only a phone call away.
Contact us at Oceanfront Recovery, located in beautiful and sunny Laguna Beach, for advice and begin your journey of recovery today.
Please contact one of our professional and compassionate team at 877-279-1777 today to discuss heroin addiction treatment options for you or your loved one.