To many addicts, heroin is a less expensive and more obtainable alternative to sought-after opiates like prescription painkillers. So, it is no surprise a report from CNN has concluded that almost half of the people who inject heroin abused a prescription painkiller first.

If you or a loved one is struggling with this addiction, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the processes involved in ending the habit. This includes the symptoms which present themselves during the stages of withdrawal and detoxification.

In this article, we will answer the question, “Can you die from heroin withdrawal?” while also sharing ways to safely detox. So, continue reading.

The Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

The amount of time it takes to withdrawal from heroin depends on different factors. For example, if you abused heroin for a decade, your brain and body are likely to have become more dependent on it than someone who abused the drug for a year. 

With that said, withdrawal lasts about a week on average. Because the symptoms accompanying heroin withdrawal are overwhelming, people who detox in a medical setting have the highest success rates. In this section, we’ve included a withdrawal timeline to help you prepare for what’s to come.

The First 1-2 Days

A short-acting drug is one that has almost instant effects and also quickly exits the bloodstream. Heroin falls into this category.

Because it moves through the body so quickly, withdrawal symptoms can start naturally between 6 and 12 hours after your last dose. But, if you’ve chosen to undergo a medical detox, it typically while the drug is still in your system.

When you are going through withdrawal naturally, the first day or two is where relapse is most likely to happen. This is because the symptoms are incredibly severe.

They include:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Muscle spasms and aches
  • Watery eyes
  • Nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea
  • Severe anxiety and even panic attacks
  • A runny nose

The cravings for heroin are also very strong during the first couple of days. The cravings usually turn into desperation to use the drug.

Days 3-5

You will notice a fair decline in your symptoms after your first couple of days of withdrawal. But this doesn’t mean you will feel like your old self again.

Between the third and fifth days, you will still have some discomfort. It can include things such as:

  • Shivering and goosebumps
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Periods of anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

Around this time, you slowly begin making healthy habits part of your routine. You may not have a full appetite yet, but you should eat a little something. Stick with foods that are easy on your stomach like crackers, broths, and tons of water.

You may also notice your thinking is clearer during this phase. You should begin planning for your new, sober life.

The Final Days (6-7)

You may still have some lingering symptoms like a much milder version of anxiety and nausea toward the end of the week. Mild depression can also begin to present itself.

But, the more severe symptoms occurring early on shouldn’t be present anymore. Keep in mind that while this timeline is standard for most, the duration or severity of the symptoms can change based on how much you abused heroin and if other drugs were involved.

What You Need to Know About Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) doesn’t occur in every individual who is recovering from addiction to heroin or another drug, but it is a risk you should be aware of.

When you have PAWS, you experience symptoms that can impact you, both emotionally and psychologically, such as:

  • Mood swings
  • Drug cravings
  • Issues with sleep
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Problems concentrating

These symptoms are not usually ongoing. Instead, they can hit you in sudden waves.

PAWS treats everyone differently. You may experience it for a few weeks or a full year.

When you have PAWS after detoxing, it is extremely important to keep yourself enrolled in a long-term aftercare recovery program to avoid withdrawal.

Can You Die from Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin withdrawal isn’t typically a life-threatening condition, however, death has and can happen. Complications leading to death during withdrawal are often the result of inadequate monitoring and can usually be avoided.

So, how exactly can an individual die during heroin withdrawal? The constant vomiting and diarrhea which occur can cause severe dehydration, hypernatremia (dangerously high blood sodium levels), and resultant heart failure.

Additionally, rapid detox methods using anesthesia to ease discomfort have caused death in patients. Not only can this procedure lead to death, but it can also increase suicidal tendencies, cause renal failure, psychosis, and abnormal heart rhythm.

How Does Medically Assisted Heroin Detox Work?

There are many medications available which can assist patients with heroin dependency.

Some of these medicines are used at detox facilities to keep you from becoming too overwhelmed by both the physical and emotional side effects of withdrawal. Additionally, medications work as an aid to keep cravings at bay.

For instance, it is common for users to replace heroin with a longer-acting opioid. This gradual tapering off of the drug can stop your body from experiencing serious negative effects such as seizures, hallucinations, and tremors due to shock. Also, the use of this type of medication can reduce cravings.

These are the medications used most often:


Methadone is only used in the short-term under very close monitoring. It is considered to be a full opioid agonist.

This means the medication gives a similar feeling to heroin, but it isn’t nearly as dangerous. During detox, it’s used for tapering off of heroin, but then you’ll have to taper off of methadone, too.


Buprenorphine is like methadone in that it can help you with heroin cravings.

But, the difference between the two medications is buprenorphine is just a partial opioid agonist. This means it is safer than methadone for long-term use because it isn’t as strong.


As a pure opioid antagonist, the purpose of naloxone is to reverse and prevent overdoses which might be life-threatening. This medication is often given to patients intravenously in emergency situations.

While it is too intense of a drug to use continuously during the detox process, it is sometimes used with buprenorphine to make detoxing easier for a patient early on.


Naltrexone works in the opposite direction as buprenorphine and methadone. It keeps patients from feeling the euphoric, sedative high that comes from opioid abuse.

So, instead of it working to wean you off of heroin, it works to eliminate cravings and urges to use the drug.

Are There Any Risks?

While medications have proven effective during the heroin detox process, they can each come with their own sets of risks.

The use of methadone has caused controversy because long-term use of the medication can increase a patient’s tolerance and cause dependency. And although buprenorphine is less strong, it can cause the same type of dependency. Thus, you should only use these drugs in a closely monitored, tightly controlled medical detox environment.

Other problems patients face with medication during detox doesn’t have anything to do with creating a new addiction at all. Let’s take a look at naltrexone as an example.

Naltrexone reduces your tolerance to opioids. So, if you were to relapse after using this medication, your chances of overdose and death are much higher. This is likely even if you take the same amount you took before becoming sober.

As long as you are receiving the right amount of care and monitoring while taking any of these medications during treatment, they are safe to use. This is especially true when you consider the impact quitting cold turkey can have on your health.

Medical Detox and Mental Health

Detoxing in a medical atmosphere doesn’t solely revolve around medications. There are treatments which assist you with recovering from your addiction by getting to the root of the drug abuse and teaching you ways to cope.

Rehab centers often incorporate different types of group and individualized therapies into your stay. Here are a couple of examples:

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

A lot of the time, individuals who have problems with substance abuse follow a cycle of negative, self-defeating thinking. So, cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is used to address those hurtful thought patterns while helping you feel better about yourself and reach your goals.

You may have one-on-one sessions with a therapist or this might be performed in a group setting. During CBT, you can learn ways to handle triggers for drug use and other skills.

Recreational Therapy

Recreational therapy helps you make your way back into society. It is effective in preventing recovering addicts from becoming introverted and closed off after exiting rehab.

This way, you are able to build a life that includes healthy hobbies and making new friends who will not trigger a relapse. Recreational therapy can include various types of activities like arts and crafts, yoga, meditation, and fitness classes.

Start Your New Beginning Today!

Although the answer to “Can you die from heroin withdrawal?” is yes, such a catastrophic occurrence is avoidable when you’re given care at a trusted treatment center. With the help of a supportive medical team, you can make a comfortable and safe recovery.

Contact us today to learn more about what our facility can offer. Your new beginning is completely possible!