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  • Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey | Risks, Detox, & Other Withdrawal Tips

    Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey | Risks, Detox, & Other Withdrawal Tips

    Heroin is one of the more difficult drugs to quit, especially cold turkey, because of how intense the withdrawal symptoms are once you stop using it. 

    The detox process can be more bearable and less risky with the help of a medical professional. When you have help, detoxing is more likely to be a success than trying to quit on your own.

    What Are The Risks Of Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey?

    One of the biggest risks of quitting heroin cold turkey is relapsing and going back on the drug because the withdrawal symptoms are too much to bear. 

    The other big risk is dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea. It can get to the point where dehydration can be life-threatening.


    There is also the risk of overdose. Once you quit heroin, your dependence level goes down. This means the amount your body can handle decreases. If you relapse and take the amount of heroin you did when you were using before, it can increase the risk of overdose.

    Heroin Detox

    The start of the detoxification process usually begins within the first 24 hours after last use but can begin as soon as 4 hours after. Heroin withdrawal symptoms may begin and then reach their peak between 36-72 hours after the last use. 

    The full heroin detox process can last anywhere from 7-10 days but it can last up to 3-4 weeks for those who have used heroin for a long time. How long withdrawal lasts depends on how long the person used heroin, what method they used to take it, and how much they took each time.

    Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

    Physical withdrawal symptoms can differ from person to person but the most frequent ones may include:

    • nausea
    • diarrhea
    • vomiting
    • tremors
    • cramping
    • loss of appetite
    • drug cravings
    • runny nose
    • teary eyes
    • chills
    • sweating
    • fatigue
    • muscle aches

    Psychological symptoms of withdrawal include:

    • depression
    • anxiety
    • difficulting feeling pleasure
    • agitation

    How To Safely Stop Heroin Use

    A professional addiction treatment program is considered the safest and most effective way to stop heroin use. Treatment programs are likely to include a combination of medical detox, medication-assisted treatment, counseling/therapy, and peer support.

    Medical Detox

    Medical detox is considered one of the safest ways to stop using heroin. It supports both physical and psychological symptoms that may occur during withdrawal. 

    When going through medical detox at a detox center, a medical professional can help you get through the worst of symptoms by supervising your progress, offering supportive care, and administering medication to alleviate discomfort.

    Medication-Assisted Treatment

    Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is a specialized treatment option for opioid misuse, including heroin addiction. Medications like Suboxone (a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone) help relieve cravings and lower the risk of relapse.

    Methadone is another medication often used to help relieve withdrawal symptoms and reduce dependence.

    Where quitting cold turkey can lead to weeks of withdrawal symptoms, MAT can help you avoid symptoms altogether. MAT also combines medication with counseling and therapy.

    Counseling & Therapy

    In an addiction treatment center or MAT program, you also have access to counseling and therapy to help with the emotions that come up during recovery. It can make the recovery process much easier. 

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy is often used to deal with cravings when they come up and makes it much more likely that you’ll stay off heroin once you leave the treatment facility.

    Peer Support

    Going through a substance abuse treatment program holds you more accountable, keeping you away from further heroin use that could be tempting should you decide to quit on your own. This is commonly achieved through peer support and professional guidance.

    Whether you need inpatient or outpatient treatment, addiction treatment programs are tailored to your needs.  Call our helpline today to find the right treatment option for yourself or a loved one.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Center for Biotechnology Information - Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings.
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - Heroin DrugFacts
    National Institute on Drug Abuse - What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?
    National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal

    Medically Reviewed by
    Davis Sugar, M.D.
    on July 11, 2022
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