Heroin
Withdrawal

Heroin is an illegal opioid narcotic naturally derived from morphine. Heroin is one of the most habit-forming and widely devastating illegal drugs in circulation, one that has been responsible for thousands of overdose-related deaths within the past several years. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that around 902,000 Americans over the age of 12 used heroin in the past month, and around 691,000 people suffered from a diagnosable heroin use disorder.Those who use heroin regularly are at high risk of overdose, seeing as heroin in and of itself can be extremely potent and because much of the heroin currently in circulation has been laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid around 100 times more potent than morphine. Heroin is exceedingly difficult to quit without professional intervention and dedication to a longer term treatment plan. This is predominantly because symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal can be so severe. At Princeton Detox & Recovery Center we effectively treat symptoms of heroin withdrawal as soon as they develop, providing clients with a safe and comfortable detox and actively preparing them to take the next appropriate step on their personal recovery journeys. Contact us today to learn more. 

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an opioid narcotic made from morphine, a naturally derived substance that comes from opium poppy plants. The illegal drug can come in the form of a white or brown powder, or in the form of a black, sticky substance known as black tar heroin. The drug can be ingested in a variety of ways; it might be injected directly into the bloodstream, sniffed, snorted, or smoked. Some individuals mix heroin with other substances including crack cocaine. Heroin acts similarly to prescription painkillers, reducing feelings of pain and increasing feelings of euphoria. Once heroin enters the brain it binds to opioid receptors, specifically those involved in feelings of pain and pleasure and in controlling fundamental bodily functions like sleeping, breathing and heart rate. Those who use heroin often report feeling an intense rush of euphoria. Physical symptoms of heroin use include dry mouth, heavy feelings ligaments, intense drowsiness, nausea and vomiting, and compromised cognitive functioning. Long-term effects of heroin use may include collapsed veins, increased risk of blood-borne disease, heart infections, abscesses, and lung complications.

In recent years, heroin use and addiction have destroyed and claimed thousands of lives. New Jersey has been particularly hard hit by what is now known as a nationwide opioid epidemic. At Princeton Detox & Recovery Center we provide effective, professional clinical care to those struggling with heroin addiction in New Jersey, the Tri-State Area, and the remainder of the country. While overcoming a severe physical and psychological dependence might seem like an insurmountable challenge to those in the throes of active addiction, recovery is always possible with the right tools in place. Contact us today to learn more. 

Signs & Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Addiction is partially defined as the continued use of a substance despite negative consequences. Heroin dependence is a complex condition, during which the physical body and central nervous system become accustomed to the presence of the chemical substance and begin requiring it in order to function. Heroin use and addiction are serious health conditions, both which require professional intervention and long-term clinical care.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) outlines a list of diagnostic criteria associated with heroin use disorder. If you answer “yes” to two or more of the following questions, entering into a treatment program of some degree is likely a good idea. However, it is important to note that symptoms associated with heroin addiction vary in severity, and a multi-staged program of recovery is not an ideal option for everyone. Contact us today to learn more about what type of treatment program will best meet your unique, personal needs. 

The DSM-V diagnostic criteria for a heroin use disorder are outlined below. Ask yourself the following questions when attempting to determine whether or not professional treatment is right for you. 

  1. Do you often use more heroin than intended for a longer period of time than intended?
  2. Have you attempted to cut back on the amount of heroin you use only to find yourself unable to cut back or quit for an extended period of time?
  3. Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining heroin, using heroin and recovering from its effects?
  4. Are you often consumed by thoughts of using heroin, or do you experience cravings for heroin throughout the day?
  5. Does using heroin or recovering from the effects of heroin affect your ability to take care of personal responsibilities and obligations?
  6. Has heroin use caused issues and interpersonal problems between you and your family and/or friends?
  7. Have you given up activities you previously enjoyed because of your heroin use?
  8. Have you experienced an increase in risk-taking activities as a result of your heroin use, like combining heroin with other chemical substances, driving while under the influence of heroin, or obtaining heroin from an unknown source?
  9. Have you experienced worsening symptoms of a physical or mental health problem as a direct result of your heroin use?
  10. Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning a larger amount of heroin is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
  11. Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using heroin abruptly?

Withdrawal & Detox Process

Heroin withdrawal is often a difficult and unpleasant process when symptoms are not adequately addressed in a medical detox center. Symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal range from mild to severe, depending on the severity of use and the length of time the drug was being used. While not typically life-threatening, the uncomfortable physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal coupled with intense psychological cravings often lead an individual back to use before the detox process is complete. With assistance from a licensed and accredited facility like Princeton Detox & Recovery Center, clients have the opportunity to undergo a safe, pain-free detox, continue with comprehensive rehabilitation and aftercare, and ultimately return to independent living with all of the coping and life skills necessary to thrive in recovery. 

From the last time an individual uses heroin, they typically begin to feel the symptoms of withdrawal within the first 6 to 12 hours. Symptoms peak between 1 and 3 days, and then begin to slowly decline in severity. After the acute withdrawal period has concluded, some physical and psychological symptoms might persist. This stage of the detox process is known as post-acute withdrawal. At Princeton Detox & Recovery Center, we focus on providing each of our clients with a personalized aftercare plan that thoroughly addresses any post-acute withdrawal symptoms they are liable to experience based on their personal history and time spent in detox. 

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Withdrawal Symptoms

The symptoms associated with heroin withdrawal vary depending on the severity of the substance use disorder, the amount of heroin being used on a daily basis, and the presence of any pre-existing issues. The symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, including runny nose, watery eyes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, night sweats and low-grade fever. 
  • Extreme physical discomfort. 
  • Severe stomach cramping. 
  • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances. 
  • Intense drug cravings. 
  • Anxiety and/or depression and related psychological symptoms. 

Treatment Options

At Princeton Detox & Recovery Center we offer a combination of proven treatment modalities, delivering an integrated program of recovery that concerns more than physical stabilization and alleviation of withdrawal-related discomfort. For those suffering from a moderate or severe heroin use disorder, the following treatment options typically come recommended.

  • Medical detox. In medical detox a person undergoes a safe and comfortable heroin withdrawal under the close supervision of a team of medical and therapeutic professionals. 
  • Residential inpatient treatment. This is the most intensive treatment option; residential programs typically last for between 30 and 90 days depending on the needs of the individual. Most inpatient programs incorporate individual, group, and family therapy, 12 Step program education and involvement, and holistic treatment modalities to provide a comprehensive treatment experience. 
  • Partial hospitalization. This level of care is a step down from inpatient treatment, and includes full days of intensive therapeutic care (usually 7 days a week) with the freedom to return home in the evenings. 
  • Intensive outpatient treatment. Also known as IOP, this level of care is ideal for those who have completed a short stay in medical detox and are looking for a flexible treatment option with an ample amount of personal freedom. IOP is ideal for those with a short-lived heroin use disorder and no co-occurring issues. 
  • Outpatient treatment. Outpatient treatment, or OP, is one more step down from IOP, with group sessions typically only meeting between 2 or 3 times a week for several hours. This level of care is often recommended after IOP, and is ideal for those who are full-time caretakers or who work full-time and require flexibility. 
  • Aftercare. Because heroin use disorders are a chronic health condition, ongoing treatment is necessary to longer term recovery. Most aftercare plans consist of ongoing involvement in a peer support group (like Alcoholics Anonymous or Recovery Dharma), ongoing individual therapy, and ongoing psychiatric intervention when necessary. Aftercare plans also include a transition into the next appropriate level of care, whether that is residential rehab, PHP, or IOP. 
  • 12 Step program involvement. While many recovering individuals choose to participate in a 12 Step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, there are numerous other options available. Peer support is often an important part of most aftercare plans. 
  • Individual therapy and/or ongoing psychiatric services. Because many individuals who suffer from a fentanyl use disorder simultaneously struggle with co-occurring issues, ongoing therapy and/or psychiatric care often come recommended.

Addiction recovery is a multi-staged process and includes more than a short stay in a medically monitored detox. While heroin detox is an important first step on the road to recovery, it must be followed by a comprehensive program of treatment and aftercare in order to be effective long-term. Once a client has been physically stabilized we work with them closely to determine which subsequent treatment option is the best fit. We then help them smoothly transition into the next appropriate level of care. Transitioning from detox directly into an inpatient rehab center has been shown to reduce the risk of relapse significantly.

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If you or someone you love has been suffering from a heroin use disorder of any severity, Princeton Detox & Recovery Center is available to help. Our medically monitored drug and alcohol detox program was designed with client comfort in mind. We provide our clients with a safe, pain-free opioid withdrawal in a therapeutic setting, actively preparing them to take the next appropriate step on their personal recovery journeys. As soon as you make the decision to reach out for help you will be put in contact with one of our experienced and compassionate Treatment Advisors, who will help you determine whether or not our heroin detox program is right for you. If we believe our program is a good fit, we will proceed with a brief pre-assessment and a free, no obligation health insurance benefit check. We accept coverage from most major national health insurance providers as well as most regional providers throughout New Jersey and surrounding areas. To learn more about heroin addiction and treatment or to begin your own personal journey of heroin addiction recovery, contact us today. 

Heroin FAQs

Heroin is so addictive because of the intense euphoric rush users feel when the drug enters their system. Dopamine is released into the brain and feelings of pain are simultaneously blocked, leading to intense feelings of pleasure and a short-lived “high” that many will pursue as soon as it wears off.

Heroin is an opioid narcotic — it is also considered an opiate, seeing as it is naturally derived.

Heroin is an opioid narcotic made from morphine, which is a naturally occurring opioid derived from seedpods of the opium poppy plant, most commonly found in Southeast and Southwest Asia.

The term “track marks” refers to the bruising, scarring, and swelling left at the injection site when it comes to intravenous heroin use. Track marks are a telltale physical sign of heroin abuse. If a person returns repeatedly to the same injection site, they can suffer lesions, skin infections, and abscesses.

Amanda Hilzer

Reviewed for accuracy by: our Executive Director:

Amanda Hilzer M.Ed, CAADC, IADAC, ICCS, LCADC, CCS


Amanda graduated from Lehigh University with both an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s of Education degree in Counseling Psychology and has worked in the field of substance use disorder treatment and mental health treatment as a counselor and as a clinical manager for over 14 years.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states/