Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal

A Common Question: Can You Die From Heroin Withdrawal?

After an extended period of using heroin, and suffering the many related consequences, you are ready to get clean.  It wouldn’t be at all unusual to have ambivalent feelings about taking the step to face detox and then get into rehab.  No one enjoys the idea of suffering.  For someone addicted to heroin it is always difficult to take this important step.  Life has revolved around the drug to such a degree that it is hard to imagine what daily life will be like without it.  Still, somewhere in your rational mind you know it is time to get clean and sober.

The first step in recovery from a heroin addiction is detoxification, or ridding the body of the toxins associated with the drug.  Addicts are all too aware of the awful withdrawal symptoms that kick in after not using the drug for a certain number of hours.  The thought of willingly enduring that pain can be a roadblock for many.  Some may even wonder: Can you die from heroin withdrawal?  Maybe they have heard rumors of people who died in jail withdrawing from heroin.  Maybe they have heard of people who tried to detox alone only to relapse, take too much of the drug, and overdose.  Can you die from heroin withdrawal?  While there are rare occurrences of withdrawal–related death, most likely, you will not.

What to Expect During Heroin Detox and Withdrawal

The heroin detox process follows a fairly predictable pattern.  The first withdrawal symptoms appear between 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin.  The length of the detox period, as well as the severity of symptoms, will be dependent on factors such as the duration of the heroin habit, the level of heroin dosing, whether the individual also has a mental health disorder, and the general state of the individual’s health.  All these factors will play a part in the detox experience.

Generally, symptoms will peak between 24-48 hours and then gradually subside.  Most heroin detoxes are completed in 5-7 days, however long-lasting effects can linger, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.  Heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Teary eyes
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Restlessness
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

While some may wonder if you can you die from heroin withdrawal symptoms while going through detox, the fact is that, while extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable, it is highly unlikely that a person will die from it.  Detox medical providers will provide comfort via medications that can significantly reduce these symptoms, and will monitor and support the individual from start to finish.

Medically Assisted Detox for Heroin Withdrawal

In recent years, heroin and opioid addiction treatment increasingly includes the use of certain medications that will aid during the early months of recovery in staving off relapse.  Medically assisted treatment (MAT) involves using Suboxone, methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to block the effects of opiates and methodically remove the desire to use them at all.  The goal of using these drugs is to help the individual achieve a better quality of life through ending cravings and extending sobriety.

The drugs are usually intended to be used for up to 3-6 months following completion of an addiction treatment program, although in some cases they will be used for years.  For the short-term users, a tapering schedule will begin after a certain number of months in recovery, weaning the individual off of the MAT.  In some cases, these drugs can also help reduce withdrawal symptoms during detox, in addition to diminishing drug cravings.

Treatment for a Heroin Addiction

Once a successful opiate detox is completed it is time to begin the treatment phase of recovery. Comprehensive treatment for overcoming heroin addiction can be obtained in different settings, usually divided into two main formats, outpatient and residential. Various factors help determine which setting is best for the individual, including the length of history with a heroin addiction, the amount of heroin consumed each day, the ability to take an extended leave from work, and financial resources.

Generally, a heroin addiction that is severe and deeply entrenched may be best addressed through an extended stay at a residential program. A more recent problem with heroin can often be successfully treated through intensive outpatient programming. Both formats provide MAT in combination with therapy and 12-step programming.

Outpatient Rehab

The outpatient rehab is the most flexible and least expensive treatment setting, with individuals living at home outside of treatment hours. This allows people to continue to work in some capacity while engaged in treatment. Outpatient programming is offered in varying intensities, including basic outpatient therapy services, intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and partial hospitalization programs (PHP). The level of participation differs between each of these tiers.

Basic outpatient treatment may consist of minimal engagement, possibly just a couple of psychotherapy sessions per week. This is an excellent step-down option following a residential program, or for continuing care after an IOP is completed.

The IOP involves a part-time treatment schedule that lasts about 8 weeks. The IOP may begin with participation requirements of 6-15 hours per week, and then fewer hours of participation as individuals meet defined benchmarks in the program. Treatment consists of individual counseling, group counseling, 12-step programming, identifying triggers and relapse prevention planning, addiction education and life skills classes.

The PHP is the most intensive type of outpatient treatment. The PHP involves the same programming as the IOP but just a more structured, higher level of engagement. This means that the PHP may require treatment for 6 hours per day, five days a week.

Residential Rehab

A residential program provides housing for an extended period while the individual is in treatment. A residential rehab provides 24-hour monitoring and support, and usually has a medical doctor and a psychiatrist on staff. The residential rehab is tightly structured, with a full schedule of therapies offered throughout each day. Residential rehab provides medical detox, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, MAT, addiction education, 12-step programming, and holistic activities.

Continuing Care Services After Rehab

One of the most important phases on the recovery continuum of care is the period that follows completion of a rehab program. During the first year of recovery from a heroin addiction it is essential that individuals follow up rehab with supportive services and activities that reinforce recovery and help reduce the risk of relapse.

In addition to MAT, continuing care services include:

  • Sober living. Sober living housing is an excellent option during and after outpatient rehab or the first few months after residential rehab. Some individuals do not have a home environment that is supportive of recovery efforts. A sober home will be alcohol and drug-free and provides a deterrent to drug use through regular testing.
  • Outpatient therapy. There are going to be challenges in recovery, stressful events that can trigger recurrence of drug use. By remaining engaged in treatment through weekly therapy sessions, the individual has ongoing psychological support to help them navigate any bumps in the road.

Recovery group. Active participation in a recovery community such as A.A. or N.A. provides the important social support piece of a successful recovery. The meetings offer a setting where individuals with a common goal of sobriety can share their victories as well as their difficulties while creating new friendships.

Phoenix Rising Addiction Center Provides Medical Detox Services for Heroin

Phoenix Rising Addiction Center is an intensive outpatient treatment program serving South Orange County, California that provides medically monitored detox resources and subsequent heroin addiction treatment services.  Phoenix Rising integrates 12-step programming, cognitive behavioral therapy, and attachment theory to guide individuals toward a new, productive and fulfilling life post-heroin.  Don’t hesitate to get help for heroin thinking you can you die from heroin withdrawal.  Let us assure you that you will receive a safe, monitored detoxification.  For more information about the program, detox, and sober living services, please contact Phoenix Rising today at
(949) 518-0345.