I’ve never fully experienced the heroin withdrawal symptoms or any opiate withdrawal without being medicated in a facility. However, a great friend of mine, Eddie, has and he will share with you what they are in this article. This is also available in a podcast which is posted below:
Heroin withdrawal symptoms aren’t something that is easy to go through. There’s no glorifying it, there’s no demonizing it, it is what it is, and it’s pretty gnarly at its core. It wasn’t something where I woke up one day and out of nowhere just decided to try heroin and so, these symptoms that I am about to go over are things that could happen to anyone. Whether you are doing the pills, syrup, oxy’s, Dilaudid, morphine whatever it is, svetol, heroin, it’s all in the same class. I like to describe the differences as follows; hydrocodones are more of like a beer, the oxys more of like wine – little stronger by volume, and then heroin and fentanyl are like the liquor. There’s a slightly different feeling and stuff like that involved, but nothing substantial. The bottom line is they’re all opiates, and opiate withdrawal is just as similar as the effects from these drugs within the same class.
Let’s put things in perspective…
Just to go back a little bit for a bit of a perspective before I get into the symptoms of opiate detox. I started with pills, it began with the hydrocodones, syrup, and things of that nature and progressed over time. I was also keen on taking benzos. One day a guy offered heroin to me and said it was comparable to these other things except cheaper. Once I got started, I was doing cheese, so I was snorting it a lot. I went back and forth from Texas to California, and when I was out in California, a lot of them smoked it. I started to get exposed to the various routes of administration. People that preferred one way to another, people get addicted to that ritual and the routine that comes with it. I began using black tar heroin. It continually progressed. First, your tolerance starts building. You get to a point where you do more and more of the same drug to achieve the same result, and that’s where that dependence comes in. At my worse, I was intravenously using around a gram a day which depended on money. If I had money, I would do more. If I didn’t have as much money, I would do just enough to get by without becoming sick. You’re always working as much as I hated working, but I was still working to avoid getting sick, and most times I wasn’t getting high.
Early stage heroin withdrawal symptoms
To go through the symptoms, early in the opiate withdrawal you’re sneezing, yawning, teary-eyed and teary-eyed almost in the sense of like allergies. On top of all this, you’re having the flu-like symptoms and the muscle aches. The aches I can describe as being similar to growing pains. I would stretch my legs out which was the only thing that alleviated the pain in my muscles. I was stretching my muscles to where it’s burning to get rid of the muscle ache. That would ease the aches while I was doing it, but the second I stopped, they would come back. And the teary eyes is not something that’s painful; I would just say it’s annoying because it’s almost like they’re a water faucet. Also, you’re continually yawning. You don’t sleep. With heroin, you’re up the entire time, at least for me. And so some of the symptoms that I’m going to go over maybe a little stronger in some rather than others, I’m just going to go through what mine is and some of the common ones.
The peak of an opiate withdrawal
In the peak of the heroin withdrawal symptoms, I was extremely agitated. I had incredible fatigue with no energy whatsoever to do anything. The thought of eating made me gag. There was no way I was going to get food down. I could maybe get down a little bit of water here and there but as far as food goes, absolutely not. Restless legs, it’s like you can’t stop moving your legs and you’re just continually twitching and moving your legs over and over and over and over again. I would think, “it’d be okay if I’d be able to go to sleep,” and if you can go to sleep for eight hours let’s say, that’s a third of the day that you’ve been able to not be present during this terrible opiate withdrawal. But again, that’s just not the case; you’re up. When I was in jail, I was up for 11 days. Now I will say that there was Xanax involved in that. I will also say that there were times where I maybe fell asleep for 10 minutes, and in those 10 minutes, I would have vivid dreams. When I woke up, I would have drool all over my pillow. The other thing that sucked about jail, on the one hand, it was kind of nice in the sense that I knew I was in it for the long haul. I wasn’t getting bailed out. I knew that heroin just wasn’t an option. That prevented the, “if I can just get some everything will be fine.” I knew what I was to be expecting. On the other hand, you’re around criminals. Some of them are petty criminals, some more hardcore. You have cellmates and people in your pod. You can’t just be going nuts because due to the heroin withdrawal symptoms, these people are going to call you out. They don’t care. They’ve either been through it, or they just don’t want to hear it. And so I sat there for 10 or 11 days in agonizing pain, some of the guards were a little more mellow, some of them weren’t.
Getting into a shower and being able to put on hot water on your body feels good. But once you get out, you feel good for about two to three minutes, and then the constant hot and cold flashes come back. You’re sweating profusely. You’re nauseated and vomiting throughout the entire heroin withdrawal. Then there are the stomach cramps. I found myself sitting on my knees, almost in a fetal position, and rocking back and forth because it was the only thing that helped. It feels like someone’s stabbing your insides. These sharp abdominal pains go on for days that feel like forever. Your eyes, as far as like looking at yourself in the mirror, you have massive pupils. I wouldn’t say as big as if you were on LSD or some hallucinogen, but they’re way bigger than usual. And so as you go through this and as the days go on, you’re awake as it progressively gets worse.
It got so intense I pretty much lost my mind, I’ll say that outright. One of the scariest parts of the experience was knowing and recognizing that my brain was turning on me. For those that haven’t experienced that, an example is you wake up in the morning, you pick up your phone, and you feel like that’s all normal. Now let’s say you wake up in the morning and you go to pick up the phone, and your body isn’t doing that. It’s like being trapped inside of your head. It’s a derealization effect; it almost seemed like I was in an altered reality. I thought my mom got stabbed. I thought somebody hit me in jail and I created a big commotion. They pulled me out, they showed me the cameras, and it’s me just lying in a bed and then getting up and freaking out, going nuts.
The heroin withdrawal symptoms are why so many people can’t get off heroin, on top of the feeling that they receive from it. On top of feeling that everything is okay in a warm blanket where all your fears dissolve when you’re on it. When you’re off of it, there’s a rebound effect. The world seems like its ending, you don’t ever think that you’re going to make it through this, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
When you’re feeling worse than any sane person can comprehend, there’s always that thought in the back of your head, “if I can just get a hold of some, if I just do some this will all go away.” The opiate withdrawal is a significant reason the cycle perpetuates. Now naturally, the sickness will come back if you don’t wholly detox. However, that thought process is one of the major catalysts that always draws you back. The agonizing pain you’re going through, if you use heroin, it’ll instantly go away. It will go away as if it never happened.
If I can summarize it with anything, heroin withdrawal symptoms or any opiate withdrawal is the worst thing that I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t think that I was going to get through it. When you’re in that position, and you have to, there’s no other choice. You just have to deal with it. For a person outside of jail, then it becomes even that much harder because they can always go pick up and it goes away.
Hopefully, this article clarified what heroin withdrawal symptoms and what opiate withdrawal is like.
Philip Markoff (Associate of Science) is an online influencer and thought leader on addiction education; he is known as his alias “CG Kid” who’s obtained a large audience primarily on YouTube as a vlogger and journalist. His current sobriety date from polysubstance chemical dependency is June 9th, 2013.