Feeling normal after stopping heroin is a process and does not happen over night. You may be wondering, “How long will all of this take? How long after you quit heroin can you expect to feel good again, or to even feel normal?”
Heroin detox centers are equipped and staffed to ensure that patients safely make it through the heroin detox process. But a question we often hear people ask is, how long after quitting heroin will it take to feel better, to feel normal again?
The one thing they don’t tell you about quitting heroin is that the detox may be the scariest part, but it’s only the beginning. It does take time to get back to normal. This is a generally accepted heroin withdrawal timeline. These are the levels involved in quitting heroin. This is how long it takes to feel normal again.
The First 3 to 5 Days
This is the most difficult part physically and something that you have to go through when quitting heroin. Your body is aching, you are nauseous, and you are crawling out of your skin. Technically, the heroin is out of your system within the first 7 days after you quit. That means it will no longer show up on a urine or blood test after the first week.
This is known as acute heroin withdrawal and is the most intense. This is a hurdle that you must go through before you journey to heroin rehab. It too shall pass. Some of the things involved in the first 3-5 days of heroin withdrawal that will pass are:
- Muscle spasms
- Painful, sore muscles
- Excessive sweating
- Restless limb syndrome
- Acute anxiety
The First Month
The first 3 to 5 days was rough. But you got through it, and physically you are feeling much better. Great! But just because you made it through the initial phase of detox, doesn’t mean you are out of the woods just yet. The first month of recovery has its own challenges and is a time when many people relapse. At this point, people have made it past the physical addiction and are now facing a mental addiction.
One of the reasons why relapse is so common within the first 30 days of sobriety has to do with a set of symptoms centering on the brain’s thought processes and emotional regulation. Collectively, these symptoms are known as protracted withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).2
During extended periods of time using drugs, the body goes through a great many changes. Some of the most destructive involve the brain. Specifically, the brains functioning becomes damaged, especially in regards to impulse control, executive functioning, abstract reasoning, and emotional regulation.
When you think about a relapse, it becomes clear how a great many of them can be caused by PAW. Emotions are all over the map in early sobriety because of emotional dysregulation. This causes an addict to experience a craving. Because abstract reasoning has been damaged, they are unable to “play the tape through” or accurately consider the consequences of drug use. Problems with impulse control further complicate the process. Finally, damage to portions of the brain responsible for executive functioning makes it difficult to develop a plan to avoid getting high or to practice previously learned coping skills.
Treatment is critically important in early sobriety because of how easy to have a slip within the first 30 days. You will be over the physical addiction but in the grips of a mental addiction, which comes with its own set of problems and solutions. Much of relapse prevention education centers on PAW symptoms, coping skills, and strategies.
It will take more than a month to feel normal after quitting heroin. The good news is that the first month does not last forever. In fact, it only lasts about 30 days. After that, it gets easier. Much easier.
Most people don’t feel normal after quitting heroin until a few months have passed. Some call it the 100-day hangover, though it can last up to 180 days or 6 months. This is the walking zombie phase. Your whole body is trying to readjust to a normal everything. A normal sleep schedule, a normal eating schedule, and normal life without one singular focus.
One of the many big adjustments addicts in recovery have to make is what to do when something upsetting occurs. For so long, the only coping skill that we used was to get high. The phrase use it or loose applies here and we have literally lost our other coping skills. Learning the new coping skills that are taught during treatment is the easy part. It’s putting them into practice during an upsetting/angry/sad moment that becomes the challenge.
That’s one reason it’s so important to stay engaged in treatment throughout this process; it reinforces learned coping skills in a process occurring in group and individual counseling during which a client can assess the coping skill they used and the obtained outcome.
The most important aspect of this phase is to remain in treatment, to go to the meetings, and to do your best to stay off of that terrible drug. After this phase, you will start to feel normal again.
2 Years Later
Quitting heroin means changing your life completely. Most will only see the results of a complete life change 2 years after they decide to get clean. Getting clean doesn’t just mean detox and treatment.
When It Gets Difficult Remember:
Don’t give up. Don’t buy the lie that this is just how your body is and you’ll never be well again. You are lying to yourself. That is the heroin talking. It can take up to a year for your body to balance back out. Keep going. You’ll get better. For some people, it takes longer than others. But EVERYBODY gets better. Trust and believe that.
: The Fix – Opiates and The 100-Day Hangover