Heroin abuse can have powerful, and sometimes, lasting consequences on the body. Not only does heroin itself hurt the body, the results of administering the drugs can have the most lasting effects. Heroin users often end up injecting the drugs, sometimes sharing needles or reusing their own over and over. This can lead to diseases or scarring which may never fully recover. Heroin abuse also has the inevitable short term consequence of withdrawal, which can sometimes seem like an eternity. So, how long does it generally take to get your body back to normal? That answer really depends on the severity and longevity of your addiction.
Stage 1: Detox
The first step to healing after heroin abuse is to detoxify the body of all opiates. This is most successful in a medical detox center due to the intense and painful symptoms of withdrawal. Acute withdrawal is the initial and most painful part of the healing process and often requires several medications to ease the pain and promote sleep. Acute withdrawal is usually defined as the first week after halting heroin abuse.
Once withdrawal is over, the body truly starts to get back to normal. As long as a person continues to eat and sleep, normal body weight should come back and exhaustion will fade. This is a basic timeline of acute withdrawal:
The first couple days of withdrawal are by far the most painful. Withdrawal symptoms set in 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin and gradually get worse and worse. These symptoms include muscle aches/pain, cold sweats, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, restless legs, and intense cravings.
At this point, withdrawal symptoms will begin to reduce but are still very noticeable. Heroin is completely out of the body at this point, but shivers, pains, insomnia, and nausea may persist. Detox medication can significantly reduce these symptoms to promote eat and sleep.
At this point, most symptoms of acute withdrawal have subsided. The body will start to feel much better, though some symptoms can persist. PAWS (post-acute withdrawal symptoms) is the term for withdrawal symptoms that persist past the first 7 days of detox. Since heroin numbs the nervous system, sensitivity to bodily sensations or hot and cold is common in the first month.
Unfortunately, post-acute withdrawal symptoms from heroin abuse are not always contained to the first month of sobriety. In fact, most medical professionals claim that up to 3-6 months of addiction treatment may be necessary for those recovering from heroin abuse. This is because heroin abuse causes neurocircuitry changes in the brain that affect emotions and behavior. Some claim that symptoms of PAWS can resurface a year or more into recovery. The damage done to the brain is usually the most lasting consequence and takes the longest to recover.
For months into sobriety, it is common for people to have symptoms such as:
- Feeling emotionless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of hopelessness
Fortunately, there are treatments for PAWS. Medications, therapy, support networks, hobbies, meditation, exercise, and yoga all have positive impacts on PAWS.
Disease, Infections, and Malnourishment
Those recovering from heroin abuse often face other health problems besides withdrawal. HIV and Hepatitis are extremely common among IV heroin users. HIV/AIDS is a lifelong disease, which can be treated, though it will never be cured. The body will continue to be affected by HIV many years after stopping drug use. In today’s world of medicine though, many HIV symptoms can be addressed so that it does not greatly affect one’s life.
Hepatitis C is also very common but fortunately, a cure has been discovered in the past few years. Depending on how long a person had Hepatitis C, the liver may be significantly damaged, which cannot be reversed. Liver damage can come back to haunt a person much later in life and is another lasting consequence of heroin abuse.
Most infections or abscesses (an infection under the skin caused by IV drug use) can be addressed in the first few days of sobriety, though they may leave scars, which may never recover. Malnourishment can also be addressed fairly quickly. Vitamin deficiencies and unhealthy weight can be reversed in the first month of sobriety. Many people are completely unrecognizable after being clean for 30 days.
Scars are sometimes the most lasting consequence of IV heroin abuse. Track marks (scars from injecting) can last many years, depending on the length of use. Missed shots and abscesses can also leave very severe scars which could last a lifetime.
Veins are also affected greatly from prolonged injection drug use. After months or years of injecting into new veins, the veins develop lumps or thick walls. Sometimes veins can be completely blown out which causes occasional bruising and poor blood pressure.
The amount of time it takes for the body to recover from heroin abuse varies from person to person. These are just general examples. Some people may detox quickly and have little bodily consequences from heroin, while other could be facing deadly diseases. A person’s metabolism and lifestyle in recovery will also affect the amount of time it takes for the body to heal.
How Pinnacle Can Help
One of the most effective ways to beat addiction is to start recovery at an addiction treatment center. Pinnacle Treatment Center is a comprehensive program that addresses the root causes of addiction and how to overcome it. Pinnacle provides intensive therapy along with lectures and exercises for life skills and relapse prevention. Patients will be involved in group therapy sessions as well as 12-step groups like NA and AA. Pinnacle will even help manage aftercare planning to ensure their patients remain on the right path after treatment. A well-rounded program like this is the best way to start recovery today and take control of your life. Call us today at 1-866-301-0573.