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We’ve all been there—quitting cold turkey. Whether this is our last donut or our last time smoking, we’ve all put down our drug of choice and walked away for good. And then we walked away again. And again. While we’ve all heard success stories of people quitting cold-turkey and managing to pull it off long-term, statistically that just isn’t the best route, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you can’t quit cold turkey. Even drugs that are defined as non-addictive can carry some withdrawal symptoms. Cannabis users, for example, often report When it comes to a more potent vice, especially opioids like heroin, the withdrawal symptoms can bring severe risks to quitting cold turkey.

Effects of Heroin

Heroin is commonly abused for its immediate “high,” which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes as a warm flush of the skin and a sense of euphoria. The immediate side-effects can include nausea, vomiting, and itching. Once the immediate effects dissipate, the user experiences a “down” period, of lowered heart rate, slowed breathing (sometimes dangerously slowed), drowsiness and mental cloudiness.

During the high period of opioid intake, the sense of pain is numbed. This the medical effect that makes opioids valuable in intensive care scenarios like cancer treatment and post-surgery, but it can also lead to reckless behavior with little sensory feedback. It can also directly impact the emotions in the brain, among other symptoms. While the high of heroin can be dangerous on its own, the depressed, down period can also be fatal, especially when combined with other opioids or depressants.

Dangers of Heroin in the US

Drug overdoses rose 10% in 2017, topping over 70,000 according to a report by NBC news. Meanwhile, the CDC reported that in that timeframe, an estimated 494,000 people in the US used heroin in the past year. The rapid growth of drug overdose deaths in the US is so extreme, that it actually drown down US age expectancy in 2017. The vast majority (about ¾) of users also reported they had an unhealthy relationship to prescription drugs before switching to heroin as well.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin withdrawal can occur when you stop taking heroin cold turkey, and it can trigger a number of harrowing symptoms and potential risks. The most obvious is cravings, or severe psychological and physiological urges. While each individual may have a different response to heroin withdrawal, the common symptoms and side-effects can include sweating, anxiety, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and more. These symptoms can occur within 12 hours of last use.

The Danger of Quitting Cold Turkey

In professional recovery, you have a number of resources to not only reduce the immediate cravings and other withdrawal symptoms, but also behavioral health tools like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you deal with cravings when they manifest, no matter how long after your initial recovery. That means a smoother, less painful initial detox, and an improved ability to stay sober post-recovery.

When you are dependent on a substance, you build tolerance to it over repeated uses. As you detox, you shed some of that tolerance, so it becomes easier to overdose, even on smaller doses. Because of this, it’s essential to through a professional recovery program like Experience Recovery to build the skills and techniques to maintain abstinence, rather than trying to quitting heroin cold turkey.