The Dangers of Detoxing from Heroin Cold Turkey

dangers of detoxing from heroin cold turkey

Heroin is a powerful and illicit opioid drug that approximately 1 million people were addicted to in 2021. Once addicted, it is incredibly difficult to stop using heroin. One of the reasons why quitting heroin is so difficult is because of the painful flu-like withdrawal symptoms that occur if you stop using heroin cold turkey after periods of regular use.

Although heroin withdrawal is generally not life-threatening or as dangerous as withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines, there are still serious risks associated with cold turkey heroin withdrawal. Understanding the dangers of detoxing from heroin cold turkey may help you understand why it is so important to get help from a trusted drug and alcohol detox center.

Symptoms of Heroin Withdrawal

Heroin produces the same symptoms of withdrawal as other opioids do, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Body aches
  • Muscle pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Sweats
  • Body chills
  • Goosebumps
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Drug cravings
  • Depression
  • Irritability

For most people, these symptoms are very uncomfortable and unsettling, but medical emergencies can occur without medical treatment.

Is it Possible to Quit Heroin Cold Turkey?

Quitting a drug “cold turkey” means abruptly stopping the use of it without medications or slowly reducing your use over time. The term “cold turkey” comes from the fact that drug and alcohol withdrawal often produces goosebumps on the skin which can resemble turkey skin when it is cold.

While many people who are addicted to heroin try to stop using it cold turkey because they don’t want to go to treatment or they have run out of money or drugs, it is virtually impossible to do so successfully. Most people who try to quit heroin on their own end up relapsing due to the symptoms they experience.

Fortunately, nobody has to detox from heroin cold turkey. Drug detox centers can prescribe medications that slowly wean the body off of opioids, alleviating withdrawal symptoms and increasing the chances of a successful detox.

Risks of Detoxing From Heroin Cold Turkey

Detoxing from heroin on your own is never recommended. It can even be dangerous. Potential risks and dangers of cold turkey heroin detox include:

Heroin Relapse

Heroin withdrawal can be so uncomfortable and painful that people who try to quit on their own end up using heroin again to alleviate their symptoms. Experiencing a relapse so early in the recovery process can be detrimental as it can put you right back where you started in the cycle of addiction.

When you detox in a drug detox center, they can prescribe medications that soothe your symptoms and provide you with the support required to avoid relapse.


Relapsing on heroin after even a short period of abstinence can be dangerous due to the risk of overdose. When you stop using heroin for a period of time, your tolerance can go down without you realizing it. When you relapse you may use the same dose as you did before attempting detox thinking it can’t do any harm, only to find yourself taking too much and experiencing an overdose.

The risk of overdose is particularly high when it comes to heroin because a lot of the heroin on the streets today contains lethal doses of fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin and responsible for a substantial increase in drug overdoses across the nation. The chance that you will use fentanyl instead of heroin and experience an overdose is high.


Another reason detoxing from heroin cold turkey is dangerous is because of the risk of dehydration. If you experience a combination of poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, you may become dehydrated. Mild dehydration may not be something that you notice, but moderate to severe dehydration can pose a serious risk.

Without treatment, dehydration can lead to:

  • Heat exhaustion
  • Heatstroke
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Kidney stones
  • Kidney failure
  • Seizures due to low electrolytes
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood volume shock (causes a drop in blood pressure and the amount of oxygen in your body)

Each of these conditions requires immediate medical treatment or else they can progress into serious and life-threatening complications.

You can avoid getting dehydrated during heroin withdrawal by detoxing under medical supervision. Medical staff can make sure you’re receiving plenty of liquid and maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance. The medications they prescribe will also help alleviate some gastrointestinal upset.

Medical Detox: A Safer, Better Alternative for Heroin Withdrawal

When it comes to heroin withdrawal, there is no question about it: you must get help from a trusted drug and alcohol detox center. Detoxing under medical supervision allows you to take medications, like methadone or buprenorphine, that alleviate symptoms of withdrawal, keeping you safe and comfortable throughout the process.

During detox, nurses will monitor your symptoms and your vitals to make sure you avoid any medical complications. If an emergency arises, medical staff will be available to intervene and get you stable once again. When you detox from heroin at an addiction detox center, all of the potential risks of cold turkey heroin withdrawal disappear.

Find a Top-Rated Heroin Detox Center in California Today

Sheer Recovery provides clients with a private, safe, and supportive inpatient heroin detox experience where they can achieve true healing and begin their recovery from addiction. Our multidisciplinary medical staff is committed to your safety and comfort every step of the way. If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction and ready to begin your recovery journey, please contact us today to learn more about our top-rated detox and treatment programs.


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