For many who’ve struggled with opiate addiction, entering a heroin detox program is the first step towards a life of sobriety. Those who have tried know all too well that when you suddenly stop using heroin or cut down on your usage, you may experience a range of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. So-called ‘cold turkey’ heroin withdrawal is often so intense that it leads to near-immediate relapse. A detox program can provide you with a safe recovery environment, close supervision, and medications to alleviate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms while your body rids itself of heroin and its toxic influence.
This article will cover the following information:
- What is detox?
- Is detox required?
- Heroin withdrawal symptoms.
- The detox process.
- What happens after detox?
What is Detox?
Without detox, heroin addiction can be difficult to overcome. For many, heroin’s effects include a euphoric “rush,” a rewarding sensation that contributes to the drug’s powerful addictive potential. Per the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), around 23% of people who use heroin will go on to develop a heroin dependence 1. Although it is possible to quit using heroin on your own, the severe cravings and withdrawal symptoms may increase the risk of relapse, which is one of the reasons that professional detox and, later, substance abuse treatment can be beneficial in obtaining and maintaining sobriety.
While detoxification is not a substitute for ongoing substance abuse treatment and isn’t designed to rectify maladaptive problems associated with long-term heroin abuse, it is a vital first step towards recovery from heroin addiction. Depending on individual needs, a professional detox program may utilize a number of therapeutic interventions. These interventions help to manage acute intoxication and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms while heroin is gradually removed from the body 2.
Detoxification programs typically include 2:
- Ongoing psychological and physical assessment.
- Medication to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and alleviate drug cravings.
- Medical care to treat co-occurring physical conditions or issues.
- Education about formal treatment programs, such as inpatient and outpatient.
You can receive detoxification from a short-term detox program, such as those offered in a hospital or other medical setting, or as a part of a comprehensive inpatient or outpatient drug abuse treatment program. Remember that detox is not, in and of itself, definitive heroin abuse treatment, but it is the first step in the continuum of addiction care 2. To overcome a heroin addiction, you need more than just detox—a comprehensive treatment program involving individual therapy, group counseling, and medication-assisted treatment can assist you in becoming sober and remaining abstinent in the long-run 2.
Call 11111 to speak to an addiction treatment representative about detox or addiction treatment programs today.
Is Detox Required?
Since heroin withdrawal symptoms are not life-threatening, you do not necessarily need to enter a detox program to quit using the drug safely. However, professional detoxification can provide you with medical supervision and treatment medicines to help manage the often severely unpleasant experience of heroin withdrawal. This can be especially important because the intensity of these symptoms may otherwise contribute to relapse.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Long-term heroin use and addiction are associated with several chemical and structural brain changes that are slow to reverse 3. Heroin addiction modifies your body’s natural hormonal and neuronal balance; chronic use can lead to dependence on the drug to feel normal. Once a person is physiologically dependent on heroin, they tend to experience unpleasant and painful withdrawal symptoms when use is quit or cut back. Users may relapse on heroin in an attempt to alleviate these symptoms.
Since everyone is unique, not everyone experiences withdrawal in the same way. Withdrawal symptoms can vary based on a number of factors, such as:
- How long you have used heroin.
- How much and how often you use heroin.
- Whether you also use other drugs.
- Your individual physiological makeup.
- The presence of any physical or mental health issues.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin addiction include 3,4:
Depressed mood as symptom of heroin withdrawal
- Depressed mood.
- Muscle aches and pains.
- Increased sensitivity to pain.
- Profound sweating.
- Increased tearing of eyes.
- Increased mucus in the nose.
- Dilated pupils.
- Excessive yawning.
The Detox Process
If you’re wondering about the detox process or want to know what to expect when you enter a detox program, realize that it’s not as daunting as you might think. Professional, caring detox center staff will assist you and attend to your needs throughout the entire detox process. You are never alone on your journey.
Three key elements comprise the detox process, including 2:
- Evaluation: During this phase, you receive a thorough physical and psychological assessment. This includes testing the blood for heroin and other substances and evaluating for the presence of a co-occurring physical or mental health condition. The evaluation process helps set the groundwork for further treatment once you have undergone the withdrawal process.
- Stabilization: The goal of this phase is to manage withdrawal symptoms, clear heroin and any other drugs from your body, and achieve a medically stable state. You might receive medications—such as methadone, buprenorphine, or Suboxone—to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. With your informed consent, significant people in your life, such as relatives or employers, can help during this process. The stabilization phase also prepares you to enter a treatment program where you will receive various recovery services, such as therapy and counseling.
- Transition: Once you have completed withdrawal, become medically stable, and been familiarized with the treatment process, the detox center staff will emphasize the importance and benefits of ongoing substance abuse treatment, and help you transition into a formal treatment program.
Similar to withdrawal symptoms, the length of detox depends on a number of factors, including:
- The length of your addiction.
- The dose you used.
- Whether you use other drugs or alcohol in addition to heroin.
In most cases, detox ranges from a few days to a couple weeks, or for as long as your withdrawal symptoms persist.
What Happens After Detox?
Detox represents the beginning of your recovery journey. To attain sobriety and continue on the path to clean and sober living, you may want to consider entering a formal treatment program. A professional inpatient or outpatient recovery program will equip you with the skills you need to maintain long-term sobriety.
There are many forms of addiction treatment, each with its own strengths. The treatment options you might consider include:
- Inpatient: You will live at a residential treatment center and receive round-the-clock assistance and care during your stay. Each inpatient facility has its own philosophy for treating addiction, but typical interventions include individual therapy, group counseling, and medication-assisted treatment. Some programs may utilize a 12-step approach while others may have a more holistic philosophy.
- Outpatient: This is a beneficial option if you need to continue working, attending school, or fulfilling household obligations. Outpatient programs range in intensity and time commitment, meeting anywhere from 1-5 days a week, from a couple to several hours per day. You will receive many of the same treatments offered by inpatient programs but on a less intense scale.
- Luxury: You participate in therapeutic treatments while living in a luxurious residential accommodation that more closely resembles a 5-star resort. You also have access to posh amenities, such as spa treatments, gourmet meals, and alternative healing methods, such as acupuncture or aromatherapy.
- Executive: For those in highly demanding careers, executive treatment programs provide top-notch care and accommodations while allowing you the flexibility to continue working while recovering from heroin addiction.
- Holistic: These programs supplement traditional treatments, such as detox and counseling, with alternative and holistic therapies, including massage, art and music therapy, yoga, meditation, and acupuncture.
- 12-step programs: You might augment your recovery by attending 12-step meetings on a regular basis. Built on the 12 steps of recovery first outlined by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 12-step groups help you stay sober through the fellowship of the group and the support of a sponsor.
Man in recovery
Regardless of the type of treatment you select, the ultimate goal is to increase your ability to function in everyday life and maintain sobriety down the road. Treatment programs accomplish this by helping you strengthen protective factors, minimize risk factors, and build healthy coping skills.
You will achieve these goals in a number of ways, such as through learning to:
- Cultivate healthier relationships.
- Manage stress in more productive ways.
- Avoid people with whom you used to use.
- Develop a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
- Recognize and avoid triggers.
Don’t put off your recovery any longer – call 11111 today to speak to an addiction support specialist about the detox options that might be best for your needs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts—Heroin.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2006). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Rockville, M.D.: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). What are the long-term effects of heroin use?
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.