Heroin detox is the first, and most important step in recovery from heroin addiction. For millions of individuals addicted to heroin, the process of detoxification is scary, and one that often discourages them from seeking sobriety. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), approximately 4.2 million Americans ages 12-49 used heroin at least once, and of those, 23% became dependent on it. This means that over 950,000 Americans needed heroin detox in 2011, but chances are that less than half of those who needed detox, actually got it. Also according to NIDA, only 10.4% of those who need addiction treatment receive it.
Heroin Withdrawal and Detox Symptoms
Most heroin addicts know what it’s like to go through withdrawal from the drug. In as little as 4-6 hours after the last dose, withdrawal symptoms can begin to set in. These are usually low grade and autonomic, but serve as an ominous warning to addicts that a full onset of withdrawal is a few short hours away. The most notable symptoms of early withdrawal from heroin are frequent yawning and sneezing. These are generally accompanied by a general feeling of malaise.
Once the early signs of withdrawal have occurred, the process of heroin detox is imminent, and where this process takes place can make all of the difference between becoming sober from heroin, and continuing to use the drug.
During heroin detox, an individual will experience the withdrawal symptoms, which consist of both physical and psychological traumas that can be unmanageable for addicts if they are not in a detox facility. Some of these symptoms include:
|Physical Symptoms||Psychological Symptoms|
|Abdominal Pain||Severe Cravings|
|High Blood Pressure||Depression|
|Nausea and Vomiting||Anxiety|
|Muscle pain and spasms||Malaise|
Heroin detox typically lasts anywhere from 5-14 days, depending on the individual and his or her needs, preferences, health, and any other potential complications. Although none of these symptoms are life threatening, they can range from mild to severe, and are often painful and excruciating enough to deter heroin addicts from completing the process outside of a detox facility where they can have important added support in things like:
- Professional staff to monitor and encourage the completion of the heroin detox process
- Administration of medicine to lessen severe withdrawal symptoms and facilitate sleep
- Tailored and personalized vitamin and meal regimens for optimal health and nutritional supplementation
- Easy and seamless transition to addiction treatment after heroin detox has been completed
The Process of Heroin Detox
The process of heroin detox can become more complicated if an individual has been abusing other drugs with heroin, especially if those drugs are also depressant drugs, like benzodiazepines, painkillers, and/or alcohol. All of these depressant drugs produce psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms during detox, and when detoxification from more than one substance is required, there are always added risks and complications. It is rare for heroin detox in combination with any other drug to be life threatening or dangerous, however medical consultation is always recommended prior to beginning detox from heroin and any other substance.
Most often when an individual attempts to detox from heroin without the assistance of professionals in a facility or hospital setting, the dangers and risks of relapse are significantly heightened. This is mostly a result of the intense cravings addicts experience when in withdrawal from heroin. Additionally, the physical symptoms of pain and discomfort further exacerbate the cravings to do more heroin and feel better.
Without the secure and controlled setting of a heroin detox facility, an addict is unlikely to be able to endure the entire process without quickly returning to heroin use.
For most addicts, additional support is needed to get through heroin detox. Some prefer to have the availability of medicine that can ease the anxiety and help them sleep, while others opt for a more holistic method of heroin detox. Holistic heroin detox typically utilizes non-pharmaceutical therapies such as hot tubs, saunas, massage therapy, and acupuncture.
Another common process of heroin detox is referred to as rapid opiate detox. This is a process in which an addict checks into a hospital and goes under general anesthesia for an expedited detoxification procedure. During rapid heroin detox, while under general anesthesia, individuals are given an opiate antagonist which immediately reverses the effects of heroin and places him or her into full withdrawal. Even though unconscious, addicts can usually still be observed having muscle spasms. Vital signs are carefully monitored, and addicts are given medication to maintain stabilization. After approximately 24 hours, all opiates are out of the individual’s system, and he or she is usually allowed to leave the hospital the next day, assuming he/she is stable enough to leave. While rapid heroin detox is generally a safe process, caution and consultation are important in any medical procedure involving general anesthesia.
Although heroin detox is a safe process, there are a variety of different methods that can be implemented to accomplish it.
Lastly, and very common is the process of opiod assisted heroin detox. Long before the development of rapid heroin detox, addicts were commonly placed on a long-lasting synthetic opiod called Methadone. Administered under strict control and supervision, addicts would get methadone to bind to the opiate receptors in their brain, preventing severe withdrawal symptoms. The idea behind this process is to get addicts off of heroin without them having to endure the withdrawal symptoms by providing a long-lasting opiate as a replacement. The supervised and controlled administration of Methadone is in place to prevent abuse of the drug by addicts. More recently, a drug called buprenorphine has widely replaced Methadone because of its ceiling effect that prevents addicts from feeling the euphoric high associated with opiods. Whether it is Methadone or buprenorphine, the process of heroin detox is accomplished by slowly tapering the addict from the replacement opiod in order to minimize the withdrawal symptoms. This process of heroin detox is lengthy, and can take up to 21 days, depending on the speed with which an individual is tapered from the replacement opiod.
Is Heroin Detox Enough?
Heroin use is dangerous and destructive, and there is no justified medical use for it. Unlike painkillers, benzodiazepines, and alcohol, heroin is completely illegal and has no medical purpose. When an individual uses heroin, he or she is in need of more than just detox. Heroin addiction, like all addictions is a behavioral problem, and the only way to ensure relapse prevention is to address the behavioral issues with each individual.
While heroin detox is a crucial first step in recovery from addiction, it is essential for heroin addicts to attend a drug addiction rehabilitation program in order to do several key things that are necessary for sustained sobriety:
- Address personal issues, traumas, and pain that may have contributed to, or caused the behaviors that lead to heroin use and addiction
- Meet and speak with others in group therapy to understand that they are not alone in their struggles, and establish supportive relationships to assist them on the road to recovery from heroin addiction
- Learn about heroin addiction, and environmental triggers that may lead to relapse. Such triggers can be certain people, places, and things around the addict
- Individual therapy to assist each addict in understanding his or her personal triggers such as emotional and situational issues that may make coping difficult without the use of heroin
- Learn new skills and tools for improved communication, survival, and coping skills without the use of heroin or other dangerous and addictive drugs
- Learn and develop hobbies, activities, and eating habits conducive to health and recovery
- Development of an aftercare program to establish a plan for sustained sobriety after addiction treatment has been completed
Heroin detox is the beginning of a lifelong journey towards sobriety and recovery from addiction, and without the followup of addiction treatment, heroin detox alone does nothing to address the underlying causes of addiction.
The wide array of options for heroin detox allow addicts to choose the way in which they withdraw from the drug, and the speed of the process, which depends on their preferences, needs, and health.
If you, or a loved one is addicted to heroin and in need of detox, please don’t wait to get help. Heroin is a dangerous drug, and addiction continues to get progressively worse without treatment. Heroin detox without followup addiction treatment most always leads to relapse because addicts need to be able to address the behavioral problems that cause addictions of all kind.
Please call us now at 1 (866) 445-4137 to speak with a certified counselor about your situation, and we will work with you to determine the best kind of heroin detox for the addicted individual, based on his or her preferences, needs, and health condition. Once we have helped to decide on the type of heroin detox that will be best, we will continue to work with you to develop a seamless transition to addiction treatment after the detox process has been completed. We understand how painful heroin addiction is for the addict and his or her loved ones. We also understand that heroin detox alone will not prevent relapse and the need for more heroin detox in the future. Addiction treatment does work for individuals seeking sobriety from heroin addiction, and it is only a matter of finding the program that is best tailored to the individual based on his or her preferences, needs, and belief system. Please call us now, and we will go through the various options with you, help you understand what each of them are, and how they relate to the needs of your loved one or yourself. You don’t have to struggle alone, and heroin addiction can be overcome.