Heroin Withdrawal and Detox
Heroin impacts the brain reward system, increasing the user’s tolerance to the drug’s effects over time.
The user eventually needs higher doses to reach the same “high” as before. When someone addicted to heroin stops using, withdrawal symptoms set in.
People battling heroin addiction often keep using to avoid painful symptoms of withdrawal. Abusing heroin produces effects similar to painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone, only stronger.
Withdrawal from heroin is often more intense than those of prescription painkillers.
What to Expect from Heroin Withdrawal
If you've been using heroin for a while or have become dependent, you'll want to know what to expect if you decide to quit and begin to experience heroin withdrawal symptoms. Whether you've been using regularly or when bingeing, the symptoms that occur when you're not taking the substance to maintain your addiction can be intense.
Generally, there is a variation in both the time and the intensity of the initial 'comedown' from heroin withdrawal. You can, therefore, expect your withdrawal symptoms to start six to twelve hours after your last dose. They will usually peak within one to three days and gradually subside over five to seven days. In some cases, post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) may be experienced; they can last for weeks or even months. The timeline is generally determined by the potency of heroin dosage, the presence of any co-occurring mental issues, as well as other drugs being regularly abused, and so on.
Heroin Withdrawal: Symptoms and Signs
Users begin experiencing withdrawal between 6 and 12 hours after their last heroin dose. Withdrawal from heroin may resemble those of prescription opioids. Because heroin leaves the user’s system faster than painkillers do, withdrawal comes about more quickly.
Withdrawal often feels like a horrible case of the flu. The worst pain and discomfort lasts a week — about as long as the bad flu — with withdrawal symptoms peaking during the second or third day.
Common symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle aches
Being addicted to heroin can be a lot like riding a rollercoaster. Having the drug in your system makes you feel on top of the world. However, as it begins to wear off, you descend into a free-fall to the lowest of lows. This type of speedy decline is caused by heroin withdrawal, and the intense physical, psychological and emotional symptoms you experience during this time can be difficult to bear.
The signs and symptoms range in accordance to the level of dependence your brain has on the substance, and how much of its chemical structure has been changed as a result of usage.
Heroin withdrawal is experienced by individuals in different ways, though there are some common features. The symptoms can occur in any combination and may be worsened by co-occurring mental health symptoms, use of other drugs or underlying medical problems, including chronic pain. In addition, effects occur in stages and can worsen in time or be accompanied by side symptoms.
Aches and Pains - Oneway heroin works are to block the pain pathways of the body. When you stop using the drug, a rebound effect occurs. You begin to feel achy in places you didn't know where hurting, especially in your legs and back. You also develop a greater sensitivity to pain.
Excessive Bodily Fluids - The process of heroin withdrawal also causes an overproduction of bodily fluids, including sweat, tears, and a runny nose. In addition, you may notice that your hairs stand on end. Just like other physical symptoms that can be expected, this is part of your body trying to balance itself.
Diarrhoea and Stomach Pain - Diarrhoea or loose, watery and frequent bowel movements, is a typical reaction of the body. These may also be accompanied by stomach pains, as a result of spasms occurring in your digestive system.
Nausea and Vomiting - Even though these symptoms are agonising, nausea and vomiting are common. This makes you feel very uncomfortable, puts you off your food, wears you out and doesn't allow you to venture too far from the bathroom.
Fever - During heroin withdrawal, raised body temperature from fever doesn't help you to fight infections, and steps should be taken to control it. You should seek medical assistance if your temperature goes higher than 103° F (40° C), and doesn't go down with treatment.
Restlessness and Sleep Problems - Restlessness is another physical symptom that you can expect to encounter. In addition, withdrawal often leads to insomnia, where you'll struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep.
Psychological and Emotional Signs
Heroin Cravings - There is a strong desire for you to take more of the drug. This is called 'cravings' and is common amongst people going through withdrawal. Cravings of this nature are usually a combination of a desire to lessen the symptoms of heroin withdrawal and the need for another taste of the 'high'.
Mood Changes - A dysphoric mood (which involves feeling depressed, anxious or irritable) is a normal part of heroin withdrawal. It is the aftereffects of the euphoria you experienced during your heroin 'high'. In some cases, you might even find yourself experiencing long-suppressed feelings of a traumatic past. Also, whether or not you've had a traumatic past, a range of mood changes can be expected. While these feelings are usually intense during this period, they can become less so as the withdrawal stage comes to a close.
The physical and emotional signs of heroin withdrawal demonstrate why it's essential to have a strong support network present. If you're undergoing withdrawal in a treatment facility, take advantage of the support being offered. Also, try to arrange for support within your community after you leave. If the feelings of distress and depression linger longer than necessary, see your doctor for appropriate treatment.
Duration of Withdrawal
The length of withdrawal from heroin depends on several factors. Some of the most important include:
- The length of time the user abused heroin
- The amount of heroin they took each time
- How frequently they used heroin
- The method by which they took heroin
- The presence of underlying medical or mental health issues
Depending on the level and length of use, recovering heroin addicts are likely to suffer post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS), including poor sleep, poor concentration, increased anxiety, depression, panic attacks, fatigue, hypersensitivity, irritability, mood swings, restlessness, and memory loss. PAWS can last anywhere from 18-24 months. The effects on mood and behavior can last months after other withdrawal symptoms pass. However, as time goes by and the user remains drug-free, the symptoms will slowly begin to diminish.
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
|Days 1-2||Symptoms may begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose. The pain will start to develop on the first day, typically muscle aches. These will intensify over the first 48 hours. Other symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking and diarrhea.|
|Days 3-5||By the third or fourth day, withdrawal is in full swing. Symptoms during this time often include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers and nausea/vomiting.|
|Days 6-7||A week is typically the end of what’s known as acute withdrawal. During this time, the common muscle aches and nausea will taper off. Physically, former users will start to feel more normal though still worn down and tired.|
|Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)||Symptoms of withdrawal may continue inconsistently for months after acute withdrawal. These are caused by neurological changes from heroin use. Common long-lasting symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, insomnia and irritability.|
How to Make It through Heroin Withdrawal?
There are a few things you can do to make it through heroin withdrawal. Some of them include:
- Bear in mind that your withdrawal symptoms will only be present for a limited time. If you can stick to the process and see them through, you'll be well on your way to living a better, healthier life.
- Certain medications such as buprenorphine or naltrexone are used to assist people undergoing withdrawal. These drugs work by preventing the 'high' so that if you give in to your cravings, no real satisfaction can be gained.
- Deal with your cravings by putting them on hold. This means that you make a commitment to stay clean for one more hour. When the time you've set it up, make another commitment to wait just another hour and so on until you no longer feel cravings.
- Stock up your home with plenty of healthy, easily digestible food. This is because you may not feel up to leaving the house whilst in the middle of withdrawal.
- Your chances of success are heightened significantly when you choose to enter a rehab facility. You'll be undergoing heroin withdrawal in a safe environment where you can have all the support you need to make the process more bearable.
- Companionship can be a big help when undergoing heroin withdrawal. This is another reason why choosing to stay in a rehab facility for the duration is ideal.
- It's essential to have realistic expectations as you plan to kick your heroin habit. You could be disappointed if you expect things to be perfect right away. It takes time, but things will get better.
Heroin Withdrawal: Risks and Dangers
The physical and psychological pain of heroin withdrawal is usually more than enough to send an addict back to taking the substance. If you're dealing with a heroin addiction, you may be seriously tempted to resort back to heroin use to avoid the physical and emotional discomfort of withdrawal. However, it's vital to realize that it would be a downward spiral, which could place you at an increased risk of experiencing a fatal overdose.
In addition, rare but possible complications with heroin withdrawal include dehydration from excessive diarrhea and vomiting, as well as ingesting vomit into the lungs and suffocating (asphyxiation).
As you can see, the heroin withdrawal process can pose significant health risks, which is why it's important when you're seeking help for your substance dependence to do so under the supervision of experienced addiction treatment experts. A licensed treatment center will provide you with adequate support to prevent the associated symptoms, and monitor you to ensure your safe progress through the withdrawal process.
If you've been addicted to heroin for an extended period of time, you could be at risk of experiencing more severe withdrawal symptoms and medical intervention might be required. Luckily, a well-organized program can help you prepare and manage the associated physical and mental symptoms. By taking part in a treatment program, you'll receive all you need to avoid the risks and dangers of heroin withdrawal and safely achieve lasting recovery.
Predicting the Severity of Your Withdrawal Symptoms
When it comes to taking the steps to heal from heroin addiction, your biggest fear could be that of severe withdrawal symptoms. There is no tried and trusted way to predict the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. Some people encounter just a few, while others experience harsh symptoms. It all depends on factors involving your personal circumstances and experiences, some of which are:
Longer use history- the longer your period of usage, the more your brain and body will become dependent, making it harder to stop using your substance of choice.
Co-occurring disorders- withdrawal symptoms are more unpredictable if you have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and a mental health disorder for instance.
Lack of support- one of the key elements of recovery is a good support system. If you lack the basic support network of friends or family, it could actually be harder to deal with withdrawal symptoms.
Negative thinking - your attitude towards your treatment and the withdrawal process can affect how it proceeds. If you go into recovery thinking the withdrawal symptoms will be too severe and hard to bear, there's a good chance they will be.
Medications Used in Detox
Heroin detox provides a safe space to manage withdrawal symptoms.
Complications from withdrawal from heroin can arise and fatally injure someone detoxing without medical supervision. Those suffering from withdrawal can become severely dehydrated. They can even inhale stomach contents after vomiting and asphyxiate. Even when the patient’s life is not at risk, withdrawal symptoms are often so uncomfortable that the patient relapses and avoids attempting to quit in the future
"Supervised medical detox is always recommended to overcome heroin addiction."
Doctors in inpatient programs watch for psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression. Self-harm and relapse are possible during withdrawal. Heroin detox reduces risk of either complication occurring.
Inpatient and outpatient drug rehab clinicians can prescribe drugs to ease withdrawal symptoms. These medications help with the recovery process by minimizing withdrawals and cravings.
- Methadone - This medication is a slow-acting, low-strength opiate used to taper patients off heroin and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
- Buprenorphine - This is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heroin withdrawal. It reduces cravings and physical symptoms like vomiting and muscle aches.
- Naltrexone - This drug blocks receptors in the brain that react to opioids like heroin. It is neither addictive nor sedating. Over time, it may reduce cravings. Naltrexone works best in patients who have already completed detox.
Importance of Distraction When Dealing with Heroin Withdrawals
When it comes to dealing with heroin withdrawal, distraction can be essential. The benefit of distracting yourself is that you'll be less concernedwiththe discomfort your body is experiencing. If you successfully focus on something engaging, you can forget about your withdrawal for that period of time.
Some effective distraction techniques to employ when dealing with heroin withdrawal include:
- Going for a walk
- Reading a book
- Watching TV (particularly comedy shows)
- Spending time with other people (as long as they are not active drug users)
- Hard exercise can be a great distraction, but it's usually not appropriate for people in early recovery, as they may not have physically exerted themselves in a long time
- Listening to music, as long as it's not songs that remind the individual of using drugs
Why Get Professional Help?
While it is possible to carry out a heroin detox safely and without any professional help, entering a residential detox program offers you a greater advantage. Some reasons why you should consider professional help include:
Increased comfort: you'll be able to get the appropriate medication at the right time, which can be key to easing some of the feelings of discomfort during withdrawal.
Improved safety: professional help is also useful in situations where complications arise as a result of a combination of heroin withdrawal and another medical or psychiatric condition.
Access to ongoing treatment programs : simply completing the detox process will not keep you clean for a long period of time. A professional detox program provides access to specialists who can help you find the best ongoing treatment after your managed withdrawal period is completed.
There is a higher chance of more discomfort and an early relapse when you try to attempt to detox 'cold-turkey' alone. Your chances of a successful outcome are improved with professional help and the right medication, not to mention that most clinics offer assistance in admissions to second-stage treatment and therapies.
Detoxification describes the process of clearing the body of unwanted substances. Getting through detox is your first step to enjoying a new, healthy life. Heroin detox offers a safe place for your withdrawal symptoms to be managed. This is because complications as a result of withdrawal can come to the fore, which could be fatal if you're detoxing without proper medical supervision. Supervised medical detox is generally recommended to successfully break free from heroin addiction.
During detox, doctors in inpatient programs lookout for psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal, such as anxiety and major depressive disorder. Relapse and self-injury are also possible side-effects, even if they are not usually something you think about. Heroin detox lessens the risks of such complications occurring.
You may find heroin detox uncomfortable, but there are ways to make any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms much easier to bear. Heroin detox signifies the beginning of clean and drug-free life and is well worth the temporary feelings of discomfort.
Heroin Detox Timeline: How Long Does It Take to Detox from Heroin?
Generally, there is no fixed duration for heroin detox. This will depend on the degree of heroin dependency and your specific individual needs. According to medical research, roughly three to six months of medical supervision is ideal for addressing addiction. Also, the process of heroin detox can vary where time and intensity are concerned. A range of factors determines the duration, including age, length of usage and quantity of dosage. Typical heroin detox can, therefore, be expected to last for up to seven days.
Withdrawal symptoms usually start from six to twelve hours after your last dose and last for one to three days (peaking at 72 hours). Over the course of five to seven days, the symptoms gradually become less intense. Acute withdrawal from heroin begins with cravings and anxiety, peaking between 36 and 72 hours, and decreasing substantially within five days. On the other hand, protracted withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) could continue for a few months following the period of acute withdrawal.
Detoxing from Heroin at Home
Heroin detox can be carried out at home, but it is not advised. Without medically assisted detox, the chances of staying clean in the long run are quite low. Also, abruptly quitting heroin could lead to serious health issues and increase the likelihood of a relapse. It's essential to always gain medical approval before trying to detox on your own at home. In many cases (such as poor health, substance-related disorders, and pre-existing medical conditions), clinical detox under medical supervision is required.
However, if you choose to detox at home, the best way is to gradually reduce your heroin dosage instead of doing so entirely, in order to reduce your chances of relapsing. However, because of the possibility of complications and the discomfort from withdrawal symptoms, it is highly recommended that you seek medical supervision when undergoing detox. This is especially important because aftercare is essential if you're looking to achieve lasting results.
Why Is Home Heroin Detox Dangerous?
Attempting to detox at home can be fatal for some people. If you've been struggling with heroin addiction for a long time, your body has in all likelihood developed dependence. If you abruptly cease taking heroin, you could begin to experience withdrawal symptoms and your body will likely be affected as a result. This problem occurs in alcohol abuse, in particular, reducing liver and kidney functions, in addition to making the addict ill.
However, in the case of opioid drugs like heroin, an overdose is a more common issue, because withdrawing from the substance at home without any professional assistance can lead to relapse and overdose. Even though not all addictive substances require medically-assisted detox, it is always important to get help when withdrawing from alcohol, opiates, and benzodiazepines. Medical professionals can help you determine the need for medical detox by closely examining you and your unique situation.
Inpatient, Residential or Outpatient Detox?
The different types of professional detox methods address and ease withdrawal symptoms in varying degrees. Inpatient detox is an intensive, residential treatment program, aimed at treating serious addictions. Residential detox offers treatment in a setting such as a community withdrawal center for example, which is non-medical. Outpatient detox, on the other hand, is usually part-time so that you can continue going to work or school during the day.
During inpatient detox, you'll in a hospital or other inpatient facility, under medical supervision. This is to enable you and your withdrawal symptoms to be safely monitored and managed. Drugs such as methadone and buprenorphine are administered during the treatment process to help ease you off heroin.
Inpatient detox is recommended if you're a heavy or long-term user so that you can benefit from 24/7 medical monitoring.
Residential detox is best for you if you have no co-occurring medical or psychiatric conditions. Also, if your living conditions complicate your attempt to quit heroin, a residential detox may be a viable option.
During outpatient detox, you'll undergo heroin detox at home, with medical assistance to lessen withdrawal symptoms. Just like inpatient detox, you'll be given medications as needed, with frequent check-ins to monitor your progress. If you're a relatively new heroin user, you should experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms and could opt for an outpatient detox.
Preparing for an Outpatient Detox Programme
Advance preparation is essential when detoxing on an outpatient basis so that you can make it through the difficult moments of withdrawal and avoid a relapse. Some tips for you to prepare for an outpatient detox include:
- Look for a stable environment with no easy access to drugs or people who are using heroin and other addictive substances.
- Enlist the help of someone you can trust to take care of you during detox. Ensure this person is aware of what to expect during withdrawal and can take the right steps to help.
- Carry out research into coping methods to deal with the symptoms of withdrawal. Be sure to obtain the necessary medications to handle withdrawal symptoms in advance.
- Be ready to deal with intense cravings and plan adequate distractions alongside your therapist.
What about (Ultra) Rapid Opioid Detoxification?
During rapid opioid detox, an opioid antagonist is used to flush out active opioids from your opioid receptors whilst you're under anesthesia. The aim is to accelerate and intensify the withdrawal procedure. This method of detoxification helps you to avoid the worst of the discomfort because you are under sedation. Despite the obvious appeal of this procedure, groups such as the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the California Society of Addiction Medicine agree that it is not worth the risks or the high cost of treatment.
(Ultra) Rapid Opioid Detoxification has come under fire for the following reasons:
- The normally safe heroin detox process is turned into one with significant risks
- There is little standardisation between providers
- Withdrawal symptoms can still be severe, despite its claim to reduce discomfort
- Even with the increased risks, there's not much reduction in relapse rates when compared to results from regular detox methods
According to research, people who undergo (Ultra) Rapid Opioid Detoxification:
- Stand to face greater risks of severe, adverse health consequences
- Do not seem to have significantly better outcomes from the procedure than those who undergo traditional detox methods
What If You Can Never Stay Clean?
Generally, there is a high rate of relapse following opioid detoxification. Addiction treatment post-detox increases your chances of staying sober. However, if you're finding it difficult to maintain abstinence after numerous attempts to quit, there is another way. According to experts, long-term medication-assisted treatment (MAT) using methadone or buprenorphine (Suboxone) are recommended for such cases. Subsequently, people on MAT are less likely to suffer a relapse and revert back to heroin usage.
Medicated abstinence and switching from heroin to long-term methadone or buprenorphine can hold significant benefits for you, including:
- Complete freedom from heroin cravings and other withdrawal symptoms. This kind of stability can help you focus more on developing a wholesome lifestyle, instead of concentrating on how to obtain drugs.
- Improved health and a lower risk of an early death.
- Need to commit criminal acts is low.
- Chance of consumption of harmful adulterants (added to some heroin) is reduced.
- Lower risk of getting infected with HIV, Hepatitis C and other diseases.
How Long Does Heroin Detox Take?
The length of the detox programme will always vary from person to person. This is because there are different factors that can influence the overall efficacy of the programme. These include:
- The type and purity of heroin you used
- The method of the withdrawal being deployed
- How long you've been using heroin and the quantity that was consumed
- Your weight
- Your metabolism
- Your height
However, most professionally-supervised heroin detox programs are completed within four weeks. The actual length will be determined by the detox plan deemed best for your circumstances.
Transition to Long-Term Care
More often than not, successful management of heroin withdrawal is simply the first step. There is a high chance of relapse if you only undergo a medical detox than if you complete a longer-term treatment plan.
Recovery begins with stabilization and continues with compassionate and experienced treatment teams helping you to confront any underlying issues. Your recovery center can usually recommend individualized treatment programs, well-suited to helping you recover via long-term care.
The Importance of Regular Monitoring
Usually, with an outpatient detox, you'll need to see a health professional for a check-in about once daily. Monitoring occurs more frequently in a residential or inpatient detox facility. Regular monitoring is essential, as it helps prevent minor complications from turning into serious problems. Also, it recognizes the need for a move from outpatient to residential care if you're struggling with heroin withdrawal process at home. It also allows for appropriate medication adjustments to reduce side effects and lessen discomfort.
Regular monitoring involves an evaluation of your overall progress to identify any excessive difficulties or complications, the severity of your current withdrawal symptoms and how you respond to any medications. In addition, health professionals will check your current motivation level and any other drug usage.
Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Withdrawal makes heroin addiction a difficult cycle to break. But beating your heroin addiction is more than possible. Drug rehab centers offer inpatient and outpatient recovery programs for heroin detox.
"Inpatient detox involves 24-hour attention from medical professionals at an addiction treatment center, increasing the odds of recovery from moderate-to-severe heroin addiction."
Outpatient recovery programs require patients to meet regularly with doctors for checkups and mental health counseling. Recovering addicts in outpatient programs can stay at home and maintain their daily routines, but the odds of maintaining sobriety aren’t as high.
Whether you’ve chosen an inpatient or outpatient drug rehab, tackling your heroin addiction is a great first step forward. Addiction treatment specialists are available to treat withdrawals and help you avoid relapse.
How long does heroin stay in the body?
Heroin doesn't stay in the body for long. It has a half-life of only three to eight minutes and is expunged from the body in a few days, even after heavy usage. What you should be concerned for is the short, medium and long-term effects your use may have on your health.
Who needs detox before addiction treatment?
Detox is needed before rehabilitation treatment, be it at home or residentially. Depending on the treatment facility you choose (and your personal history of heroin usage), you would almost certainly be required to undergo detox before addiction treatment.
What should you expect during detox?
During detox, you can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, anxiety, mood disturbances and cravings.
Should you detox from heroin at home?
Although detoxing from heroin at home is possible, it's not always safe. In most cases, an early relapse as a result of unbearable withdrawal symptoms might occur, as can complications leading to fatal results.
What happens during heroin detox?
As heroin leaves the body during detox, you might begin to experience some minor or severe withdrawal symptoms, depending on your drug usage.
Why should I enter a heroin detox programme?
A detox program helps you avoid the risks of continued heroin usage, which can have drastic effects. In addition, professional treatment can make it easier to rid your body of drugs and start a new healthy life.
Where else can I find help?
If you're addicted to heroin and feel ready to stop, you can ask your GP or local drug treatment service for help. The good referral service provider can also provide you with the help you need to live a fulfilled and drug-free life.
What is heroin withdrawal?
Heroin withdrawal refers to a group of symptoms, physical, emotional and psychological, that occur when heroin use is abruptly discontinued or significantly reduced. Some of these symptoms include a runny nose, dehydration, excessive secretion of tears and sweat, restlessness, uncontrollable yawning and insomnia.
Is there a heroin detox timeline?
The timeline for heroin detox can vary in duration and intensity, depending on a range of factors. In general, detox can be expected to last for about seven days.
How long does heroin withdrawal last?
Most people experience heroin withdrawal for at least one week. If you are a chronic heroin user, you may deal with the symptoms of withdrawal for up to three or four weeks.
Is there a list of popular slang or street names for heroin?
Common slang and street names for heroin include dope, mud, brown sugar, junk, skag, chasing the dragon, tar and smack.
What are common misspellings?
Heroine (a brave, courageous woman) is a common misspelling of Heroin (an addictive substance).
Are there any home remedies for safely getting clean?
There are a number of over-the-counter drugs and home remedies you can use to safely get clean. For instance, heating balms (for muscle pain) and Imodium(used for diarrhea) combined with NSAIDs can be taken for treatment of heroin withdrawal symptoms from home.
How long does it take to detox from heroin?
Heroin detox is a very difficult process and takes a great toll on the body and mind. There is no fixed duration. This is why a longer period is needed for a complete and safer detox, usually around seven days.
Why is medication required in a drug withdrawal program?
Drug withdrawal programs require medication when performing medical detox to increase the chances of you safely negotiating the withdrawal stage.
Heroin is a difficult drug from which to detox, but it is possible to break free from your addiction. The process is even easier and more successful when you seek help from professional withdrawal treatment centers. Contact a reliable referral service provider or a clinic today to discuss a variety of heroin detox and treatment options.
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