Heroin Withdrawal and Detox

When an individual is dependent on heroin and reduces their use or quits using, they most likely will experience withdrawal signs and symptoms. 1

Repeated heroin use over time can lead to changes in the brain and body, resulting in physical dependency. When the body becomes dependent on an addictive substance such as heroin, it cannot function normally in the absence of the substance.

Detox treatment is intended to help people safely and comfortably withdrawal from heroin in a safe and supportive environment with a team of medical professionals.2

Heroin can be  smoked, snorted, or inhaled. Regardless of the method of use, it remains a highly addictive substance.1

Heroin detox and addiction treatment can help you withdrawal from heroin in a safe and comfortable setting and provide you with coping strategies and life skills to help you on your journey to a successful recovery. 2

What is Heroin Detox?

Detoxification from heroin can take place under medical supervision in a clinical environment, such as a medical or psychiatric hospital, or a drug and alcohol inpatient rehabilitation center.2

During heroin detox, a person undergoes the withdrawal process with the help of treatment professionals. Individuals are often prescribed and administered medications to help alleviate uncomfortable side effects associated with heroin withdrawal.2

How Long Does Heroin Withdrawal Last?

The length of withdrawal from heroin depends upon several factors, such as the length of time a person has been abusing heroin, frequency of heroin use, and the amount of heroin used each time.2

Heroin withdrawal symptoms typically begin 8 to 12 hours after the most recent use and usually last up to two weeks, on average.2,3

There is a possibility for certain psychological symptoms to last longer than the acute withdrawal phase, improving and worsening overtime for weeks or months following cessation of heroin use.4 This is referred to as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

Symptoms of PAWS may include:4

  • Memory lapses.
  • Difficulty thinking clearly, solving problems, or understanding and retaining new concepts.
  • Experiencing anxious or depressed moods and feelings.
  • Being short-tempered and easily annoyed.
  • Feeling excessively negative or disinterested.
  • Not sleeping well or sleeping more than usual.

How to Detox from Heroin Safely

Detoxification from heroin should be conducted under medical supervision. Although withdrawing from heroin is not life-threatening, individuals may relapse because heroin withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable and even painful, resulting in the urge to use.

Many inpatient rehabilitative treatment facilities throughout the U.S. have around-the-clock intake representatives and departments to help you enter treatment quickly and safely.

Medical-Assisted Heroin Detox

group therapyMedical detoxification is designed to manage acute intoxication and withdrawal symptoms by administering prescription medications under medical supervision.2

Medical assisted detoxification is not a standalone component of treatment, but rather one of the first steps in the treatment process. Other initial steps that go hand in hand with detoxification include a thorough evaluation of the client’s needs and understanding their readiness to enter formal relapse-prevention treatment.2

Common medications that can be used for medical-assisted heroin detox include:2, 3, 6

  • Methadone is a synthetic, long-acting opioid that reduces withdrawal symptoms and relieves drug cravings by acting upon opioid receptors in the brain.8 These are the same receptors that opioids such as heroin, morphine, and opioid pain medications activate when consumed or abused.
  • Buprenorphine is an opioid partial agonist, meaning that it produces similar effects as opioids, but these effects are weaker than those of full opioids such as heroin and methadone. Buprenorphine’s opioid effects increase with each dose until at moderate doses they level off, even with further dose increases. This “ceiling effect” lowers the risk of misuse, dependency, and side effects. Unlike methadone treatment, which must be performed in a highly structured clinic, buprenorphine is the first medication to treat opioid dependency that is permitted to be prescribed or dispensed in physician offices, significantly increasing treatment access.
  • Unlike methadone or buprenorphine, naltrexone is not an opioid agonist but rather an opioid antagonist. Naltrexone works by blocking the opioid receptors as a way to prevent opioid cravings. As a result, there is no abuse potential with naltrexone. Naltrexone can only be taken once the individual is no longer in the acute withdrawal phase and has not used opioids in at least 48 hours.
  • Clonidine is a non-opioid medication that is used to treat high blood pressure. It is sometimes used in an off-label medication to treat heroin withdrawal.

Over-the-counter medications may also be used as supplemental treatments to help relieve some of the side effects associated with heroin withdrawal, however they do not have a role in reducing cravings or relapse rates. These medications may be used to help with digestive issues, trouble sleeping, and other symptoms related to heroin detox.2 p.68

Treatment professionals will regularly assess and monitor your progress throughout your detox treatment and will often adjust medications according to your symptoms.2, 3

Can you Detox from Heroin at Home?

Detoxing from heroin at home is generally not a good idea. While symptoms are typically not life-threatening, it is possible for some symptoms to result in medical complications.  For example, excessive vomiting can lead to lung infections, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances which all usually require medical treatment.5

There is an increased risk of overdose following heroin detox, making heroin withdrawal at home potentially dangerous.3,5

When an individual is withdrawing from heroin, the drug is slowly being eliminated from the body and heroin urges and cravings may increase. If an individual relapses during the withdrawal phase, even the smallest dose of heroin can result in a high likelihood of overdose because the body is no longer accustomed to heroin.

As a result, it’s important for individuals withdrawing from heroin to do so in a safe and supervised setting such as an addiction treatment center, rather than detoxing at home.

Given that people often feel poorly and experience strong drug cravings during the withdrawal phase and the months following, entering into a professional detoxication program can help you connect with treatment professionals who can facilitate entry into longer-term treatment.2, 3

Get Help with Heroin Detox

Recovery from addiction is possible. It takes work, but it’s worth it. There are many different paths to long-term recovery with one common denominator: detoxification in a supervised medical setting, as the initial step.

Overcoming heroin addiction starts with establishing contact with a drug treatment institution. Regardless of where someone is in the U.S., they could reach out to the River Oaks Treatment Center in Riverview, Florida, and be directed to caring treatment professionals.

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