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Heroin Detox & Rehabilitation Treatments

Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs in the world and when you stop taking it, you can experience some painful and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. However, this important process known as detox will rid your body of all traces of heroin and allow you to break your physical dependence on the substance, leaving you free to tackle the deeper psychological issues.

It is important to remember that detoxification from an addictive substance such as heroin, is not easy but it can be achieved with support from medical care and support.

Do I Need A Heroin Detox?

Coming to terms with the fact that you need help in coming off heroin can be difficult, in some cases, people may not recognise that they have a problem. However, taking the time to assess your situation can help to bring you to the decision of taking a heroin detox.

Since heroin is such an addictive drug, if you are taking it in any amount, you are likely addicted. This can lead to serious life problems such as financial difficulties, broken relationships and in the worst case – death. If you are using heroin – no matter how small the amount, you should consider the following points when thinking about whether you need a heroin detox.

  • You suffer from scabbing or bruising on the skin
  • Your bowel movements have changed, constipation and diarrhoea can be an issue.
  • You can continual flu-like symptoms
  • You experience regular extreme lethargy
  • You have track marks or abscesses
  • You have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C
  • You suffer from severe muscle aches
  • You experience chronic itching
  • You are having trouble with sleep
  • You have damaged kidneys or liver
  • You have unintentionally lost a large amount of weight
  • You have lung conditions such as pneumonia or tuberculosis
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Challenges During Heroin Detox

One of the most serious risks of taking a heron detox is that the process will cause your tolerance levels to drop and in the case of a relapse, you may overdose more easily. In addition to this, you can expect a heroin detox to be a challenging time, but it is important to keep in mind that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Withdrawal from heroin can be very painful and you are highly likely to experience some very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This is one of the main challenges faced by patients undergoing this type of detox. Many patients find that they cannot cope with these symptoms and will relapse at this point.

However, undergoing a medically assisted detox provides those struggling with heroin addiction with the medications and tools they need to be successful and these patients are much more likely to avoid relapse than those detoxing alone.

Causes of Withdrawal

Heroin use can hurt both your physical and psychological health. When you begin taking the drug, you will likely start with a small amount however over time, you begin to develop a tolerance to the substance. This means that the small amount you began with will no longer provide the same effect, so you will need to take more to experience the same ‘high.’ When tolerance is developed, your body begins to learn how to cope with heroin present and may struggle to do so without it.

Once you stop putting heroin into your system, your brain and body must learn how to function without it once again – this is what causes withdrawal.

Heroin Detox & Withdrawal Symptoms

Patients undergoing a heroin detox will likely experience a vast range of withdrawal symptoms – some of these are mild and will cause nothing more than an inconvenience, whereas others are severe and can be, at times, life-threatening.

Each person will go through withdrawal differently and may not experience the same symptoms as someone else going through the process at the same time. Your circumstances will depend on how intense or for how long your symptoms last.

For example, if you have underlying conditions, you may experience a longer withdrawal period and those who have used heroin for longer periods may find the symptoms more intense.

Below we have listed the expected withdrawal symptoms from heroin in ascending order of severity:

  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Yawning
  • Chills
  • Aching of the bones and muscles
  • Cramping in the abdomen
  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling restless
  • Diarrhoea
  • Problems with concentrating
  • Feeling agitated
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Trouble breathing
  • Finding it hard to feel pleasure
  • Muscle spasm
  • Cravings for heroin

Psychological VS Physical Withdrawal from Heroin

Patients who take heroin will likely become dependent on the drug from a psychological and physical aspect, meaning that both of these need to be tackled to break free from the addiction.

The physical symptoms of withdrawal such as muscle aches and spasms, nausea, sweating and bone pain can be attributed to the physical dependence you have built up to the drug and will likely ease after your initial detox. However, the psychological symptoms such as cravings, depression and agitation are related to the ‘why and how’ of your addiction and need to be treated separately from the physical symptoms to prevent relapse.

Complications of Heroin Detox & Withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal can present a variety of complications as a result of the symptoms you will experience. One of the most common is known as aspiration, where a patient inhales material from vomit into their respiratory system. This can result in pneumonia which in some people can be a very serious condition.

In addition to this, patients going through withdrawal may experience bouts of diarrhoea which can lead to dehydration if the lost fluids are not replaced quickly enough. This is why a medically assisted detox is preferable over detoxing alone since your care team will be able to provide you with around the clock care and ensure that you remain hydrated.

heroin detox timeline

Heroin Detox Timeline

Your withdrawal symptoms can begin to show from as little as six hours after taking the last dose of the drug and for the first couple of days of your detox, you will experience muscle aching along with other symptoms such as shaking, panic attacks, diarrhoea and the inability to sleep.

After this initial phase, you may experience nausea and vomiting alongside sweating and shivering as the withdrawal takes full hold. This can last up until around day 5.

For the following couple of days, you will now likely begin to feel a little better with some of the initial symptoms beginning to wear off. You may still feel drained and exhausted, however. This period is commonly referred to as ‘acute withdrawal.’

Once the physical symptoms have passed, you may experience some of the psychological withdrawal symptoms well into the future – for some patient’s anxiety, depression and feelings of irritability may remain for some months.

What Factors Contribute to The Duration of Withdrawal

Withdrawal is different for everybody and certain factors will determine how long you may experience symptoms for. Those who have used the drug for a lengthy period may find that their withdrawal lasts much longer than a newer user. However, the quantity of heroin that you take each time you use and how often you do so will also play a part in how long withdrawal will last, with those with a higher tolerance taking higher doses.

Heroin can be taken in various ways and the method which you have used will factor into the length of your withdrawal symptoms. In addition to this, patients with pre-existing health conditions, whether they be physical or psychological, may struggle with longer withdrawal.

Can You Die from Heroin Withdrawal?

Whilst most of the withdrawal symptoms that you will experience during detox will not be life-threatening, some may cause death if not properly treated.

Vomiting and diarrhoea, when suffered continually, can cause you to become dehydrated. This means that you will lose important electrolytes and salts within your body. As a result of this, some patients may suffer heart failure which can cause death. However, proper medical management of your detox will mean that these complications, and therefore fatalities can be prevented.

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Coping with Heroin Detox

One of the most important things that you can do when it comes to coping with heroin withdrawal is to prepare yourself for what you are about to go through. Arming yourself with as much education to gain an understanding and surrounding yourself with a support and care team can make a huge difference.

It is essential that you remain hydrated whilst undergoing detox to avoid further complications and possibly death, not only this but being hydrated will make you feel better within yourself.

As a way of dealing with the pain of withdrawal, you may wish to take over the counter pain relief medications such as paracetamol but it is important to do so at the correct dosage. In addition to this, you should reach out for emotional support, whether that be from your care team or your loved ones. Having encouragement and people around you can give you the determination to see the detox through.

On top of this, you should ensure that you remain occupied at all times. Allowing yourself the time to sit and think about things may result in a relapse. However, taking part in hobbies such as reading, watching a movie or doing a puzzle can take your mind away from the pain.

heroin detox timeline

Medical Detox From Heroin

Some people who struggle with heroin addiction may require a medical detox as a way of helping them through the process both physically and emotionally – this tends to be the case for a long term and heavy user of the drug. Those who have a less severe addiction, may not need medical detox.

When taking part in medical detox, you will stay in a facility which will allow you to access around the clock medical care. This also means that you will be given certain medications to help you through the detox, some of which can ease the symptoms of withdrawal whilst others may stop them in their tracks altogether, making relapse much less likely.

Medications Used to Treat Heroin Withdrawal

If you are prescribed medication to help you handle your withdrawal symptoms, you can expect to be given one of three common drugs that work for heroin addiction.

  • Methadone is similar to heroin in that it is an opioid drug but it does not act as quickly as its dangerous counterpart. It is often used as a way to greatly lessen withdrawal symptoms
  • Buprenorphine is a drug that can make withdrawal much easier to cope with, this is especially true for patients with a more severe addiction
  • Naltrexone can block the receptors within the brain which makes heroin ineffective if taken, for this reason, it is often prescribed once a patient has been through detox. It is very effective in reducing cravings

What Happens During Heroin Detox at An Inpatient Facility?

When you stay at a heroin detox facility you will be offered 24-hour care and support from a team of people who are trained in addiction. Not only this but these people are also adept in dealing with patients who struggle with mental health conditions – which is often the case in those who have problems with addiction.

You may find that going through detox is challenging and drags up many emotions and unpleasant feelings but your support team are there to help you through and offer assistance at all times, in a non-judgemental manner. This translates into you being able to get through your detox more easily and succeed in beating your addiction.

benefits private detox

Benefits of A Private Detox

Detoxing alone can be potentially fatal, especially if you become dehydrated, for this reason alone a private, medically assisted detox is much more preferable.

However, in addition to this, you will go through your detox in a safe environment that is completely free of drugs meaning that you will not be faced with the temptation that you may on the outside.

You will be given a program that is tailored to you and your personal needs and you will also be given the tools and therapy you need to remain free from the drug in the long term. This support will not end when you leave since you will be provided with aftercare to ensure your ongoing health and freedom from addiction.

Gradual Reduction VS Full Detox

Whilst suddenly stopping heroin may be an option for some patients, there are cases in which a gradual reduction of the drug is more appropriate. In this case, you will converse with your care team to find a suitable plan for your withdrawal from the substance. This can be beneficial in ensuring that your body can slowly adjust to the lack of the drug and can be done either with heroin or by using a substitute drug such as methadone or buprenorphine. This means that you will be less likely to experience the unpleasant side effects of withdrawal associated with stopping heroin abruptly.

For patients who decide to undergo a full detox, the drug will be taken away completely, it is always advised to do so under the supervision of a medical team. This will ensure that your health remains a priority. This method takes less time but can be much more unpleasant.

Prolonging Withdrawal by Relapse

It can be extremely difficult to manage your cravings for the drug when doing through detox and many people need to make several attempts at getting clean.

However, it is important to remember that relapse can simply prolong the withdrawal process, making it ultimately more unpleasant. Not only this, but relapsing can be potentially life-threatening since your tolerance levels will have dropped and if you take the same dose as you usually would – this could cause an overdose.

Should you find that you have relapsed, you will need to start the detoxification process from scratch, which means that you will have to go through the withdrawal all over again. It is worth keeping in mind that whilst the symptoms of withdrawal are not very nice at all, they will only last for a short time.

What Happens After Heroin Detox?

Detox only helps tackle the physical addiction to a substance so the support will not end once the detox is complete. To combat your addiction, you will take part in a variety of therapies designed to tackle the psychological aspect of the illness. This will help you to understand why you developed an addiction and arm you with the tools and techniques to avoid relapse in the future.

Even when you leave the facility, your support will continue for 12 months. This will give you access to not only staff from the facility but also to regular meetings to talk through your progress and any problems you may be struggling with.

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