According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1 million people 12 or older in the United States have a heroin use disorder. A heroin use disorder is a complicated and chronic behavioral health disorder that can impact your life and that of those closest to you.
Treatment is the best option, but that can be frightening for many because it involves going through the detoxification process. If you are battling a heroin use disorder, learning more about what to expect from the heroin detox process can help you feel prepared to begin your recovery.
Before you can enter a detox facility, you will have to go through an evaluation to assess your general state of health and to get a sense of the severity of your addiction.
You will receive a medical evaluation to check for complications like infectious diseases, injuries, and other issues that can result from heroin use. This medical assessment will help your team choose the right medications for detox.
You will need to provide your full medical history and a history of your substance use disorder.
You will also receive a physical evaluation so that your recovery team can record your vital signs, like blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate. During this part of the evaluation process, you may also have to undergo alcohol and drug testing as well as an HIV risk screening.
The next part is a psychological evaluation. This evaluation will offer your doctors the information they need to understand whether you have a co-occurring condition that may complicate your recovery. This is the time when you get the chance to share your treatment goals and collaborate with your treatment team.
Heroin is an illicit drug that is derived from morphine, making it an opioid. Opioids are highly addictive substances that affect your central nervous system, behavior, and brain chemistry.
Heroin binds to opioid receptors in the brain, mimicking the body’s natural endorphins and activating certain neurons. The activation of these receptors occurs in a way that is not natural, so the brain receives abnormal signals to relieve pain and trigger euphoria.
Over time, the brain and body become accustomed to heroin, leading to tolerance. Tolerance is when you need more of the drug to feel the same effects. The more you use heroin, the more your body comes to rely on the drug. When you begin to feel withdrawal symptoms if you do not use heroin, your body is dependent on it.
Heroin, like all opioids, has specific withdrawal symptoms. Factors like how long you have had the substance use disorder, as well as your normal dosage, can impact the severity of the withdrawal symptoms you might face.
Both short-term and long-term heroin withdrawal symptoms can affect you.
Short-term, also called acute, heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin soon after stopping heroin use. For most people, they can last for between three and ten days. The most common symptoms can include the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Breathing problems
- High body temperature
- Sleeping problems
- Dilated pupils
- Bone pain
- Heightened reflexes
- Muscle spasms
The severity of the symptoms depends on your overall level of health, genetics, and many other factors.
There are also long-term heroin withdrawal symptoms, sometimes called protracted withdrawal symptoms. These can persist after going through acute withdrawal.
Some of the long-term heroin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Sleep problems
- Loss of interest or pleasure in favorite activities
- Continued fatigue
- Short-term memory problems
- Impaired concentration
- Impaired decision-making
- Drug cravings
Another concern is post-acute withdrawal syndrome, which can occur as the brain and body recalibrate. It includes physical and psychological symptoms and can last as long as two years. Without treatment, this can be very difficult to get through. Symptoms specific to this syndrome can include:
- Intense mood swings
- Obsessive thoughts
- Problems with coordination
Finally, while detoxing, there is always the danger of relapsing, especially if you go through the process on your own.
The acute symptoms of heroin withdrawal lead many people to decide to use heroin again. However, it is crucial to know that if you have begun the detoxification process, you have lowered your tolerance to the drug. If you use the same amount of heroin you usually use, you might overdose.
Those who have had an addiction to heroin for a long time are most likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These can lead to opioid withdrawal syndrome, a serious complication that can be fatal. The severe vomiting and diarrhea associated with opioid withdrawal can cause an imbalance of electrolytes, leading to heart problems.
Detoxing from heroin can vary from person to person, but there are some general timelines that you can expect.
During the first 24 hours, you can expect the first symptoms of withdrawal to appear. These can range from mild to severe, depending on how serious the drug addiction is.
In the next 24 to 36 hours, the withdrawal symptoms can intensify. Of all of the phases of the heroin withdrawal process, this is the most dangerous. The highest rate of physical and psychological problems occurs during these hours. A lack of professional help during this stage can lead people to relapse.
Once you reach days four through six, the symptoms begin to taper off if you have had an addiction for a shorter time. For those with a severe addiction for a long time, symptoms can still be powerful even at this stage.
After a week, the drug has left your system. At this point, you can begin to work on your psychological symptoms in therapy. Getting treatment after detox can help you learn skills and coping mechanisms that can allow you to cultivate the sober life you want.
There are a few types of medications that work best for heroin detox. These are:
Methadone is a long-acting, full opioid agonist that can reduce heroin cravings while also blocking the effects of opioids. Your team can review the dosage on a daily basis to offer the exact amount of medication you need.
Buprenorphine is another option for those with moderate to severe heroin addiction. It helps reduce cravings and prevent withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine is a partial opiate agonist, meaning it activates the opioid receptors in the brain but to a much lower degree than a full agonist. Your team can choose from long-acting or short-acting buprenorphine.
Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist. Opioid antagonists block one or more opioid receptors in the brain and central nervous system without activating them. It can help reduce cravings and can prevent relapsing. There is no abuse potential with naltrexone.
Lofexidine is a central alpha-adrenergic agonist that works by relaxing blood vessels. It can help prevent cravings and severe withdrawal symptoms.
You can consider a few different options when looking for medical detox programs for heroin addiction.
Outpatient Detox Services
Outpatient detoxification services for heroin addiction require that you travel to the treatment center every day. Often, detox services and day treatment combine to offer partial hospitalization programs. This type of treatment program works best for people who have not had an addiction for a long time and who have not relapsed before.
Inpatient Detox Services
The most effective type of detox service is an inpatient one. Inpatient detox allows for constant medical monitoring, with medical professionals there to find the right combination of medications for your individual detox process.
Inpatient detox also removes you from your usual environment. If you have easy access to heroin, being somewhere else as you detox is vital to avoid a relapse.
Gender-Specific Detox Services
Women and men face different challenges as they receive treatment for substance use disorders. Gender-specific detox services can allow you to receive the care you need in an environment where you feel welcomed and safe, whether you are a man or a woman. You can find this offered at Lakeview Health.
When dealing with a substance use disorder like heroin addiction, you may think that you can undergo the detox process alone. This is never a good decision. The symptoms can be highly unpleasant and dangerous, and attempting to deal with them on your own can lead to relapsing.
When you turn to medical detox services, you will receive medications to stabilize you and reduce your discomfort. You can expect 24/7 monitoring to ensure that the medications are working as needed. Professionals can also adjust the dosage to help you through this process.
Medical detox increases your chances of recovery. Addressing your withdrawal symptoms means you can experience fewer severe physical and psychological issues as you detox. This makes it less likely that you will turn to heroin to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
There is no reason why you should have to be in serious discomfort as you go through the withdrawal process. Medical detox can help you begin your recovery on the right foot.
The heroin detoxification process is just the start of your recovery. It is not enough to remove the drug from your body and return to your normal life. You need to address the reasons you turned to heroin in the first place to prevent you from turning to it again in the future.
For those facing a moderate or severe addiction, the best option is to enter an inpatient treatment program. Inpatient treatment allows you to receive 24/7 care from professionals in a safe and supportive environment.
During inpatient treatment, you can access behavioral therapies as part of individual and group therapy sessions, along with many other treatment modalities.
Partial hospitalization programs can be the right choice for people who want a high level of care but cannot participate in inpatient treatment. Partial hospitalization offers full-day treatment while still allowing you to return home at night. This option can be a good choice for those with family responsibilities.
Another option is intensive outpatient programs after detoxification. This is a good choice for those with milder addictions who have a lower risk of relapsing. Intensive outpatient services offer more flexibility in the treatment schedule, providing you with more freedom.
If you battle a heroin use disorder, getting help is crucial. The first step in the process is to reach out to professionals to begin detox. Medical detox at a well-equipped facility can provide the care you need so that you do not face the worst of the heroin withdrawal symptoms.
If you or someone you know is battling heroin addiction, contact Lakeview Health today using our secure online form or by calling 866 704 7692. You don’t have to go it alone. Let our team become part of your team today by learning more about our heroin detox center.
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