What is Heroin?
Heroin is a drug that reaches the brain very fast once it’s consumed, for this reason, it is very easy for a person to develop heroin addiction even from one or a few uses. Before we get to the main topic, let’s learn about what heroin is. According to the scientific piece ‘Heroin’, published by The National Library of Medicine, “Heroin is a white or brown powder or a black, sticky goo.
It’s an opioid drug made from morphine, a natural substance in the seedpod of the Asian poppy plant. It can be mixed with water and injected with a needle. Heroin can also be smoked or snorted up the nose. All of these ways of taking heroin send it to the brain very quickly. This makes it very addictive.
Regular use of heroin can lead to tolerance. This means users need more and more drugs to have the same effect. At higher doses over time, the body becomes dependent on heroin. If dependent users stop heroin, they have withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea and vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps. That is why a medical heroin detox process is very needed.
What is Heroin Detox?
Starting the healing process after heroin abuse requires the elimination of heroin in the body through a process called detoxification, or detox for short. This initial step in the treatment process is a vital part of heroin addiction recovery. Despite the unpleasant effects of heroin detox, there are numerous methods to ease the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that may occur during this practice. Heroin detox is the start of a new life without drugs, which makes it worth any short-term discomfort.
Drug detoxification describes the process of eliminating certain substances from the body. Once heroin is cleared from a person’s body, they will experience withdrawal symptoms or uncomfortable side effects. Withdrawal is the way our bodies demand more drugs during detoxification. Even though withdrawal from heroin is rarely life-threatening, it can be unpleasant, particularly for heavy and long-term users.
The majority of users experience their first withdrawal symptoms within six to twelve hours following their last heroin use. If a person stops using heroin cold turkey, without any medical assistance, withdrawal symptoms often reach their peak within two to three days after their last heroin use.
Why is Heroin Detox Needed?
The dangers of ongoing heroin use are significant, and every hit puts a person at greater risk. Heroin detox at a drug detox center helps clear the body of substances in a safe and controlled environment, with medical assistance, supervision, and the proper tools to handle situations as they occur.
Even though some people choose to detox at home, heroin withdrawal can be so intense that most people relapse instead of going through the discomfort. Aside from ensuring physical comfort, supervised heroin detox at a drug detox center also guarantees safety, prevents relapse and potential overdose.
What Happens During Heroin Detox?
A medical heroin detox typically involves a monitored detox period intended to address any psychological or physical complications that occur during withdrawal, ensure comfort and minimize relapse. Supervised heroin detox may or may not include medication.
Intake is the first step for any person to start a heroin detox program. It involves a medical evaluation that helps quantify a person’s level of heroin use and creates a personalized plan for detox and treatment. Evaluations often include questions such as:
- How long has the person been using heroin?
- Have they ever received treatment for heroin abuse?
- Do they take other drugs? If so, what drugs?
- Do they drink alcohol? If so, how often?
- Do they have other existing mental and/or physical health issues?
A comprehensive physical exam is given during intake to evaluate the person’s current health status. Similarly, their physical examination results and medical history, as well as their general evaluation, helps guide their treatment therefore complete honesty and openness are required for optimal results.
How Long Does Heroin Detox Take?
The duration of heroin detox varies from person to person due to several factors such as the user’s amount of heroin taken, duration of heroin use, height, weight, metabolism, and the withdrawal method. Medical detox at a drug detox center begins before heroin completely leaves the body.
Heroin is a short-acting opioid, meaning that it takes effect rapidly but also leaves the bloodstream quickly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that heroin withdrawal symptoms start within 6-12 hours of the last dose, peak in 2-3 days, and last 5-10 days in total.
Detox is the set of interventions used to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Since withdrawal can peak after a few days of the last dose, detox in a substance abuse treatment center that offers medical detox may be the most comfortable way to withdraw from heroin.
Medical detox often starts before heroin completely leaves the system and usually takes between 5 and 7 days. For someone who is more heavily dependent on heroin, detox may last a little longer, up to 10 days. Medical detox often incorporates medications and therapy to help the body and brain recover from its dependence on heroin. Blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and temperature levels are all monitored to help keep individuals safe and secure throughout the entire process.
What Is Heroin Withdrawal?
Heroin withdrawal symptoms may only last a week or so, but the symptoms can be serious and include:
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle spasms
- Cravings for drugs
Medical detox providers use medications and therapy to ease symptoms, boosting the risks that a person will move through withdrawal safely and successfully. As prescription painkillers become harder to divert, obtain, and alter, many people addicted to opiates are turning to heroin as the answer.
Heroin may be a cheaper alternative to powerful and addictive drugs like OxyContin and Vicodin, and CNN reports that close to half of young injection heroin users abused a prescription opioid drug first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heroin abuse has doubled for Americans aged 18-25 in the past decade. In 2013, approximately 8,200 individuals died from a heroin overdose, which is close to four times the number of heroin-related overdose fatalities in 2002.
For some, prescription painkiller misuse paves the way for heroin addiction. In some instances, heroin may be a less expensive and potentially easier-to-obtain substitute for the opioids they’ve become dependent on. But this alternative is not a solution. Medical detox and treatment are.
Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
Heroin withdrawal will not be the same for everyone. The longer someone uses heroin, how it was abused, and how much was taken each time will all be factored in how dependent the brain and body are on the substance. Therefore, the severity and duration of withdrawal will differ as well. Someone with a history of mental illness or prior opioid withdrawal may have a more intense withdrawal experience.
Heroin is an opiate drug that suppresses some of the functions of the central nervous system, like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and temperature regulation. It also binds to opioid receptors, increasing chemicals in the brain that are responsible for feelings of pleasure. When heroin is abused, a rush of pleasure also occurs. During withdrawal, the effects are the opposite of the intoxicating effects. For example, instead of euphoria, reduced heart rate, and sedation, the individual may experience low mood, anxiety, and rapid heart rate, among other symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms range in severity following the level of dependence and duration of abuse. For someone who didn’t abuse heroin in massive doses for months or years, withdrawal may be more tempered and not last as long.
Mild withdrawal symptoms:
- Abdominal cramps
- Runny nose
- Yawning a lot
- Muscle and bone aches
Moderate withdrawal symptoms:
- Trouble concentrating
- Goose bumps
Severe withdrawal symptoms:
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle spasms
- Impaired respiration
- Difficulty feeling pleasure
- Drug cravings
Withdrawal from heroin isn’t generally considered life-threatening on its own; however, some of the medical and psychological symptoms may have complications that may be life-threatening.
Depression may lead someone to consider suicide, for example. Heroin should never be stopped suddenly without the support of medical and/or mental health professionals who can employ multiple methods for managing the side effects of withdrawal and keep individuals safe.
What Medications Help with Heroin Detox?
Medications may be used to help make the heroin detox experience more tolerable and ease withdrawal effects. They work by either mimicking heroin effects, at a reduced amount, or easing withdrawal symptoms. The drugs must be taken as prescribed to eliminate the risk of heroin users developing another drug addiction. Common medications used to help during heroin detox include opioid agonists, opioid antagonists, and mixed opioid agonist-antagonists.
These medications either mimic or partially mimic the effects of heroin and include methadone and buprenorphine. Both drugs do not produce the same rush as heroin though they satisfy the body’s craving for opioids. Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that carries less risk than methadone concerning developing drug dependency. It is also sometimes mixed with Suboxone to further reduce the risk of addiction.
These medications block the opioid receptors that heroin works on, obstructing the action of the drug and stopping any rush from occurring. Opioid antagonists include Naloxone and Naltrexone. Naloxone is generally used in emergencies, such as overdose, or combined with buprenorphine due to its risk. Naltrexone does not cause dependence and includes Vivitrol, a long-lasting, injectable variety that is given every month.
Mixed Opioid Agonist-Antagonists
Mixed opioid agonist-antagonists like Suboxone include both an opioid antagonist and an opioid agonist. They have been found to reduce cravings while also avoiding opioid medication abuse. Suboxone is a combination of both Naloxone and buprenorphine and helps to satisfy cravings without causing a high. Additionally, Suboxone has a lower risk of overdose.
How are Medications Used in Heroin Detox?
When combined with therapy, drug replacement medications can help achieve optimal recovery results. Medications can significantly help with withdrawal and detox, though they may also be used during a treatment program. Furthermore, severe heroin addicts may benefit from ongoing methadone maintenance therapy to avoid relapse.
Either way, treatment facilities offer extra assistance to recovering heroin addicts who use medication replacement. Whether heroin detox is practiced with or without medications, any individual who has used heroin can start their journey towards recovery and achieve sobriety without drugs.
What are Heroin Detox Programs and Methods?
There are multiple options when it comes to choosing detox programs, including inpatient detox at a drug and alcohol rehab center, outpatient detox, rapid detox, and ultra-rapid (anesthesia-assisted) detox.
Inpatient Heroin Detox at a Drug and Alcohol Rehab Center
Inpatient rehabilitation center for drug addicts offers hospital or residential addiction treatment with around-the-clock access to medical services and care from staff. Residential settings, or drug and alcohol rehab centers, include standard, private, executive, and luxury facilities, depending on the kind of facility resources and amenities that are included as part of the treatment.
Outpatient Heroin Detox
Outpatient heroin detox allows individuals to receive addiction treatment while living in their own homes. Like at an inpatient rehabilitation center for drug addicts, medications may also be used to help ease the detox period. If a person chooses an outpatient detox program, they must regularly check in with their healthcare provider, who monitors their progress and changing requirements.
Rapid Heroin Detox
Rapid detox, as the name suggests, involves a detox approach that is designed to rapidly complete the heroin detox phase to begin treatment and recovery phases. This method generally uses opioid antagonist medications. Even though quickly finishing detox may initially sound appealing, it does come with serious risks such as irregular heartbeat (cardiac arrhythmias) and accumulation of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
Anesthesia-Assisted Rapid Heroin Detox
Anesthesia-assisted rapid detox is similar to rapid detox, which is described above, but it takes place under general anesthesia. Despite accelerating the detox process, with possibilities of physical elimination of heroin from the body in only four to eight hours, it is also hazardous. In fact, in one study a shocking 8.6% of subjects who received anesthesia-assisted rapid detox died or developed cardiac arrest.
Who Benefits Most from Inpatient Detox?
Inpatient detox at a drug and alcohol rehab center is designed to work for any person battling a heroin addiction since inpatient treatment provides 24/7 care and monitoring. In particular, some people would significantly benefit from attending an inpatient rehabilitation center for drug addicts, such as those who:
- Have a history of relapsing
- Have been abusing heroin heavily and/or for a long period of time
- Have coexisting mental or medical health issues that require special attention
How Do You Treat Heroin Addiction?
Once detox is complete, it is time for treatment to start. Heroin addiction treatment generally involves therapy to reveal and address the underlying causes of substance use. Therapy methods vary depending on the rehabilitation center for drug addicts and their philosophy, patient preferences, and any present dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.
The most common therapies involve behavioral counseling therapies, which address the user’s reason for starting and continuing using drugs. These therapies often take place in individual (one-on-one) therapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Therapy also addresses cravings throughout and following treatment.
Counseling is an integral component in heroin addiction treatment since addiction is more than just physical dependence. Once the user has successfully detoxed, thereby eliminating the physical dependence, they are still at risk of relapsing. Psychological and social factors such as stress, social networks, and environmental cues are often powerful stimuli for heroin relapse and can cause ongoing cravings.
Counseling therapy helps manage cravings and develop healthier coping mechanisms to handle life stresses without the use of heroin. With so many counseling therapies available, there is not one exact method that is more beneficial than others. Likewise, a single approach does not apply to every person, which is why it is crucial to create a customized treatment plan to address each individual’s unique requirements.
Individual, Group and Family Counselling Therapy
Counseling is available at individual, group, and family levels. Individual counseling is a one-on-one form of therapy that focuses on stopping heroin use, committing to a treatment plan, education, and skill-building. Group counseling complements individual counseling by offering social support from peers who are going through a similar experience while family counseling is ideal for educating all members of the family and overcoming issues that stem from addiction.
Types of Counseling that are Beneficial for Heroin Addiction
Counselors provide numerous services to people in heroin addiction treatment such as evaluation, treatment planning, and counseling, along with therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), contingency management, 12 Step programs, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps those in recovery learn to recognize and stop negative behaviors and thinking patterns. It can help a person become aware of the situations, stressors, and feelings that lead to heroin use so that they can develop a different response or avoid them entirely. Additionally, CBT teaches essential coping skills that can be used in many situations.
This form of therapy reinforces positive behaviors, such as staying sober, by using incentives. It is a method that involves the use of vouchers, which allow the person to collect points for different situations, like showing up clean on a drug test. These points can then be used to acquire items that encourage healthy living.
12 Step Programmes
12 Step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) involve peer support groups that help by offering support and guidance. Unlike group therapy, a trained psychologist does not lead 12 Step programs.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
MET increases motivation and encourages recovering addicts to commit to their plan to be actively involved in treatment and recovery. MET is generally used during the early stages of treatment to get people involved in treatment.
Reclaim Your Life With Heroin Detox
Heroin addiction is a condition that can cause major health, social and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from addiction with professional and safe heroin detox. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.