Heroin withdrawal is defined as the symptoms that happen when someone stops or reduces heroin use after abusing the drug for some time. These withdrawal symptoms can be very unpleasant, making the process challenging for recovering users.
People usually relapse after experiencing these uncomfortable heroin withdrawal symptoms if they don’t get the proper medical intervention or treatment. Heroin withdrawal can result in significant anxiety in the person experiencing it.
As a powerful opiate drug, heroin is very addictive, and the user can become dependent after regular use for several weeks. After they develop a physical dependency, the user will have withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug.
Heroin use can cause different effects in the user, signified by reduced pain perception, heaviness of the limbs, warmth, a pleasant euphoria, and depression of the central nervous system.
The best way to stop using heroin indefinitely is to get medically supervised heroin detox and treatment in a certified rehab facility. This ensures you detox and get treatment in a comfortable and safe environment. The typical heroin withdrawal symptoms experienced during a heroin detox include:
- Increased heart rate
- The inability to feel pleasure
- A general dissatisfaction (dysphoria)
- Stomach cramping
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
Even though heroin withdrawal generally isn’t fatal, some of the psychological and medical symptoms can present life-threatening complications.
Depression, for example, is one of heroin’s withdrawal symptoms, and it can lead the person to consider suicide. For this reason, it is not advisable to stop heroin suddenly without support from mental/medical health professionals. They are qualified and well-equipped to use several methods to manage withdrawal side effects and ensure the patient’s safety.
Heroin detox involves the use of several interventions to manage withdrawal symptoms. Heroin withdrawal can peak for a few days after taking the last dose. So detoxing in a rehab facility offering medical detox can ensure the user’s comfort during withdrawal.
Medical detox usually begins before the drug leaves the user’s system entirely and lasts about 5-7 days. Heroin users who are heavily dependent on the drug may have to stay longer in detox for up to 10 days.
The medical detox process uses therapy and medications to help the brain, and the body recover from heroin dependence. The treatment facility’s medical staff and addiction specialists will observe the patient’s temperature, breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure levels to help maintain their safety throughout the detox.
Heroin Withdrawal Medications
There are various medications used to help recovering heroin users with withdrawal. These drugs are developed to ease unpleasant symptoms as the person’s body detoxifies. The most common medications used during heroin detox include:
Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist that can be prescribed for medically supervised heroin withdrawal by a doctor. It is typically used together with Naloxone to help reduce its abuse potential by taking or injecting a higher dose than was prescribed.
Methadone is a long-acting opioid agonist that the FDA has approved to treat heroin addiction. However, it has also been used in treating acute heroin withdrawal symptoms. Even though Methadone is an opioid drug, it is primarily administered via oral means to slow down the onset of its effects. Aside from being slow-acting, this medication is also a weaker opioid drug than heroin, reducing the likelihood of producing a euphoric effect.
Clonidine is a drug used to treat high blood pressure, but it can help reduce the runny nose, muscle aches, cramping, sweating, and anxiety experienced during heroin withdrawal.
It is not advisable to quit using heroin cold turkey as that can have dangerous complications. This is why it is recommended to find an outpatient or inpatient treatment facility catering to your unique situation and specific needs.
When you are ready to stop using heroin detox medication, a tapering schedule has to be established to avoid causing undesirable withdrawal symptoms again. A medical health professional will develop this schedule for you, so you must follow the instructions carefully.
Heroin Detox Behavioral Treatments
These are often used with medication to encourage lasting recovery and sobriety after the user completes detox. Aside from medical management to help ease heroin withdrawal, other behavioral treatment approaches can be used to help the recovering user deal with unhealthy behaviors and thoughts, and cravings.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT
During this treatment approach, the patient will work with a therapist to alter their negative behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. They will learn healthy coping mechanisms to employ whenever they experience heroin cravings.
The recovering patient should avoid triggering activities that can cause cravings from the start, even though they are unavoidable. This includes attending social gatherings where people are using heroin or reconnecting with friends who use heroin.
Functional coping skills that can help take your mind off heroin cravings include:
- Engaging in distracting activities like cooking, biking, swimming, or reading
- Talking it through with a sponsor, loved one, or friend.
- Changing and challenging your thoughts by reminding yourself of heroin’s adverse effects and the good of living a sober life.
This behavioral treatment approach strengthens abstinent, positive behaviors using rewards and incentives. A voucher-based system is quite beneficial in helping recovering heroin users stay sober after the first withdrawal and detox stage.
Through this system, the patient receives a voucher every time they are tested and found drug-free. They can buy or obtain other rewards with these vouchers, such as food or movie passes. The value of the vouchers keeps increasing as the person keeps maintaining abstinence.
After successfully completing the difficult detox process and going through the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, the individual will be put on a medical maintenance schedule to reduce the likelihood of relapse. Overall, to increase the chances of safety during heroin detox, it is essential to get treatment in a certified detox center with medical professionals monitoring the entire process.