Heroin is a substance derived from the opium poppy that has powerful analgesic properties. It is most often used as a recreational drug because of its intense euphoric properties, and is the most commonly abused drug in the United States. Seeking out drug rehab is a great first step and becoming familiar with the detox process will help you get through this difficult process.
Dependence is a major possibility for those who use the drug, and detox from heroin is rarely a simple process due to opioid withdrawal symptoms. Many sufferers turn to popular clinics and a variety of medical and community groups designed to help ease the process of detox and alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and addiction. Understanding how the drug works on the body and the principles and methods of detox can give you the necessary tools to help yourself or your loved ones.
Heroin Side Effects
The primary euphoria experienced while on heroin is its most pronounced effect. Long-term use and abuse can deliver a variety of side effects to the user over the long and short term. Long-term effects of heroin use include:
- Infections of the heart and its valves
- Physical and psychological dependence
- Bacterial infections
- Collapsed veins
- Rheumatological disorders, such as arthritis
Short-term effects of heroin use include:
- Slowed respirations
- Inability to think clearly
- Nauseau and vomiting
- Loss of the fetus in pregnant women
Intravenous delivery is most common, and this method carries the risk of contracting the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and other blood-borne pathogens. Venous scleroses and abscesses may also appear after regular intravenous injection. Physical dependence can turn into opioid withdrawal syndrome, especially after multiple uses. Contaminants used to cut down on the total drug percentage in each illicit dose may also cause side effects and pose additional health risks, including the possibility of liver and kidney damage. All these side effects and symptoms are signs that you need rehab.
Heroin Detox Symptoms
Heroin users beginning the detox process, or users who don’t have access to the drug on a constant basis, are likely to experience many of the symptoms of opioid withdrawal syndrome. These include acute symptoms that may last up to ten days after the last use of the drug in addition to lasting malaise and craving. Some users report acute symptoms lasting much longer. Acute symptoms often take the form of:
- Bone and muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feelings of panic
- Muscle cramps
Intense cravings and malaise created by physical dependence on the drug can be caused by changes made to the chemical composition of the brain during regular use and may last far longer than the acute symptoms. This craving is one of the primary causes of overdose if relapse occurs.
Goals of Detox
Detox programs are designed to limit the effects of the process on the health of recovering users and the societies around them. Because the symptoms can be exceptionally severe, many programs suggest hospitalization or careful monitoring by medical professionals during at least the first three days of detox. Others may offer stay-at-home or outpatient solutions for a full seven to ten days to carefully monitor the transition out of the acute period.
Health goals include reducing or eliminating the chance of death or long-term incapacitation due to acute symptoms as well as reducing both physical dependence on and psychological addiction to the substance. Assisting former heroin addicts with the development of the skills and knowledge necessary to return to a normal life is often the primary long-term goal of such programs.
Heroin Detox Time
The time required for a successful detox can vary by individual. Heroin typically remains in a user’s system for up to seventy-two hours, and most acute withdrawal symptoms fade in that same time period. Some may persist for up to a week or ten days, however, and it is not unheard of for acute symptoms to last far longer, especially in the case of a prolonged or intense period of heroin abuse. The strong cravings and malaise created by psychological addiction and physical dependence may last for quite some time, and they vary greatly from individual to individual. Different treatment options seek to reduce or eliminate these lasting effects using widely disparate methods.
Heroin detox is never fatal to otherwise healthy adults, but the possibility of severe acute symptoms leading to dehydration or loss of fine motor control lies at the heart of many complications that can arise during detoxification. For this reason, many individuals seek shelter at home or in a medical clinic where friends, family, or medical professionals can monitor their progress and assist when necessary. Tremors and other nervous system reactions can be especially troublesome when attempting to operate a vehicle or perform other tasks, and care should be taken to ensure that recovering heroin users do not attempt these activities during the acute stage of their detox periods. Those helping to monitor and assist someone suffering the pangs of withdrawal should also strive to ensure that the recovering user does not have access to drugs other than those used in the treatment process.
Drugs Used for Treatment
Many drugs are used to treat heroin addiction treatments with varying success rates. Methadone is given to those experiencing severe addiction to help reduce cravings and slowly reduce their need for opioid substances. Many other drugs are often included in detox programs, some of which are only in testing phases. Naltrexone binds to the receptors that would normally activate upon receiving heroin intake, blocking them without activating them. This substance has been used to block the ability to experience the euphoric highs that come with heroin use and help people overcome dependence and addiction. Other drugs currently under study for assistance with recovery include buprenorphine and levacetylmethadol.
Heroin Detox at Home
Detox at home is exceptionally risky as most homes lack the equipment necessary to monitor the vital signs of recovering heroin users. Those attempting detox at home should ensure that they have friends, family, or attending medical experts on hand at all times to protect their health. Loperamide and other antidiarrheal medications may help alleviate some of the digestive issues related to heroin withdrawal, and ginger is often used to relieve the pain and nausea caused by acute withdrawal syndrome. Other home remedies that may be applied during the detox phase include over-the-counter painkillers and the ingestion of the passionflower fruit to help ward off tremors and other nervous system issues. Read more about Inpatient vs. Outpatient Drug Treatment.
Relapse is a very serious possibility for heroin users, and many overdoses occur when those who have completed detox are able to access the drug and use it again. Care should be taken to ensure that the recovering addict is not easily able to access the product while still experiencing the intense cravings that chemical dependence and psychological addiction can create. Many detox programs include weekly or monthly sessions designed to help prevent relapse and give former heroin users the skills they need to interact with others and secure regular employment.
Detox Support Groups
Many different programs exist to provide support to recovering heroin abusers. These include twelve-step programs that promote willpower and the dependence on a religious entity to grant strength as well as community support systems that allow former users to get together and pool their strength by sharing stories and socially rewarding antidrug behavior. Such community groups are a good choice for those who have completed heroin detox, as they give former users access to a variety of tools as well as the experience of those who have endured similar addictions and are now willing to share their successes. If you are deciding to kick heroin or have a loved one who is, be sure to check out our list of the 5 best drug treatment centers in the US.