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Heroin Withdrawal And Detox: Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

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Heroin is one of the most potent opioid drugs used today. As such a powerful drug, heroin can quickly cause addiction.

Many addicted individuals continue to take heroin as a way of controlling cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Fear of withdrawal is a major factor that prevents many people from quitting heroin and getting the help they need.

Fortunately, with the right combination of treatments, a person can safely and successfully detox off heroin.

The best heroin detox programs deliver research-based treatments in a safe and comfortable environment. This combination can help a person build a strong foundation for a drug-free life.

Understanding Heroin Withdrawal

In an addicted state, a person will be dependent on heroin. When someone is dependent on heroin, their body has become reliant on regular doses of the drug to function normally.

If an individual who is dependent quits heroin cold turkey, or without gradually reducing their dose, their body may react harshly and go into acute withdrawal.

People who use high doses of heroin may also experience withdrawal if they take a much smaller dose than they are used to.

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Withdrawal Signs And Symptoms

While the effects of heroin withdrawal on the body can become severe, quitting heroin cold turkey may also cause mental or emotional problems as well.

Physical Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal

Certain symptoms of acute heroin withdrawal may resemble the flu. This could include cold flashes, diarrhea, muscle aches, runny nose, and vomiting.

Heroin withdrawal can become quite painful and uncomfortable. As withdrawal progresses, a person may also develop:

  • bone and joint pain
  • dilated pupils
  • goosebumps
  • muscle spasms
  • restless leg syndrome
  • restlessness
  • severe cravings
  • stomach cramps
  • sweating
  • teary eyes

Psychological Signs And Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal

Psychological symptoms of acute heroin withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, and irritability. A person may also feel emotionally numb or develop dysphoria, a state that can cause dissatisfaction or uneasiness.

Once the physical symptoms of acute withdrawal fade, some people may continue to experience mental symptoms of heroin withdrawal, a condition known as protracted withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Heroin Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Like other opioids, post-acute withdrawal syndrome from heroin may cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. A person may continue to have cravings or sleep disturbances. Other symptoms of PAWS include dysphoria, fatigue, and irritability.

Research also suggests that side effects of PAWS from heroin may include poor focus and difficulties in executive control, cognitive skills that help a person control their thought processes and behavior.

Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

If a person is thinking about quitting heroin, they will likely wonder how long heroin withdrawal lasts for.

The severity and duration of heroin withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person and be dependent on:

  • how long heroin was used for.
  • the amount of heroin used.
  • the frequency of use.
  • how the drug was taken.
  • if a person has any health or medical conditions.

As a short-acting opioid, heroin withdrawal can begin in as little as a few hours, however, symptoms typically set in six to 24 hours after a person takes their last dose.

Symptoms generally peak and are most severe in two to three days, before diminishing between days four and 10.

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome symptoms, however, may last weeks or even months.

Heroin Withdrawal Dangers

One of the greatest dangers of heroin withdrawal is relapse and overdose. If a person becomes overwhelmed by cravings and other unbearable withdrawal symptoms, they may relapse.

The risk of overdose during heroin withdrawal can run high. As a person’s body detoxes their tolerance can drop. Should a person take the same amount of heroin they used prior to withdrawing, it may be too much for their body to handle.

While heroin withdrawal isn’t typically life threatening, certain complications of withdrawal can be. For this reason, it isn’t recommended that a person attempt to detox from heroin at home.

Vomiting is a common side effect of heroin withdrawal. If a person aspirates (accidentally inhales) on their vomit, they could asphyxiate and die, or develop aspiration pneumonia. This form of pneumonia can result in lung abscesses, shock, respiratory failure, or death.

Severe vomiting and diarrhea can cause extreme dehydration, which can cause sodium levels to skyrocket. Excessively high sodium levels in the blood can develop into heart failure, cardiac arrest, brain damage, and death.

The Dangers Of Home Detox Remedies For Heroin Withdrawal

Some people may attempt a do-it-yourself or an at home heroin detox to save money or out of convenience, fear or concerns of privacy. Home remedies for heroin withdrawal can be ineffective and in the most extreme cases, dangerous.

Without professional help, heroin withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to control. In the absence of medical oversight, a person may not know how to safely cope with heroin withdrawal symptoms.

If cravings and other side effects of heroin withdrawal become too severe, this lack of professional support can make it far too easy to relapse.

If complications arise at home during withdrawal, serious harm could occur. Especially if a person decides to detox by self-medicating. Many drugs have adverse reactions when mixed with heroin.

Heroin and benzodiazepines both depress the central nervous system. If a person relapses and uses heroin, this combination could cause sedation and life-threatening breathing problems. The same could hold true if a person self-treats withdrawal symptoms with methadone and benzos.

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Heroin Withdrawal Management And Detox Treatment Recovery Programs

Choosing a comprehensive heroin withdrawal and detox treatment program could be the difference between a life of continued heroin use and sobriety.

While outpatient detox for heroin is available, these programs may be better options for people experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms.

Inpatient or residential medically assisted detoxification is often recommended for people who are moderately to severely addicted to heroin.

In an inpatient detox program for heroin, clients are monitored around the clock as their bodies stabilize and heroin is cleansed from their systems. This 24-hour care and support allows treatment providers to administer treatments and medications as soon as they are needed.

Medications may be supplemented by nutritional and hydration support to help a person’s body heal from the damage of heroin addiction.

Heroin Withdrawal And Detox Medications

Medications for heroin detox are used to prevent or reduce acute withdrawal symptoms and cravings. By receiving medications, the success rate of quitting heroin could be significantly higher.

When withdrawal symptoms are effectively managed by medications, a person can have a higher chance of remaining in a detox program and moving to the next stage of treatment, rehab.

Medications may be combined with behavioral therapies to address both the physical and psychological elements of addiction. Known as medication-assisted treatment, this approach may be continued after detox to help a person maintain sobriety.

Suboxone For Heroin Withdrawal And Detox

Suboxone sublingual film, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, is frequently used to reduce heroin cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Other buprenorphine combination medications for heroin withdrawal include the buccal film Bunavail and the sublingual tablet Zubsolv.

When compared to methadone, Suboxone and other buprenorphine-based medications have a lower potential for use. For this reason, some programs use these drugs more frequently during detox and medication-

assisted treatment.

Other Medications For Heroin Withdrawal And Detox

Other medications may be used to manage insomnia, anxiety, depression, or gastrointestinal problems that accompany withdrawal. This could include anxiety or depression medications, sleeping aids, or anti-diarrhea medicines.

Finding A Heroin Detox And Rehab Program

While a medically supervised detox program for heroin is a valuable part of recovery, it shouldn’t be viewed as a standalone treatment for addiction.

Detoxification is the first step of treatment. In order for treatment to be effective, a person should consider enrolling in a rehabilitation program. As heroin addiction can be severe, residential treatment is often recommended.

An inpatient drug rehab program for heroin use continues to monitor a person’s physical health while also treating the psychological components of addiction.

Residential treatment can be highly beneficial for people who are experiencing post-acute withdrawal syndrome as well. Treatment clinicians can monitor and treat insomnia or mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression that are symptoms of this condition.

Choosing a treatment center that offers both detox and rehab on site makes this transition less stressful and can also increase a person’s chance of recovery success.

Contact Vertava Health now for information on heroin addiction, detox, and treatment options.