Help is On the Way: Preparing for Heroin Withdrawal, Detox, and Treatment

Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans use heroin, many of whose lives are derailed as a result. Each year, thousands lose their lives altogether to the drug. The rate of deaths from heroin-induced overdoses in the US quadrupled from 2002 to 2013, with more than 8,000 individuals losing their lives to the substance in 2013 alone. But for those living with a heroin addiction, there are options. The first steps to taking back your life involve getting educated about the drug and learning about your options moving forward.

What is Heroin Withdrawal Like?

The human body is an adaptive machine. Once it adjusts to the way heroin affects it, it takes time to “go back” to baseline, or the way it was before. This process can be uncomfortable – but it is doable. Many liken their experiences of heroin withdrawal to a terrible flu, which while unpleasant, isn’t unbearable.

There is a big stigma around heroin withdrawals. For many, heroin addiction treatment is as much about avoiding withdrawal as it is chasing another high.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms arise from the body’s response once the drug has worn off. The more the body is used to heroin, the worse these symptoms are – and the higher the dose needed to stave off withdrawal becomes. A lot of dealing with withdrawal is knowing what to expect, learning coping mechanisms, and staying positive. A sponsor, counselor, or other trusted persons can help you through this necessary phase of becoming sober. Knowing what to expect can help to alleviate fear and help you maintain mental control during this difficult time.

Some of the symptoms to be aware of include:

  • Cramps
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression

Despite the experience of these symptoms, it’s important to understand that withdrawal itself from opiates and heroin is not life-threatening. What is life-threatening is returning to the drug; most overdoses occur right after detox, so it’s critical to tap into all resources necessary to see detoxification through successfully.

How Can I Cope with Withdrawals?

Learning about the symptoms of withdrawal can be a fine line to walk. While it’s important to know what to expect, it can be unhelpful and even harmful to agonize, stress, and anticipate those symptoms. So, know the symptoms, but also be ready with coping mechanisms to help you deal with them once they start.

A few great suggestions include:

  • Watching a funny TV show
  • Calling a close, trusted friend
  • Journaling or writing
  • Drawing, sculpting, or other artistic endeavors
  • Light exercise (going for a walk, doing gentle yoga)

Rehab is another great way to cope with withdrawals, as most rehab facilities provide all of these coping mechanisms and more, all in a safe, secure environment. Rehab facilities will also help you to ensure that you’re getting good nutrition and hydration, which is extremely important to speed along recovery.

What are My Options for Detox?

Heroin is a fast-acting drug that is equally fast to leave the blood stream. Because of this, withdrawal symptoms can begin as quickly as 6 hours after a dose, and last up to a week. In severe cases, these symptoms can last weeks or months, called post-acute withdrawal. To help a user avoid relapsing, and to make detoxing as comfortable as possible, medical detox can help quickly purge the drug from the body.

  • Buprenorphine

A standard medical detox medication is Suboxone or Subutex (buprenorphine). A course is typically started as soon as possible (while the drug is still in the bloodstream) and lasts anywhere from five to 10 days. Its effect can feel similar to heroin, but is much more minimal, even in large doses (this is called the “ceiling effect”). This drug can be prescribed in pill form by a doctor and taken in the privacy of your home.

  • Methadone

Another method of medical detox is methadone. However, this drug may become even more addictive than heroin itself, and has increased potential for abuse. It is more chemically similar to heroin than buprenorphine. Often, methadone is a long-term substitute for maintaining abstinence from drugs such as heroin. Like heroin, it has no ceiling effect, which is why in many cases buprenorphine is considered safer. However, methadone can be more effective for users who are addicted to higher doses of heroin. 

During detox, it’s important to take extra care of your body to make the process as comfortable as possible and to help your body recover as quickly as possible. A very good way to help your body through detox is to ensure you’re getting proper nutrition. Many medical detox facilities will provide nutritional supplements, which have been shown to reduce withdrawal symptoms and duration.

What’s Life Like After Detox?

Following medical detox, intensive therapy is a critical part of truly overcoming a heroin addiction. Relapse is a very real concern, and therapy is important to stave off returning to the drug for emotional, physical, or social reasons. If you relapse, you may find that maintenance methadone or buprenorphine is necessary for ultimate success. Whichever methods you try, it’s essential to keep trying until you succeed, and never give up. Support groups, therapists, counselors, and sponsors are just a few of the many resources available to help you.

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, in the process of detoxing, or needs help, it’s time to reach out. Contact us at our Palm Beach County addiction treatment facilities today.