Heroin Detox: Withdrawal Management And Benefits

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 6, 2021

Detoxing from heroin is the first step towards overcoming addiction. Within a detox program, you can receive medical support throughout heroin withdrawal.

Heroin Detoxification Programs

Getting off heroin isn’t an easy process. For people who have become addicted to heroin, trying to get off of it can trigger uncomfortable physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Heroin detoxification programs can offer medical and behavioral support to help you get off heroin within a safe and supportive treatment setting.

Learn more about the different heroin treatment programs

Heroin Detox Programs

Detoxification is a natural process of eliminating toxins from the system. In the context of drug addiction, this can involve slowly tapering off a drug or stopping a drug all at once.

Many addiction treatment centers in the United States offer detoxification programs to provide support for people who are trying to stop using heroin.

Heroin detox programs include:

  • inpatient detox programs
  • social detox programs

Medical Detox Programs For Heroin

Medical detoxification is an inpatient detox program that offers 24-hour medical supervision and support. This type of detox program offers pharmaceutical treatment for heroin withdrawal.

Medications used during heroin detox:

  • Methadone: Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist that can help reduce cravings and relieve heroin withdrawal symptoms. It is used as a long-term maintenance medication.
  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine (Subutex, Suboxone) is a medicine that can shorten the detox process and relieve opioid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Clonidine: Clonidine is a sedative that can help relieve symptoms of heroin withdrawal such as runny nose, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle aches. It does not relieve cravings.

Medical detoxification programs last five to seven days on average. This type of program is offered by detox facilities, some hospitals, and within some inpatient rehab programs for heroin.

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Social Detox Programs For Heroin

Social detox is a type of detox program that does not involve the use of medication. This type of program relies heavily on regular check-ins with a medical doctor and counseling.

Social detox is less commonly recommended than medical detox, especially for heroin addiction, which carries a high risk of relapse without an appropriate level of medical support.

What Happens During Heroin Detox?

For people who are dependent on heroin, getting off heroin can make a person feel physically sick and trigger strong cravings for heroin. This is known as heroin withdrawal syndrome.

Detox programs are designed to manage the acute symptoms of heroin withdrawal. While heroin withdrawal is not generally life-threatening, it can cause dehydration and physical discomfort.

What to expect during heroin detox:

  • Physical Discomfort: Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, which is one of the reasons it can be difficult for people to get off heroin.
  • Strong cravings: One of the most common and challenging parts of the detox process is cravings to use heroin. This can be treated with certain medications.
  • Medicine: Within a medical detox program, detox professionals can provide medicine to reduce the severity of symptoms and help make you more comfortable.
  • Supervision: During detox, health professionals will check you regularly to monitor vital signs and provide medical support. Supervision can also reduce the likelihood of relapse.

For people with co-occurring mental illness, additional support may be provided during the detox process.

Following acute detox, a detox professional can assess individuals for a further need for treatment and provide a referral for a drug rehab program.

Understanding Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal can begin within six to 12 hours of a person’s last use and last for up to one week.

Early withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • muscle aches
  • cravings for heroin
  • insomnia
  • runny nose
  • sweating
  • excessive yawning

Late symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • stomach cramping
  • diarrhea
  • dilated pupils
  • goosebumps
  • chills

After one week, cravings for heroin, as well as feelings of anxiety or depression, may persist for some time after. This can be treated through medication, behavioral therapy, and counseling.

Who Can Benefit From Heroin Detox?

Detoxing from heroin isn’t easy. Although doing so outside of a detox program is possible, this can be difficult and potentially dangerous, especially if you don’t have a strong support system.

Who can benefit from heroin detox:

  • people with severe heroin addiction
  • people with chronic heroin addiction
  • people who lack a strong medical support system
  • people who have had a hard time stopping their heroin use

Entering a detox program is the safest way to get off heroin. This option is highly recommended for anyone who is addicted to heroin.

Benefits Of Heroin Detox Programs

Getting off heroin alone can be very difficult and potentially dangerous. One of the dangers of detoxing alone is the risk of relapse, which in some cases, can be fatal.

Detox programs can offer:

  • medical supervision
  • a safe and supportive environment
  • medication for withdrawal symptoms
  • referral for additional treatment

Getting professional help during heroin detox can help prevent the risk of relapse, reduce the severity of withdrawal, and connect people with additional recovery support resources.

How To Know If You Need To Detox Off Heroin

Using heroin once or twice isn’t going to cause physical dependence or withdrawal.

People who need to detox from heroin will know they’re dependent if they begin feeling physically sick without it.

Signs of heroin dependence and addiction:

  • unable to stop using heroin
  • using larger amounts of heroin over time
  • constantly thinking about using or getting more heroin
  • feeling like you rely on heroin to get through the day
  • feeling very agitated or anxious if you are unable to use heroin

If you or someone you know is addicted to heroin, you don’t have to face the detox process alone. Asking for help, and accepting help, can be the first step towards an addiction-free future.

Learn some tips on how to safely taper off heroin

Find A Heroin Detox Program Today

Detox is the first step in the process of recovering from heroin addiction. If you’re searching for detox for yourself or someone else, we can help.

Call our helpline today to find a heroin detox program near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on July 6, 2021
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