If you or a loved one is addicted to heroin, the first step is to become informed. We want to make sure we walk you through the entire recovery process, starting with education. Remember, that there is hope and potential to get better. Keep reading to find out more about a heroin detox and treatment, and how it can transform you or a close one’s life.

Heroin Detox: Withdrawal Symptoms, Treatment, and Timeline

Did you know that heroin-related overdoses have steadily increased, resulting in a 300% increase in recent years? You are not alone in this struggle. Many communities and families have been affected, but that doesn’t mean the challenge stops there. You can begin learning about heroin detox and treatment today. At the end of each adversity, there is strength and a much brighter outcome. 

What Is Heroin Withdrawal?

Heroin affects the brain reward system, which then increases the user’s tolerance to the drug’s effects over time. Higher doses will eventually be needed to feel the same “high” as before. Consequently, when one stops using heroin, withdrawal symptoms kick in. This creates a toxic cycle because people battling heroin addiction often keep using to avoid painful symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal from heroin is often more severe than those of prescription painkillers.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms usually begin between 6 and 12 hours after their last heroin dose. Withdrawal from heroin may be similar to those of prescription opioids, but oftentimes more intense as explained above. Withdrawal often feels like a horrible case of the flu. The most unpleasant pain and discomfort last a week, with withdrawal symptoms peaking during the second or third day.

Common symptoms of withdrawal during heroin detox include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches

Timeline Withdrawal Timeline During a Heroin Detox

The length of withdrawal from heroin depends on a few different aspects. Some of the most prevalent include:

  • The length of time heroin was used
  • The amount of heroin taken each time
  • The frequency of use
  • The method by which they took heroin
  • The presence of underlying medical or mental health issues

Days 1-2: Symptoms tend to begin as soon as 6 hours after the last dose. Muscle aches will typically begin on the first day. These will become more intense over the next two days. Other symptoms during this period include anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, shaking and diarrhea.

Days 3-5: By the third or fourth day, withdrawal symptoms are at the peak. Symptoms during this time often include abdominal cramping, sweating, shivers and nausea/vomiting.

Days 6-7: Acute withdrawal usually ends after 7 days. Once you get through the initial pain, the common muscle aches and nausea will wear off. Physically, former users will begin to feel more like their normal selves, although still a little worn out. 

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome: Symptoms of withdrawal may continue on and off for months after acute withdrawal. These are caused by neurological changes from heroin use. Typical long-lasting symptoms include anxiety, depression, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and irritability. 

Heroin Detox

Heroin detox provides a safe space to work through and slowly alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Issues during withdrawal from heroin can arise and fatally injure someone detoxing without medical supervision. Severe dehydration is one of the things that can go wrong. They can even inhale stomach contents after vomiting. Even when the patient’s life is not at risk, withdrawal symptoms can be so painful or unpleasant that the patient relapses and avoids trying to get clean again.

Supervised medical detox is a nonnegotiable must for the sake of your or a loved one’s safety.

Doctors in inpatient programs also watch for psychological withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and depression. Our staff is here to help you through each step, making the process as comfortable as possible for you. 

Medications Used in Detox

Inpatient and outpatient drug rehab professionals can prescribe drugs to ease withdrawal symptoms. 

These medications help with the recovery process by minimizing withdrawals and cravings:

  • Methadone
    This medication is a slow-acting, low-strength opiate used to taper patients off heroin and prevent withdrawal symptoms.
  • Buprenorphine
    This is one of the most often prescribed drugs for heroin withdrawal. It lessens cravings and physical symptoms such as vomiting and muscle aches.
  • Naltrexone
    These drug blocks receptors in the brain that react to opioids like heroin. It is neither addictive nor sedating. As time goes on, it may even reduce cravings. Naltrexone works best in patients who have already finished detoxing.

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Withdrawal makes heroin addiction a tough challenge to overcome. However, with the right tools, many have successfully overcome it. You can be one of those people. The many forms of treatment during a heroin detox and treatment are made to prepare you for long-term sobriety. Keep reading to find out more about treatment for heroin addiction.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) 

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in conjunction with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a more well-rounded approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat these disorders, and for some people battling addiction, MAT can help with the goal of sustainable recovery. 

Under federal law, MAT patients must receive counseling, like behavioral therapy. These services are required including other medical, vocational, educational, and other assessment and treatment services. This treatment is meant to combine medication and therapy to provide a very effective treatment. Rather than throwing medicine at the problem or only using talk therapy, MAT uses both.

The Effectiveness of MAT During Detox

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, over 15,000 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States; a rate of almost 5 deaths for every 100,000 Americans in 2017.  MAT has proved to be clinically effective and to notably reduce the need for inpatient detoxification services. MAT provides a more carefully formulated, individually personalized program of medication and behavioral therapy. In addition, MAT provides support services that address the needs of most patients.

The ultimate goal of MAT is a full recovery, including the ability to independently continue sobriety. 

What Is Inpatient Rehab?

Inpatient rehab offers medical supervision and is one of the first phases of addiction treatment for heroin detox. The move to inpatient rehab is determined only after a clinical professional thoroughly evaluates each patient. Those who receive inpatient treatment generally need help with cravings and should be supervised around the clock to prevent relapse from occurring. 

While in inpatient care, clients can build on the skills they learned in detox to progress on their road to recovery. An extended-time period for treatment is a part of inpatient rehab for heroin addiction. Clients are required to stay at the facility for the entirety of the program, as well as overnight. 

What is a Partial Hospitalization Program?

Most PHPs offer amenities that are similar to some degree as the ones in inpatient treatment. But exactly what is partial hospitalization, and how does a PHP lead to a successful recovery?

Partial hospitalization programs consist of short-term, intensive treatment that has less commitment than inpatient treatment, but offers more services and a higher level of attention than outpatient treatment.

Activities in a PHP often include:

  • Medical support
  • Mental health counseling
  • Multiple forms of therapy, such as traditional and holistic options
  • Relapse prevention planning
  • Education about mental health conditions
  • Ability to enjoy indoor and outdoor amenities, as medically appropriate

What is an Intensive Outpatient Program?

An intensive outpatient program, or IOP, is a treatment program that treatment facilities typically provide as a way to smooth the transition between acute treatment and outpatient care. Intensive outpatient treatment programs are formulated to offer hands-on treatment while still maintaining patient autonomy. On the other hand, inpatient and residential programs offer treatment 24/7 for heroin detox.

IOP services are set as consistently scheduled sessions during the week. Typically, participants in intensive outpatient programs can decide to live either in sober living environments at our treatment center, with supportive friends or family, or even alone if there is strong and dependable emotional support available. IOPs are usually either timed or structured to allow patients to work, attend school or respond to family obligations as needed. To work around a patient’s schedule, many intensive outpatient programs are offered in the evenings or on weekends.

What is Outpatient Treatment?

Those in outpatient treatment for heroin detox can benefit from psychotherapy, psychiatric services, and medical care, on a scheduled basis. Outpatient treatment for heroin is typically administered towards the ends of recovery after the patient has proven stability and sobriety for an extended amount of time. 

Outpatient treatment is, in the wide range of treatments available, the most cost-effective and the most independent of available options. Nonetheless, there are still a variety of options available within outpatient treatment.

Day Programs

Day programs offer the most intensive schedule of treatment. Outpatient day programs have patients participate five to seven days per week, generally for at least six hours per day. Patients have access to individual, group and family therapists, as well as to treatment for medical and co-occurring conditions. Day programs tend to be a step-down form of treatment for heroin addiction, as day programs are much more hands-off than an inpatient form of rehab for heroin addiction. 

Intensive Outpatient Programs

As mentioned earlier, intensive outpatient programs offer another way to step down the intensity from the inpatient or partial hospitalization environment. IOPs are a great option for those with many obligations outside of treatment. Obligations could be as a caretaker, student or worker – anything that you’re responsible for can be taken care of while simultaneously receiving treatment. In most cases, intensive outpatient programs provide treatment for three to four days per week, during the day or evening hours.

Continuing Care

Otherwise known as aftercare, continuing care consists of counseling groups and mutual support groups that have the intention of providing connectedness, accountability and ongoing support for clients who have transitioned from more intensive outpatient treatment. Continuing care groups are facilitated by a licensed therapist and are typically held once a week.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis is when a person is diagnosed with one or more mental health disorders (like anxiety, depression or a personality disorder) along with one or more substance use disorders (in this case, heroin abuse). Other names for dual diagnosis include co-occurring disorders or comorbidity.

There are a variety of different forms when it comes to dual diagnosis treatment. These will be dependent upon the specific conjunction of disorders a person has, but will typically be centered around reducing psychiatric symptoms and reducing substance use. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used to target depression and heroin addiction simultaneously. 

Symptoms of Dual Diagnosis

Only a mental health professional can determine exactly where you fit in the spectrum of mental health conditions and substance abuse severity. However, knowing the common symptoms of dual diagnosis may help you or a loved one get a better idea of what kind of assistance is needed.

The symptoms of dual diagnosis go hand-in-hand with symptoms of mental health disorders and substance use disorders, but they occur together in the same patient.

Some of the many symptoms include:

  • Isolation from relationships with family and friends
  • Erratic changes in behavior
  • Inability to manage daily tasks
  • Participating in risky behaviors
  • Not taking care of one’s health and hygiene

There is Hope – Let Us Show You

No matter how lost or stuck you may feel, there is most certainly a light at the end of the tunnel. Your struggle, by no means, defines you. You hold the power to decide what you learn from each adversity, including heroin addiction. Heroin detox and treatment give you the opportunity to restart – to give your life a new, more fulfilling meaning.

The good news is that heroin addiction and co-occurring disorders are treatable through comprehensive drug addiction treatment programs. Here at 1st Step Behavioral Health, we provide clients with high-quality care that meets their individual needs and goals for sustainable recovery A healthier, happier lifestyle is possible with the right approach.

Begin your road to recovery by calling us at 866.971.5531 or contacting us here. We look forward to speaking with you.

References

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disorders#opioid-use-disorder

https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/heroin.html

About the Author: Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.