Heroin detox is one of the most grueling detoxifications known in the world of illicit drug use and addiction.
Heroin is a powerful and very addictive opiate, which produces both a physical and psychological dependence in users. This dependence can develop in a short period, depending on the frequency and amounts of use. When an individual becomes addicted to heroin, one of the most common fears is the series of withdrawal symptoms an addict experiences during heroin detox.
What Is Heroin Detox Like?
Heroin detox can feel different, depending on the manner in which an individual completes the process. Currently, there are three main ways in which to undergo heroin detox:
- Opioid Assisted Heroin Detox
- Traditional Heroin Detox
- Rapid Opiate Heroin Detox
While each of these provides a slightly different experience for the addict, the process of heroin detox from within the body is the same. Heroin binds to the opiate receptor in the brain, and once addicted to the drug, the individual experiences extremely uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal upon cessation of use. Heroin withdrawal and heroin detox are non-fatal, but the symptoms can be severe, including:
- High fever
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Cold sweats
- Intense cravings
- Severe agitation
- High blood pressure
When an individual withdraws from heroin, the absence of the drug creates the symptoms listed above. Many of these symptoms can be excruciating for addicts, resulting in relapse to further heroin use for relief of said symptoms.
In addition to the full symptoms of heroin detox, are the symptoms of the initial onset of withdrawal, which include autonomic nervous system reactions such as frequent yawning and sneezing. For most addicts, these early signs of heroin withdrawal are ominous indications of the painful full onset of symptoms to come.
Opioid Assisted Heroin Detox
Many heroin addicts refuse to get sober from the drug because of fear of withdrawal symptoms that occur when there is no heroin, or another opioid to bind to the opiate receptors in the brain. Opioid assisted heroin detox is a way to avoid the acute withdrawal symptoms caused by abrupt cessation of heroin use.
The term opioid refers to synthetic opiates, such as painkillers. The opioids used in this form of heroin detox are typically either Suboxone® or methadone. Both are very long acting, 72 and 36 hours respectively, and have the same qualities as heroin regarding their binding ability to the opiate receptors in the brain. Although methadone has been used for many decades as an opiate maintenance drug for recovering heroin addicts, it can still be abused, and addicts can still get high from misuse of the drug. Suboxone® contains Naltrexone, which is an opiate antagonist. It too binds very tightly to the opiate receptors in the brain, but the Naltrexone in it produces a “ceiling effect” that prevents the euphoria associated with all other opioids and opiates.
The way opioid assisted heroin detox works is by placing an addict on a strict prescription schedule of either methadone or Suboxone® in replacement of heroin. Since both drugs are opioids, the addict will not experience the full onset of heroin withdrawal symptoms, and instead will likely feel a low-grade type of malaise at the beginning of the process. Over a period of several weeks, the dosage of the replacement opioid will be gradually reduced down to nil. While withdrawal symptoms will still be present, an addict will not experience them to the full extent of their severity throughout the process. This type of heroin detox can take as long as 30 days, and longer in some cases. Entirely dependent on the individual, and the nature of his or her heroin addiction, opioid assisted heroin detox can be a very long process, and still produce protracted symptoms of depression and cravings long after the process has been completed.
Each case will vary, but this form of heroin detox is most often preferred for individuals who have a long history of heroin addiction and have previously failed attempts with heroin detox.
Traditional Heroin Detox
Not to be confused with “cold turkey,” traditional heroin detox is typically completed in a detox facility, and can take 5-14 days. The length of time it takes to complete this form of heroin detox depends on a few factors:
- The individual’s health
- Usage of other addictive drugs from which the individual needs to withdraw
- The nature and severity of heroin addiction
During a traditional heroin detox, an individual will admit him or herself into a detox center (usually as a part of an addiction treatment program). There, he or she will be supervised and monitored for health and safety reasons. If, and when withdrawal symptoms become severe, the medical staff is available to administer medications to alleviate high blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety. This can facilitate sleep and a calmer environment in which the individual can complete his or her heroin detox.
Additionally, in a traditional heroin detox, vitamin supplements and nutritious meals are essential aspects, as the body is going through a jarring process and needs revitalization on a regular basis.
During traditional heroin detox, acute withdrawal symptoms are commonplace, and it is never a particularly pleasant experience for any addict. However, since the symptoms of heroin withdrawal are not life-threatening, and the addict is under constant care and supervision, this form of detoxification is safe and has a very high success rate of complete removal of opiates and all addictive substances from the system of the addict.
There is another form of traditional heroin detox, and it takes a holistic approach. Holistic refers to the whole person, which includes mind, body, and spirit, and most notably does not include the use of pharmaceuticals. In a holistic heroin detox setting, an addict will still be admitted into a detox facility, but instead of receiving medication for withdrawal symptoms, his or her detox will consist of holistic remedies such as:
- Hot tub therapy
- Sauna therapy
- Massage therapy
- Individualized vitamin therapy including essential minerals and amino acids
Holistic heroin detox does not take any longer than a medicated traditional detox, lasting 5-14 days, depending on the individual and his or her circumstance. While it may seem much more painful and grueling, the holistic approach to heroin detox is preferred for many people because it lays the groundwork for recovery from heroin addiction in a holistic manner. Most heroin addicts are no strangers to pharmaceuticals, and a significant percentage began their addictive behaviors with prescription drugs of some kind. For individuals who are truly serious about changing their lives and doing so in a holistic manner, holistic heroin detox is an optimal start.
Rapid Heroin Detox
Most often referred to as ultra rapid opiate detox (UROD), this inpatient medical procedure is currently only used for opiate and opioid detox. During this process, an addict will check him or herself into a hospital where the detox will take place. This may be a part of an inpatient drug rehab program, although it is not covered by any medical insurance plan. Costing a minimum of $5,000, the high price tag of rapid heroin detox provides the complete removal of heroin from an addict’s system in as little as 24 hours. The process is as follows:
- The individual is placed under general anesthesia
- Once unconscious, an opiate antagonist, (usually Naltrexone) is administered via IV
- The opiate antagonist immediately removes the heroin from the opiate receptors in the brain, initiating an instant and full withdrawal from heroin
- While remaining unconscious, the addict is carefully monitored to prevent any unforeseen complications. Typically, the individual can be seen having muscle spasms (one of the most prevalent symptoms of heroin withdrawal) while unconscious)
- Once the heroin and its toxins have been removed, the individual is awakened, checked for stability, and subsequently released from the hospital, heroin free.
While it seems straightforward and easy, it is important to understand the innuendos of rapid heroin detox, as it is not without adverse effects.
- Individuals who undergo this process feel tired, sore, lethargic, and may still feel residual withdrawal symptoms. Some also experience protracted symptoms such as cravings and depression for several weeks or months after the process has been completed.
- It is not uncommon for individuals who complete rapid heroin detox to be sent home with a prescription for benzodiazepines (an addictive sedative) to ease the post-procedural symptoms of unease and discomfort.
- With any procedure involving general anesthesia, it is important to understand the risks and any personal health complications that may be a factor. Always seek medical consultation before engaging in a rapid heroin detox using general anesthesia.
Heroin Detox Resources
As understood by all in the addiction treatment profession, and confirmed by American Society of Addiction Medicine, no single treatment approach is effective in all cases. It is important to consider the individual in need, the nature and severity of his or her heroin addiction, and what the current needs and preferences are for heroin detoxification before making any decision.
If you or a loved one is addicted to heroin, and in need of detox, please call us now at to speak with a certified counselor about your situation. We will work with you to determine the most effective form of heroin detox for yourself, or you’re addicted loved one. Regardless of which type of detox you choose, an immediate follow-up at an addiction treatment facility is imperative to help ensure relapse prevention and continued sobriety from heroin use and addiction. Please don’t wait for heroin addiction to get any worse, or claim another life. There is help available, and we can help you find the right kind of detox and treatment that will be the most effective, based on individual needs, preferences, and belief systems. Please call now.