The process of heroin detox is a complicated and difficult experience that can be both physically and mentally challenging. During this time, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, insomnia, body aches, anxiety, depression, and more. Additionally, there may be a safety or medical concerns to consider during the detox period. Whether you are trying to overcome addiction on your own or with the help of a medical professional, this process can be difficult to go through. However, with the right support and treatment, you can successfully complete heroin detox and begin your journey toward recovery.
One aspect of heroin and other opioids that makes these drugs so highly addictive is the severe symptoms of withdrawal. Most heroin addicts need to get their “fix” every four to eight hours to avoid becoming “dope sick.” Those who have abused heroin or other opioids can understand the highly unpleasant symptoms associated with withdrawing from heroin.
Some people have described the feeling of heroin withdrawal as, “feeling like dying.” While opioid withdrawals are highly unpleasant, they are not usually fatal. The withdrawal process is similar to severe flu, with symptoms such as chills, fever, body aches, diarrhea, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, sweating, and cravings.
To attempt to go through the withdrawal process at home is not easy. The cravings can be overpowering, and a person will often find themselves giving in to these cravings as opposed to going through an unpleasant withdrawal on their own, thus renewing the cycle of chemical dependency. A medical detoxification facility is recommended for drug or alcohol dependency. The stay at detox usually will last about a week and is highly structured.
Once a client is admitted to detox they will be evaluated by the medical staff, tested for alcohol and drug levels in their system, and shown to their bed. The typical day-to-day activities will consist of designated times throughout the day to check vitals and be given medication. There will be options to participate in groups and attend commitments held by outside speakers throughout your stay. There will be set times for meals and even smoke breaks if the facility allows for it.
While under the care of medical professionals at a detox facility you will be monitored and usually given different options for your chemical detox treatment by the clinical staff. There are several different detox protocols when dealing with heroin and opioid drug abuse. Some of the more well-known medications for heroin detox protocols are methadone and buprenorphine (Suboxone).
Methadone has been the most used agent for detoxification from various opioids. This is in part because of how long it has been around. Methadone has been used as a treatment for opioid dependency in the United States since 1947. It is a long-acting opioid in and of itself, that displaces opioids from the body's chemical receptor sites and reverses opioid withdrawal symptoms.
The way it is administered in a medical detox setting is as a taper. Based on the client’s baseline levels of opioids in their system when they arrive at the detox, a starting dosage is established for the methadone treatment protocol. The starting dosage will usually be held off for a certain amount of time-based on the client’s vitals and drug level in their system at the time of intake. This is done to prevent possible overdose as the client may still be intoxicated by other opioids when they enter detox and usually will not be dosed until after they begin showing signs of withdrawal symptoms. The client will be monitored and reevaluated as the dosage is tapered down each day for approximately five days.
Buprenorphine is becoming more and more popular for use in detoxes for heroin users. Buprenorphine is also sold under the more well-known brand name of “Suboxone,” and it is a partial opioid agonist. Much like methadone, it displaces heroin and other opioids from the chemical receptors in the addict’s body. Suboxone is relatively safe as it has a “ceiling effect” due to being a mixture of buprenorphine and naloxone (Narcan). When used as a detox protocol, an initial dosage is given to a client and much like methadone, they are tapered off from Suboxone over several days. The medical staff at a detox will withhold the first dose until withdrawal symptoms present, as being dosed too early with Suboxone can result in precipitated withdrawal symptoms that can be highly unpleasant.
While methadone and Suboxone are the primary medications used for those in detox for opioid abuse, one can also expect what are known as “comfort meds” to be offered at most detoxes. Some of these comfort meds are given to alleviate certain symptoms associated with opioid withdrawals. Such medications are hydroxyzine (for anxiety), clonidine (to reduce elevated blood pressure), trazadone and quetiapine (for insomnia) and even Zofran or Promethazine (for nausea). Some clients will opt for only comfort medication in lieu of methadone or Suboxone protocols for their detox.
Remember that the detox process is just the first step in the recovery process. It is an important piece considering how difficult it is to get through the worst of the physical side effects as you come off the drugs. Contact us today and get started on your recovery journey.