Heroin Addiction
Heroin and Opioid Addiction

10 Facts That May Change the Game if You're Getting Clean From Heroin Addiction

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as a substitute for the counsel of a qualified physician or licensed therapist. This content should be used for purely informational purposes. Please consult your doctor if you have further inquiries on this subject. We intend to impart the most accurate and recent information but cannot make any guarantees.

You can find them lying dazed on park benches, huddled under dilapidated awnings, and sharing doses in bare, dirty apartments of every city's downtown. The most severe casualties of America's heroin crisis are painfully evident in almost every town of the USA. Their children are being raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, or the foster system, and their babies are being born in the throes of heroin withdrawal. If you or someone you love is battling heroin addiction, you may soon join the ranks of these, if you haven't already.

Every 25 minutes a baby is born in the United States addicted to opioids. Children are calling 911 to report their parents' overdoses, and the foster care system is overflooded with the children of heroin addicts. What will become of the children of the opioid epidemic, and how did we get here? Although there are no absolute answers, in this article we'll explore the complexities of heroin addiction, what causes it, its effects, and possible solutions for it. Below you'll find ten important points that may change your views and approach to getting clean from heroin dependence.

Heroin and Opioid Addiction Is Not a Modern Dilemma

Let's start at the beginning. Opioids are derived from the opium poppy flower and include drugs like heroin, morphine, and prescription painkillers. Opium and its derivatives have the unique ability to eliminate pain and so have been used for medicinal purposes for a very, very long time.

Opioids
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Although America's current heroin epidemic may seem like a recent phenomenon, humankind's battle with opioids is older than any written record. The first evidence of human cultivation of opium poppies goes back to 3,400 BC in ancient Mesopotamia. In fact, there is evidence and records that show the use of opium in every major civilization since then, from Greece, to Egypt, to Europe. Despite its historic medicinal popularity, the first opium abuse epidemic was not recorded until the 1700s when the British began encouraging the cultivation of opium and using it as trading currency along the Silk Road. This continued throughout China and India for over 200 years with disastrous results for China. In the early 1900s, over 13 million people in China were addicted to opium.

The first communist regime in China put an end to the epidemic in the 1950s through a series of brutal attacks on opium farms and the users who abused it. Although the majority of the epidemic was eradicated in this way, opioid abuse and production has continued quietly in China until this day; although now the opioid of choice is usually of the prescription pill variety.

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Of course, the epidemic was not localized to China. During the 1800s, experimental pharmacists extracted laudanum and morphine from opium, and the medications were used widely for pain relief and surgery. Many patients and soldiers who were treated for pain with morphine, however, developed fast addictions, and opioid abuse became more widespread throughout Europe and North America with each passing war. The U.S. Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War each contributed to the growing problem of morphine addiction. As many as 20% of the soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war were addicted to morphine or heroin when they returned home. Some of them even shared their habits with family and friends.

Although heroin addiction rates ebbed and flowed throughout modern history, the problem remained throughout the 1980's and '90s but then exploded suddenly during the late '90s with the introduction of strong opioid painkillers like Oxycontin. Since then, opioid addiction only continues to increase, and there is no end in sight.

As you can see, opioid and heroin abuse is not a new, modern-day problem; it is a battle that mankind has been waging since before human records even existed. A dilemma that is 6,000 years in the making is not going to be easily or quickly solved, but it is not hopeless. Advanced drug rehab treatment can help to end the vicious cycle of heroin dependence, one person at a time.

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Is Heroin Really That Addictive?

The answer is absolutely, positively, resoundingly yes. It is that addictive. In a 2007 study published by the Lancet, researchers found heroin to be the most habit-forming substance on the planet. But what makes heroin so addictive?

Is Heroin Really That Addictive
Is Heroin Really That Addictive Mobile

First and foremost is the gigantic flood of dopamine that is released by heroin upon its first use. Dopamine is the brain's happy chemical; it causes euphoria, contentment, and blocks all feelings of pain. Since opioid drugs deplete the brain's stores of dopamine, a chemical imbalance is caused from the very first use, creating an emotional depression and instant cravings for more heroin when the happy feelings wear off. Although one dose of heroin cannot cause a physical dependence, heroin is perhaps the only drug that generates such strong psychological cravings after only one use.

One out of every four people who try heroin will become addicted to it at some point. That's 25% - a number far higher than any other intoxicant or illicit substance. Prescription opioids are somewhat less addictive if taken as directed, but if you abuse them (by taking them too often or in larger quantities), they can become nearly as habit-forming as heroin itself.

In short, heroin is so addictive that it presents a significant risk to try it, even one time.

2. What Are the Origins of Heroin?

Opium probably originated in Mesopotamia, but since those ancient days it has been cultivated and consumed in Greece, China, Egypt, India, Afghanistan, and many more places.

Heroin was not extracted in the form of diamorphine until 1874, when an English researcher synthesized it from morphine. The substance was instantly considered a medical breakthrough. Although its source - opium - was cultivated mostly in India and Asia, heroin production remained localized predominantly to Europe and the United States, where it was a legal and acceptable remedy for coughs, colds, and (incredibly) as a treatment for morphine addiction. It took almost 50 years for authorities to recognize the dangerous addictive qualities of heroin and ban its use in the 1920s.

Of course, opium suppliers and profiteers already knew the potential of heroin and didn't waste any time producing it for sale on the black market after it was outlawed. From the 1920s through the '90s, heroin was fabricated in Asia and the Middle East and then smuggled into Europe and the United States by the European mafia. Then Latin America began producing it and smuggling heroin in through Mexico. Today, heroin that is consumed in the USA is produced and imported mostly from Asia and Mexico.

A few decades ago, heroin could be bought and sold on the black market in an almost pure form, but things have changed drastically since then. It is almost impossible to buy heroin on U.S. streets that is not cut with fillers like powdered milk, caffeine, cornstarch, sugar, or strychnine (rat poison). What's worse is that sellers attempt to mask the low quality of their wares by also cutting in other drugs like Fentanyl, crack cocaine, or acetaminophen to increase the perceived potency of the heroin. While certain fillers might not present a great health risk, cutting agents like Fentanyl greatly increase the potential for overdose.

What Does Heroin Look Like?

Since street heroin is so inundated with fillers and cutting agents, it comes in many colors. In its pure form, heroin is a fine white powder, but depending on how it is cut, heroin may also appear as a beige, gray, brown, or black powder.

What Does Heroin Look Like
What Does Heroin Look Like Mobile

Mexico also supplies heroin as a dark, sticky goo. Known as 'black tar heroin', this form of the drug is somewhat weaker and cheaper than its powder counterpart and so is increasing in popularity in the western United States.

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Street Names for Heroin

The black market loves nicknames, especially for illicit substances. Heroin is no different; it goes by scores of different monikers on the streets, but the most common of these include:

  • Junk
  • Dope
  • Tar
  • Mexican Brown
  • Skag
  • Smack
  • H

3. We Are in the Midst of the Worst Heroin Epidemic in U.S. History

Although today's crisis is not the first heroin epidemic to affect humankind, it has become the worst addiction crisis to affect the people of the United States since the country was founded. In 2017 over 2 million U.S. citizens were reported with opioid addictions and 70,000 people died of drug overdoses. That's more than traffic accidents and gun violence combined. About 60% of those were attributed to opioids and even more overdoses were reported from mixing opioids with other drugs. These numbers are astronomical when compared the same statistics only 18 years before. Let's look at the reasons why.

Cutting Heroin
Cutting Heroin Mobile

Prescription opioid medications have existed in some form since the late 1800s but were rarely prescribed by doctors once their addictive qualities were known. Everything changed in 1995 when Purdue Pharma released a new high-strength opioid pill that they marketed as "less addictive" because of its slow-release formula. The pill was called Oxycontin.

According to Purdue, the 12 hour slow-release action of Oxycontin made it a safe, less habit-forming method for treating all types of pain. The pharmaceutical giant then proceeded to launch a multi-million dollar marketing campaign to doctors, inviting them to retreats and weekend-long parties where physicians were courted, schmoozed, and educated about the benefits of pain management with Oxy at luxurious restaurants, hotels, and all-expenses-paid resorts. It worked. Doctors quickly began adjusting their views on healthy pain management and the prescriptions came rolling in. In 1997 doctors gave out 670,000 Oxy prescriptions. That number rose to 6.2 million by 2005.

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Yes, you read that right. 6.2 million Oxycontin prescriptions. In the U.S. alone. An 825% increase.

Are you starting to see a problem here? In 2005 there were as many as six million people gobbling the strongest opioid pill ever to be approved by the FDA, sometimes only for minor aches and pains. Purdue's marketing campaigns on humane pain management were so successful that doctors began prescribing more of other types of opioids too, and painkiller prescriptions of all kinds increased exponentially. People began to develop tolerances to the drugs, increasing their doses, and some discovered that Oxycontin's 12-hour release mechanism could be bypassed by crushing, shooting, or snorting the pills. It all went downhill from there.

Millions of people across the nation became dependent on opioids, and most of those addictions were altogether unintentional. People of every profession, social class, and ethnicity were affected. Class-action lawsuits from accidentally addicted patients came pouring in against Purdue Pharma, but the company ignored the implications. Purdue continued to market Oxycontin as a less-addictive opioid for years as a nation of healthy patients became addicts. It took 12 years, hundreds of lawsuits, and a fine of $634-million for Purdue to change their story, but by then, the damage was done.

Heroin and Opioid Statistics
Heroin and Opioid Statistics Mobile

When drug overdose death rates tripled within a 15 year span, the opioid abuse and addiction problem became evident to everyone. The FDA and CDC launched campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of opioid addiction and doctors were encouraged to pull back on prescriptions. When the prescriptions ceased however, long-dependent patients were not offered treatment or counseling for their opioid addiction. Instead they were thrown into sudden and severe drug withdrawal. Faced with pain and withdrawal symptoms, they turned to the black market to purchase pills. Eventually, even black market availability of prescription opioids ran dry, and hundreds of thousands of desperate individuals turned to the next best thing to ease their pain - heroin.

Today, the heroin crisis not only continues; it's getting worse. Government and healthcare attempts to restrict prescriptions of opioids have forced more and more pill addicts to use heroin instead. So far, their efforts have only caused the problem to escalate. It would appear that the answer to addiction is not to take the drugs away, but to treat the drug dependence itself, one person at a time.

Heroin in Pop Culture

Pop culture seems to have a love-hate relationship with heroin. On one hand, you have movies like Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream that paint a delightfully horrifying picture of heroin addiction. This type of media would seem to advise against using the drug.

Heroins Effects
Heroins Effects Mobile

On the other hand, some creative circles venerate heroin as a muse of sorts, providing inspiration for their creative endeavors. For example, jazz culture has embraced heroin since the early 20th century when its most famous contributors, like Charlie Parker, publicly attributed their genius to the use of heroin. French painter Jean-Michel Basquiat was also open about his use of heroin on a daily basis. Both artists died of health complications from substance abuse.

Heroin was also a big part of the grunge rock music movement of the 1990s, when Seattle-based bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains embraced the use of heroin and even included it in some of their song lyrics, leading to Seattle's designation as the hub of "espresso, beer and heroin" by the New York Times. Other artists denounce the afflictions of heroin addiction as in Sarah Mclachlan's "Angel", "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and "Hurt" by NIN.

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In short, pop culture's portrayal of heroin is a mixed bag of tragedy and glamor, ecstasy and pain. While the drug is not always glorified, it is put up on a pedestal of glorious despair. Unfortunately, there are people that revel in this sort of painful pleasure, and pop culture's portrayal of heroin can seem attractive despite its stigma.

Heroin and Infants

The darkest and most disturbing aspect of America's heroin epidemic is its impact on the health of our smallest citizens. The number of babies born with drug withdrawal symptoms (neonatal abstinence syndrome or NAS) has increased by a horrifying 500% in the past 20 years. This happens when the mother abuses substances during pregnancy to the point that the baby is addicted to the same drugs when it is born, and then must go through withdrawal upon separation from the mother.

Heroin and Infants
Heroin and Infants Mobile

If you've ever gone through drug withdrawal, you know how dreadful the process can be. For a baby, it's even worse because drug withdrawal symptoms present a real danger to the child's health. For one thing, babies with NAS are usually born too early. Other health implications of NAS include:

  • Increased risk of infection
  • Failure to thrive
  • Low birth weight
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Respiratory complications
  • Heart defects

Besides the health risks caused by prenatal drug use, the sheer agony of drug withdrawal causes these infants to scream, cry, and flail incessantly for weeks or even months on end as they slowly adapt to life without illicit substances. And let's not forget that substance use disorder is a lifelong disease. Babies born with NAS are up to 70% more likely to abuse drugs later in life than their healthy counterparts. The impact of the opioid crisis on America's children is only beginning to be revealed, and as of this moment, there is no overall solution in sight for the epidemic.

4. Heroin Has a Catastrophic Impact on Your Brain and Body

Heroin usually has a near instantaneous effect on the brain and body. It binds to opioid receptors in the brain immediately after it enters the bloodstream, releasing a flood of dopamine into the body. It creates a rush of excitement, contentment, and pleasure. Heroin will also completely remove any perception of pain, either emotional or physical, for a short time. Within three or four hours, however, the comedown will hit hard. Rushes of heroin will leave the brain depleted and imbalanced. Pleasure will be replaced with pain, depression, and melancholy as the balance of dopamine in the brain shifts. The more often you use, the worse the comedown will feel.

An often overlooked aspect of heroin abuse is its effect on the pleasure centers of the brain. With every use, the body's dopamine stores will be further depleted, and no happy chemicals will be leftover for life's simple pleasures. With no dopamine left to create pleasure during activities like eating, playing sports, and sex, you will no longer experience the same natural pleasure as before as life loses meaning and interest in comparison to the one and only source of dopamine release - heroin. Any time you're not using, your pleasure centers will be depleted and dry, leaving you with depression, irritation, and despair.

What Heroin Does to the Brain

You already know that heroin works by releasing unnatural quantities of dopamine into the brain, but what other effects does the drug have on your brain over time?

Heroin in the Brain
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For one thing, once a consistent habit of drug abuse has developed, your brain will try to compensate for the chemical imbalances this causes by suppressing opioid receptors and slowing the release of dopamine. This creates a tolerance to heroin and requires you to use a larger dose at each sitting in order to achieve the same high.

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An additional effect of regular heroin abuse is the slowing of the Central Nervous System (CNS) every time you use. When heroin slows the CNS, it also slows vital functions like heartbeat and breathing. Your brain will become alarmed by this slowing down of the body's basic processes, and so it will release excitatory neurotransmitters (stimulant chemicals) in order to keep things running at a normal rate. If this pattern continues, the brain will keep producing stimulant chemicals to compensate for heroin abuse until the process becomes the new normal, and the brain will forget how to function without the steady cycle of happy chemicals, CNS depressants, and stimulant chemicals that have become the norm. At this point, your brain would be dependent on the use of heroin to maintain the status quo. If you quit heroin after this cycle has been established, all hell will break loose and heroin withdrawal symptoms will come rolling in.

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Lastly, heroin abuse and its subsequent slowing of CNS processes (like breathing) reduce the amount of oxygen that reaches the brain. Over time, this lack of oxygen can damage brain cells, slowing cognitive function and changing thinking patterns as well as behavior. This effect, as well as the brain's rewiring to compensate for heroin addiction, can and will change the physiological structure of the brain permanently.

Physical Side Effects of Using Heroin

The brain is not the only part of the body affected by heroin use, not even close. Consistent heroin abuse over time may create any or all of the following problems within the body:

  • Weakened immune system
  • Impotence or reduced sexual capacity
  • Loss of mental performance and memory
  • Infections in blood vessels and heart valves
  • Infectious disease like AIDS or Hepatitis C
  • Poor oral health
  • Collapsed veins
  • Organ damage, particularly to the kidneys and liver
  • Insomnia
  • Sores on the skin and face

5. Eventually, You WILL Overdose

The great majority of drug overdose deaths involve opioids. In fact, it is estimated that the average heroin addict loses 20 years of life due to their addiction. Why is heroin so deadly?

One reason is the volatile substances used to cut the drug, Dealers cut in things like crack cocaine, Fentanyl, or even poisonous strychnine to make the heroin stretch farther, increasing their profits. Any of these substances could increase the overdose potential of a batch of heroin, but Fentanyl is by far the most lethal. At around 100 times the strength of standard morphine, Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that increases the effects of heroin and its potency. Since a user has no way of knowing how much Fentanyl could be cut into the heroin or even that it's there at all, a Fentanyl-reinforced batch of heroin could be unpredictable and deadly.

Heroin Overdose
Heroin Overdose Mobile

Another factor that contributes to heroin overdoses is variance of purity. Heroin purchased on the street could be anywhere from 3% to 90% pure. The average batch is about 35% pure nationwide but varies according to its geographical source, location, and supplier. So let's say a heroin addict who is accustomed to using the drug at about 30% purity stumbles upon a batch that is 90% pure. In all likelihood, he would have no way of knowing that this particular batch is so potent and so he cooks up his usual dose. He will almost certainly overdose, without even realizing the danger he is in.

Prescription opioids also cause a great many overdoses due to their enormous potential to slow down CNS processes like breathing and heart rate. They are even more dangerous when mixed with other drugs.

Mixing Heroin and Other Drugs

We already know that heroin use slows down the heart, lungs, and the flow of oxygen. When this effect is mixed with the side effects of other drugs, the results are often life-threatening. And yet, mixing heroin with other substances is a widespread, even popular, pastime.

Mixing Heroin With Other Substances
Mixing Heroin With Other Substances Mobile

One example of a common substance combo is heroin and alcohol. This mix is particularly lethal because of the double CNS-depressing effect of opioids and alcohol together. When mixed, they slow the respiration and heartbeat to a dangerous crawl. As many as 20% of all opioid overdose deaths involve alcohol, according to the CDC.

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Perhaps you've also heard of "speedballing" - the combination of heroin and cocaine. Cocaine can hide the signs of an impending heroin overdose while heroin has the same effect of covering up the indications of a cocaine-induced stroke. Because of this phenomenon, someone who is speedballing may suddenly fall over dead, providing no time to seek the medical attention that could have saved their life. Speedballing was a prevalent practice during the 1980s and '90s and brought about the deaths of John Belushi, Chris Farley, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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6. Heroin Addiction is a Permanent Disease

Some TV shows and movies would have us believe that people can get clean once and never have to battle with addiction again. They make a short stint in rehab look like a magic cure. The truth is, there is no simple, fast "cure" for addiction. Substance use disorder is a chronic disease with no known cure, according to both the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the the American Psychiatric Association.

So despite how fast Kevin got over his addiction in the second season of This is Us, it is rarely (if ever) that easy. Especially when a long-term drug dependence is involved, addiction changes neural pathways and messaging patterns in the brain forever. So even after you do get clean, there may always be some part of your brain that craves heroin. The battle is a long one, and relapses are common, as with any other chronic disease.

Heroin Addiction
Heroin Addiction Mobile

But don't throw in the towel just yet. Just because addiction is a permanent condition does not mean it cannot be treated. Like diabetes, substance use disorder (SUD) can be treated. Through a combination of therapeutic activities, counseling, medication, and ongoing therapy, addiction can be conquered and relapses can be overcome or even prevented. There is hope; a lifetime of sobriety is possible with treatment and dedication. Millions of people have recovered from SUD to lead healthy, fulfilling lives; each of them finds their own unique path to sobriety.

How Long Does It Take to Quit Heroin?

There are several ways to interpret this question. One could understand this as "How long does heroin stay in your system?" The answer to this would be a few hours, since the heroin half-life is (arguably) about 20 - 30 minutes.

Heroin Withdrawal
Heroin Withdrawal Mobile

This means that heroin will remain in the urine and blood for several hours after taking it, while the hair may contain traces of heroin for 90 days.

This is not to say that getting clean from heroin will be a fast process. Although the drug technically leaves the bloodstream within a few hours, heroin withdrawal lasts just as long as with most other drugs - a week or two, maybe more. And even then, the battle is not over.

Heroin has a significant and long-lasting effect on the brain. Even after heroin withdrawal symptoms have passed, cravings and longings for the drug may continue on-and-off for years or decades. Coping with those cravings and dealing with addictive tendencies may change the way you live your life for, well, forever. So, in one sense, when you ask, "How long does it take to quit heroin?" The answer may also be, "A lifetime."

7. This is What the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Looks Like

We've touched on how the brain copes with heroin addiction and compensates for it. One consequence of these compensation efforts is that when you do try to quit using, your brain and body no longer remember how to function in a normal, healthy way and so must completely re-adjust their patterns once again and detoxify from heroin's poisonous effects. This is the process of drug withdrawal.

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline
Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Mobile

Heroin withdrawal in particular is a brutal affair. It is known for severe flu-like symptoms and psychological turmoil. In general it will last about seven days. The severity of the addiction will influence how long heroin withdrawal lasts and how serious the withdrawal symptoms are. This is a timeline of heroin withdrawal:

Stage 1: Twelve Hours - Two Days

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Runny nose
  • The sweats
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Muscle aches
  • Excessive yawning
  • Hypertension
  • Fever

Stage 2: Two Days - Seven Days

  • Depression
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Goosebumps and "crawling skin" sensation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps

Quitting Cold Turkey

How to quit heroin cold turkey: Don't.

Because of the nature and severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms, it is one of the most dangerous and painful withdrawal processes to go through. A combination of vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and heavy sweating could lead to deadly dehydration, for one thing, and severe depression and melancholy alongside debilitating pain can lead to suicidal thoughts or relapse. Relapse is much more likely during a cold turkey detox as well since there is rarely anyone or any way to resist the urge at home alone.

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Before trying to quit, it is recommended to consult with an addiction specialist to recommend the best method that will lend greater chances of success. Medical experts will also be quick to recognize the signs of dehydration or severe depression and can provide emergency medical attention if needed, a life-saving precaution that would not be available if you quit heroin cold turkey.

Furthermore, quitting heroin cold turkey is unnecessary. Without supervised treatments to ease the process, getting clean from heroin will be much more unpleasant than it has to be. Why not use every means possible to make the process easier and more successful? Relapse rates are markedly lower for those who undergo professional heroin detox programs.

8. Heroin Detox Is the Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do

If you or someone you know is suffering from heroin use disorder, you probably already have a good idea of how excruciating heroin withdrawal can be. These are some accounts by recovered heroin addicts that attempt to describe the process:

  • "My stomach started to convulse with accompanying vomit and pain. So I spent most of day 3, 4, and 5 on the toilet, or with my head in a bucket, or sometimes both at once."
  • "It feels like the worst flu you ever had, the sickest you've ever been, times suicidal thoughts and complete and total confidence that you are never, ever, ever going to feel better. It feels like the day your wife left and your kitten died and there were no more rainbows anywhere and never will be again."
  • "You can't sleep. So there's no respite. There's anxiety and panic and feelings of dread and thoughts of this never getting better."
  • "I couldn't focus my attention on anything, except the fact that I had no more dope. My arm muscles felt as if they would fly out of my skin, and my skin was crawling. "
  • "The poison seems to make a horrid effort to convince you that you will in fact die if you do not get one more fix."

OK, you get it. Heroin withdrawal is hard. You know this. But can you really anticipate how you'll react when you are in the grip of it? Most people don't plan to relapse in the middle of detox, and yet it is the most common time for relapse to occur.

It is exceedingly difficult to imagine or foretell how you'll cope with the throes of heroin detox until you're right in the middle of it. Even if you've been through it before, knowing what you're in for does not make it any easier. No matter how many times you've been through or attempted heroin detox, every time is the worst time. For this reason, it is crucial to manage heroin detox symptoms in the most effective way possible to make the process more bearable. It doesn't have to be quite so dreadful.

Professional Detox Programs

With the help of a professionally supervised heroin detox program, heroin withdrawal is a completely different experience. Granted, it won't be much fun in any situation, but it doesn't have to be so agonizing either. Detox treatments for heroin can be more effective and helpful than similar treatments for other drugs, especially because of specialized medication protocols that reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms. Below are some of the most effective ways that professional heroin detox centers can help.

Medical Detox or Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT): There are a variety of prescription medications that can ease heroin withdrawal and minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms. One method is through Opioid Replacement Therapy (ORT). These medicines can also reduce cravings and help to prevent relapse. Some of them include:

Medically Assisted Treatment
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Counseling and Group Therapy: While some counseling methods may be better suited to a drug rehab environment, short traditional counseling sessions and process groups can help to address the psychological symptoms of heroin withdrawal, such as anxiety or depression.

Holistic Detox: Medications are not the only ways to ease the symptoms of heroin withdrawal. Physical and mental stimulation, as well as good nutrition, have been shown to improve patients' mood and make the process more manageable. Some holistic activities that are effective during heroin detox are:

Holistic Detox
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  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Supplemental Nutrition Therapy
  • Hipnosis
  • Exercise

Detox from Heroin at Home

Earlier we went over the dangers of quitting heroin cold turkey, but that doesn't mean you can't detox from heroin in the comfort of your own home. Many heroin detox facilities offer medically supervised outpatient programs that allow patients to live at home during the heroin detox phase. It may not be safe or recommended for everyone, however. You would need to start by consulting a doctor with experience in addiction management to recommend the best possible program in your case. Here are a few recommendations for a successful home detox:

  • Establish a trustworthy support system of family or friends who can remind you to eat, drink, exercise, or call emergency help if necessary.
  • Develop a firm understanding of any medical detox prescriptions as well as ready medical contacts to report potential problems, drug interactions, or alarming side effects.
  • Make sure the environment is safe and free of drugs, alcohol, drug paraphernalia, or other potential triggers.
  • Avoid all exposure to other active drug users, dealers, or otherwise toxic people and relationships.

There are also some recommendations of what NOT to do:

  • Do not give yourself a backup plan; no "last fix" hidden away, no dealer numbers saved in your contact list.
  • Do not increase or change dosages of detox medications unless specifically instructed to do so by a doctor.
  • Do not self-medicate with any medications or supplements that are not pre-approved by your doctor.
  • Do not ignore severe mental confusion, suicidal thoughts, or unbearable anxiety. Ask your support system to report any such symptoms as well.

If any of these recommendations sound difficult or impossible to achieve in your home, outpatient heroin detox may not be for you. Find out by contacting an addiction hotline to ask about the options.

9. Drug Rehab Is 100% Necessary

Completing heroin detox successfully is so difficult that many recovering addicts celebrate too early, call themselves clean after drug withdrawal symptoms end, and try to jump back into their regular routine. This is a big mistake.

Drug Rehab 100 Necessary
Drug Rehab 100 Necessary Mobile

Sobriety is not synonymous with recovery. Getting sober does not mean you are finished with recovery. Relapse is always possible, even likely, shortly after the detox phase is complete. Here are some statistics to drive the point home:

  • The chances of overdose are significantly higher for patients who relapse.
  • Relapse rates for heroin addicts are about 90%.
  • Relapse rates are 20% lower for patients who complete a rehabilitation program.

Relapse overdoses are incredibly dangerous, often lethal. This is because your tolerance will drop off quickly during heroin withdrawal, meaning that you'll need a much smaller dose than you were taking before detox. It often happens, however, that recently sober individuals relapse and attempt to inject the same dose as before, causing instant overdose.

What does rehab have to do with all this? Drug rehab can help you learn how to prevent relapse. Relapse prevention is an important part of every effective drug rehab program, along with coping mechanisms for cravings. Strategies like this bring average relapse rates down 20% for patients who complete heroin rehab.

Integrated Treatment for Dual Diagnosis

Another very important reason to complete drug rehabilitation is access to integrated treatment for dual diagnoses. 60% or more of heroin addicts also suffer from other co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder or PTSD. Without a precise diagnosis and integrated treatment program to address the underlying conditions behind your addiction, your chances of a successful recovery are much lower.

At a dual diagnosis rehab center, a team of specialized psychiatrists and medical personnel will perform a series of mental, emotional, and biosocial examinations to determine whether or not there are any co-occurring mental disorders that are attributing to your addiction. Once a dual diagnosis has been established, both conditions can be treated at the same time in order to address all of the factors that are underlying your addiction, not just the symptoms.

By completing drug rehab after heroin detox, you'll be given the understanding and tools you need to build a successful life of sobriety.

Aftercare Is Key

Even after drug rehab for heroin is complete, your recovery journey is not over. This is a lifelong thing, remember? Most drug rehab centers offer several options for aftercare that will help you transition back into a healthy lifestyle:

Outpatient Aftercare: For less severe addictions, heroin treatment can be continued for several hours per week in an outpatient program as the patient becomes re-accustomed to a sober lifestyle.

Partial Hospitalization: For the most severe addictions, a slow transition back into everyday life can be achieved through a partial hospitalization program. This scenario only works for post-inpatient care and involves six hours of continued inpatient care for five days of every week.

Support Groups: Even after rehabilitation is complete, attending meetings and support groups may be key to staying clean for years or a lifetime after you have defeated addiction. Long-term sobriety is about 15% more successful for people who continue to attend support groups after addiction treatment is over.

10. It's Never Too Late to Help Friends or Family with Heroin Dependence

If someone you love is suffering from heroin use disorder, you have likely already been on a long and painful journey. Watching someone struggle with addiction is gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, and often maddening.

Before you can hope to help them however, get educated about heroin addiction. Remember that this a chronic, lifelong disease and heroin addicts do not want to hurt themselves or anyone else; they often have little control over their own actions. Learn about the causes of addiction, how it works, how it can be treated, and which drug treatment options are available in your area before attempting to help.

If a heroin addict has repeatedly tried to put an end to their addiction unsuccessfully, and you are worried for their health and well-being, it may be time to stage an intervention. This will not be easy, however, so make sure you have the right preparations in place:

  • Consult an intervention specialist at a professional drug rehab facility to guide you through the process.
  • Set a date and time to stage the intervention; the addict should not know about it ahead-of-time.
  • Point out ways that the addict is damaging his or her own life, relationships, and well-being.
  • Plan ahead; make sure anyone who is present is a close, influential member of the addict's friends and family.
  • Make a list beforehand of expectations and compelling consequences for the addict. (Example: "If you don't seek treatment, I will not allow you to live with me in this house.")
  • Be prepared to go through with your stated consequences if the addict refuses treatment.

Don't Wait Another Day

Whether you are reading this article to learn more about your addiction or someone else's, time is of the essence. Heroin abuse is the most deadly of all drug dependencies, and your next dose may by your last. Don't rob yourself or your loved ones of a potentially long and fulfilling life. Begin your recovery journey today to discover the possibilities for a healthy lifestyle. What's your Day One?

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10 Facts to Know if You're Getting Clean From Heroin Addiction
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