Heroin detox is an important and necessary stage of treatment for people who are ready to recover from addiction. The goal of detox is to help people safely and comfortably withdraw from drugs while reducing the risk of complications.
Keep reading to learn more about heroin detox and withdrawal, how it works, and where you can find quality and evidence-based treatment in Massachusetts.
What Is Heroin Detox?
Heroin detox is a treatment that helps people recover from physical dependence on the drug. When a person becomes physically dependent on certain drugs, they can experience a variety of withdrawal symptoms when quitting this drug abruptly. Insomnia, muscle aches, and drug cravings are some of the many symptoms that can occur during withdrawal.
Heroin detox usually takes place at an inpatient drug detox center or hospital, where patients can be closely monitored by nurses and doctors as they go through withdrawal. Medications are used to reduce symptoms and potential complications, including drug cravings.
Experiencing withdrawal seems incredibly scary, and many who suffer from heroin dependence may feel anxious and hesitant about the idea of going to detox. The primary benefit of receiving detox is having the opportunity to experience a safe, comfortable recovery with reduced symptoms and complications.
Who Needs Heroin Detox?
Heroin detox is essential for anyone who is physically dependent on this drug. Physical dependence is not the same as addiction, though most people who are physically dependent on heroin are also addicted to it.
Physical dependence on heroin develops gradually over time with regular and repeated use. Using it every day can cause the body to naturally adjust to the presence of the drug. When a person suddenly quits after using for a long period, a set of withdrawal symptoms will occur in response to the drug’s absence.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that a person is physically dependent on a substance if they experience withdrawal symptoms when suddenly stopping use of the substance. A person is also physically dependent on a substance if they use it in an attempt to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
How Long Does Heroin Detox Usually Last?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), heroin detox lasts an average of four to 10 days, while a study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience states that heroin detox lasts one to five days.
The exact length of heroin detox and withdrawal is different for each patient based on factors including their age and the amount they were using. Other factors that may affect the length of detoxification include:
- Weight and body fat percentage
- Genetics and family medical history
- Frequency of use
- Length of time the drug was used consistently
- Polydrug use (using heroin with other substances including fentanyl or cocaine)
- Immune system health
- Diet and nutrition
- Mental illness
- Physical comorbid health conditions
- Type of medications used in detox
Many doctors at detoxification centers can provide a more accurate timeline based on the above factors. A detox may last longer for those with more severe withdrawal symptoms than for those with mild to moderate symptoms.
What Symptoms Occur During Heroin Detox and Withdrawal?
Heroin withdrawal affects each patient differently, and not all patients will experience the same set of symptoms at the same severity levels.
Symptoms usually begin within eight to 12 hours after the last use. Anxiety and drug cravings are often the first symptoms to appear.
Common heroin withdrawal symptoms, according to WHO and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), include:
- Hot and cold flushes
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Tearing eyes
- Runny nose
- Dilated pupils
- Abdominal cramping
- Drug cravings
Heroin withdrawal is comparable to a bad case of the flu and can often be extremely uncomfortable for the patient. Symptoms aren’t life-threatening on their own, but some may increase the risk for life-threatening complications when not properly managed. For example, symptoms like vomiting, sweating, and diarrhea can increase the risk of dehydration, while drug cravings can increase the risk of relapse and overdose.
Detox aims to minimize these symptoms so patients can stay safe and experience a successful recovery without these complications.
What Happens During Heroin Detox?
Detox may be performed in a hospital-like inpatient setting or a home-like residential setting at an addiction treatment center. Patients have settled into their rooms right away, where they can rest and relax for the duration of their withdrawal and detox treatment.
Nurses and doctors check on patients about three to four times a day to track symptoms and rate their severity levels. All patients are encouraged to drink plenty of water to replenish fluids lost through sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea and are given nutritional supplements to boost and strengthen their immune systems.
Medications can be used to control withdrawal symptoms. The types of medications used will vary from one patient to the next based on their symptoms and the severity levels of those symptoms.
Patients are generally encouraged to relax and take it easy during the detox process, especially given how insomnia and anxiety are among the most common symptoms of withdrawal. Patients can do mild exercises and activities if they wish, though vigorous exercise and strenuous activities are not usually encouraged due to the potential risk of setbacks and delayed recovery.
What Medications Are Used in Heroin Detox?
Symptomatic treatment is usually sufficient for those experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms, according to WHO. This means patients with mild symptoms are given medications that treat only those specific symptoms. For example, patients who are experiencing insomnia, anxiety, and headache may be given sedatives to help them relax and over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce their headaches.
Moderate to severe symptoms are often treated using opioid replacement medications that can effectively reduce all withdrawal symptoms—including drug cravings. These medications are methadone and buprenorphine.
Methadone is a long-acting drug with the ability to reduce all withdrawal symptoms. It does this by interacting with the same brain receptors as heroin but without producing the same euphoric, pleasurable effects. Some patients stay on methadone for many years, especially if the medication helps them stay sober and avoid a relapse.
According to the NIDA, patients who use methadone are nearly 4.5 times more likely to stay in treatment compared with those who do not use methadone or any other medication. Inpatient detox treatments that involve the use of methadone usually last five to seven days and produce a retention rate of 80%.
Buprenorphine works similarly to methadone to reduce withdrawal symptoms, including drug cravings. It can be used to shorten the length of the detox process, or as a long-term maintenance medication like methadone that can be taken for many years. Patients who use buprenorphine are shown to be 1.8 times more likely to stay in treatment than patients who do not use this drug or any other medication to treat heroin dependence.
Other Medications for Severe Withdrawal
Detox centers may use other medications to treat patients with severe withdrawal symptoms, including clonidine, lofexidine, and benzodiazepines.
Clonidine can reduce most withdrawal symptoms with the exception of drug cravings. Lofexidine works similarly to clonidine but without producing side effects, including low blood pressure and sedation. Benzodiazepines are often highly effective at reducing insomnia and anxiety but may not be ideal for patients who were using these sedatives with heroin, as they are also habit-forming and can lead to physical dependence.
Is It Safe for People to Detox From Heroin at Home?
Some people try to detox at home instead of seeking treatment at a drug detox center. These individuals may want to maintain privacy, keep their addiction private, or save money and avoid treatment costs. Others may feel confident enough to think they can successfully detox on their own without help or professional treatment.
However, at-home detox can be extremely risky and dangerous, as it prevents individuals from gaining access to medications that can reduce symptoms and drug cravings. Some symptoms can get severe enough to the point people resume drug use or take other opioids just to find relief. This increases the risk for relapse and overdose, especially if the person’s tolerance levels go down after taking a break from heroin for only a few days.
The safest and most effective way to recover from physical dependence is to receive professional detox services. Heroin detox is relatively affordable, and patients can benefit from knowing their identities and medical information is kept private and confidential. Patients can also gain peace of mind knowing they can experience a more comfortable recovery with medications that reduce symptoms and complications.
What Are Good Ways to Cope During Heroin Detox?
Insomnia, anxiety, and drug cravings are some of the most common and difficult symptoms patients cope with during withdrawal. Here are effective ways patients can find relief from these symptoms and get safely through detox.
Reading, watching television, meditating, and engaging in therapy sessions are some of the many ways patients can stay busy.. Staying busy can distract patients from drug cravings and anxious thoughts and may tire them out so they can fall asleep more easily at the end of the day. Many inpatient detox centers provide patients with plenty of therapeutic activities they can do while withdrawing.
Drink Less Caffeine
Some patients find that caffeine can help reduce stress and help them feel calmer despite the fact caffeine is a stimulant. Caffeine may help with drug cravings and make patients feel more alert after sleepless nights. However, drinking too much caffeine or drinking it close to bedtime may worsen anxiety and insomnia. Patients struggling with these withdrawal symptoms should limit their caffeine intake to early in the morning and drink less throughout the day.
Exercise is a highly therapeutic activity that can naturally reduce drug cravings, anxiety, and insomnia. High-intensity exercise is not recommended during withdrawal, especially among patients with moderate to severe symptoms who may feel ill during this time. However, mild exercises like walking and yoga may help patients feel more relaxed and sleepy at the end of the day.
Exercise also promotes the release of endorphins, which are “feel-good” chemicals that help reduce pain and drug cravings. Many detox centers offer amenities, including fitness centers and swimming pools patients may use during treatment.
Get on a Consistent Sleep Schedule
Going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning trains the body to fall asleep more easily at bedtime. Fortunately, many addiction treatment centers establish the same wake times and nighttime curfews for all patients to help them develop solid daily routines and structures. Patients with insomnia can benefit from maintaining a consistent sleep schedule that helps them fight this symptom.
Recall Negative Heroin Experiences
Remembering past experiences of drug use can often help patients overcome their drug cravings and reflect on why they decided to seek treatment in the first place. Some therapists recommend that patients recall some of the negative experiences they had with heroin and other drug use to fend off cravings, such as embarrassing moments. Recalling these experiences can often help empower and motivate patients to see the bright side of recovery and move past certain traumas.
Eating Healthy Foods
Foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats can often interfere with metabolism and hormones to trigger anxiety and insomnia. However, certain types of foods, including dark leafy greens, fish, fruits, and nuts, are loaded with essential nutrients that improve chemical imbalances in the brain to reduce these symptoms. Many detox centers provide their patients with highly nutritious meals that promote a healthy recovery from drug dependence.
Is Heroin Detox Covered by Health Insurance?
Detox is an essential treatment for opioid use disorder that is covered by many health insurance plans. Substance use disorder is considered a mental and behavioral health condition.. Health insurance may cover some or all costs of treatment, including the cost of medications used to treat drug dependence.
The best way for patients to determine whether their health plans cover detox is to contact their insurance providers directly. Patients can also ask drug rehab centers to perform a free insurance benefits check on their behalf to confirm their coverage.
If patients do not have health insurance or find that detox is not covered by their health plan, many drug rehab centers offer various financing options that can make treatment more affordable. Monthly payment plans and sliding scale fees that adjust the cost of treatment based on income are some of the many financing options offered by rehab centers. Patients are encouraged to contact drug rehab centers to learn more about available financing options.
What Happens After Heroin Detox?
Detox treats only physical dependence on heroin but does not address behaviors related to addiction or the reasons behind a person’s addiction. After detox, many patients transition into a rehab program to receive counseling and behavioral therapy for addiction.
Behavioral therapies focus on helping patients change harmful behaviors, thoughts, and attitudes related to drug use, such as believing drugs are the best way to relieve stress. Patients learn coping skills that help them stay sober outside of a rehab setting and attend support group meetings that allow them to network and connect with peers who share stories about addiction.
Therapy also helps patients manage symptoms of co-occurring mental health disorders that may interfere with recovery, and repair and rebuild relationships with loved ones that may have been affected by addiction.
All these behavioral therapies are available through a residential or outpatient rehab program.
Residential rehab programs are live-in programs that help patients develop new daily routines and healthy behaviors after months or years of suffering from addiction. These programs last a minimum of 30 days, though the NIDA reports that 90-day programs are more effective than shorter programs and produce greater recovery outcomes. Patients receive up to several hours of therapy a day.
Outpatient rehab programs offer more flexibility for patients who have gone back to work or returned home to care for their families. These programs take place at least two days a week for at least two hours a day and help patients become more independent as they navigate their daily lives outside of a treatment setting.
Where Can I Find Heroin Detox Treatment in Massachusetts?
The Haven in New England offers a wide range of detox services in Worcester, Massachusetts, including heroin detox. Our inpatient detox facility is located at 1369 Grafton Street in Worcester, MA 01604. Contact us today at (844) 933-4145 to learn more about our available treatments and services that can help you or your loved one experience a safe and comfortable recovery from opioid dependence and addiction.
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