What to Expect from a Heroin Detox


Research shows that more than 130 people die every day in the United States as a result of an opioid overdose.

From prescription painkillers to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, the epidemic is very real, dangerous, and costly, creating an economic burden across the country that equals around $78.5 billion per year.

Within this class of drugs is another well-known culprit: heroin.

Are you or someone you know addicted to heroin? If so, you know how detrimental it can be.

From the physical anguish it causes to the emotional despair that lingers long after the high, it’s a devastating disorder that can throw even the most promising life off course.

That’s why a heroin detox is such a smart move. When performed in conjunction with an addiction treatment program, it helps rid your body of the toxic substance that’s weighing it down and holding it back.

Today, we’re taking a look at what you can expect during this process and how to prepare.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started.

How Long Does a Heroin Detox Take?

Before you begin a treatment program, you may be wondering how long it will take to remove the heroin substance from your body.

While everyone has a different detox experience, most are in line with the traditional heroin withdrawal timeline.

A quick-acting drug, it doesn’t take long for heroin to dissipate in your bloodstream. As such, most heroin detoxes take around five to seven days, after which your body is free of the substance.

Are you a heavy heroin abuser? If so, your detox could take up to 10 days or more.

How Do I Start?

Though it might only last a couple of days, a heroin detox can be one of the most challenging times of your life, affecting both your body and mind.

You’ll need to plan for the process in advance so you can approach it with a calmed mind and prepared body.

In general, your detox can take one of two routes. Let’s explore each in greater detail.

Cold Turkey

First, you can decide to quit heroin cold turkey. This means you end the heroin use all at once.

While this can seem like a quick and painless way to get the job done, medical professionals don’t suggest it because it poses a risk of dehydration and shock. You’re also more prone to relapse.

If that happens, it could trigger an overdose, especially if the newest dosage is equal to or greater than the last one.

Inpatient Program

You can also enroll in an official, inpatient detox program where trained therapists and rehabilitation specialists will walk you through the process, step by step.

Are you someone who uses heroin on a casual basis? If so, the detox process might not be as grueling for you. There are some heroin withdrawal medications, such as Clonidine, Methadone, Buprenorphine and Codeine Phosphate that can help lessen any symptoms you may have.

Conversely, if you’re used to engaging in drug use every day, the aftermath could leave you reeling. In this case, it’s often wise for heavy users to enroll in an inpatient rehab program and detox there, under the watchful eye of a medical professional.

Against DIY Detox

Today, there are myriad products and services on the market designed to let you take a DIY, hands-on approach to your heroin withdrawal.

Tempting as they might be, steer clear of these solutions and trust your health to an expert instead. The costs aren’t worth what you’re risking and neither is your health.

When you trust your future to a team of doctors at a treatment facility, you’ll feel as comfortable as possible, even when you’re undergoing an intense detox.

These professionals will help you taper off your heroin use in stages rather than suggest you quit cold turkey. This way, you don’t send your body into a state of shock, and your withdrawal symptoms aren’t as taxing.

What Can I Expect?

Once you’ve decided how you’re going to detox your body of heroin, it’s helpful to anticipate the changes your body and mind may go through.

As you learn more about this transition, it’s tempting to shrink under the pressure. Yet, rest assured that, though detox is a challenge, it’s one you can overcome.

The physical and psychological effects that you feel will vary from someone else’s. Likewise, the severity of your symptoms aligns with how long you’ve been using the drug.

Next, let’s take a look at some common heroin withdrawal symptoms you may encounter as you take part in your detox.

Short-Term Heroin Detox Symptoms

You may begin to experience symptoms of your heroin detox in as little as six hours after your last use.

Keeping in mind that these symptoms are different for everyone and every circumstance. Here are a few physical symptoms you can expect to experience in the short-term timeframe after you choose to quit:

  • Runny nose
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive tear secretion
  • Muscle pains
  • Excessive yawning
  • Excessive perspiration

In addition, you may also experience psychological symptoms a few hours later, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Bouts of aggression
  • Inability to focus
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Aggression
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia

Notice how many more symptoms are physical in nature? This is why it’s so important to undergo a detox in a secure, monitored environment.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a withdrawal medication to make this stage of the detox more manageable.

Long-Term Withdrawal Effects

You may think you’re out of the woods once your short-term symptoms let up. Yet, this is where the most difficult stage kicks in.

After about three to five days, you’ll feel effects that are even more intense. They also last longer, so it’s critical to be prepared.

The long-term physical effects to expect during your heroin detox may include:

  • Relapse
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings to use the drug
  • Sensitivity to light and sound
  • Hyperactivity
  • High blood pressure
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dilated pupils

In addition, the following long-term psychological symptoms may also be present:

  • Depression
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Mood
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Speak with your doctor if you experience any of these as this professional can walk you through how long the symptoms will persist. Professional support at this time is essential as it can help you navigate these symptoms and make sure they don’t lead to more issues.

For instance, it isn’t uncommon for those who are vomiting in a violent manner to inhale their stomach contents, which can lead to asphyxiation. An on-site specialist can ensure events like this do not occur and that the patient’s safety is always top of mind.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

In some of the most acute cases of heroin use, you may still feel long-term effects, even up to 24 months after the detox is over.

This is a condition known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS. If you suffer from it, your symptoms aren’t consistent. Rather, they come and go at periodic times, triggered by neurological changes that occur in your brain with drug use.

Some of the most common PAWS symptoms include fatigue, depression, irritability, and insomnia.

When Will It Subside?

Though it might feel as though your heroin detox will last forever, take heart. Over time, as your body adjusts to life without the drug in your veins, your symptoms will lessen.

After around three to four days, the most intense systems resulting from your detox will subside. Most people begin to feel more like themselves again after about one week.

Even so, there may still be some mild symptoms that linger. This is where adopting a clean lifestyle comes into play. Focus on eating well, exercising, and fueling your body with all the nutrients you can.

This approach helps fortify your physical wellbeing and sets the stage for healthier tomorrow.

Alleviating Detox Symptoms

The best way to avoid a painful and lengthy detox?  Allow a trained professional to take you through it. Otherwise, it’s akin to suffering through the worse flu of your life but refusing to call the doctor.

In the meantime, there are a few ways you can help manage your symptoms.

Your smartest move? Drink plenty of water.

Dehydration is a common short-term symptom of withdrawal. This is because sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting are also symptoms, causing your body to lose water.

This type of dehydration extends past flaky skin and chapped lips. Rather, it entails full-body dehydration that can render negative effects on your entire being.

Patients who drink two to three liters of water per day can help flush their body of the substance more quickly. They can also avoid the dreaded dehydration that most associate with detoxing.

Another way to help rebuild your immunity and replace lost nutrients is to begin taking a vitamin B and C supplement.

Factors Affecting Detox Timeline

As discussed, the severity of drug use is one factor in determining how long the withdrawal timeline will be.

You should also consider your pain tolerance level.

Are you someone who cringes at the drop of a hat? Are you unlikely to grit your teeth and suffer through the symptoms, knowing that a healthier future is on the horizon?

If so, your process could wind up taking longer than your peer’s. This is because your doctor will have to devise workarounds to keep you as comfortable as possible.

A final factor is your preferred method of administering heroin. If you shoot heroin, your recovery time may be lengthier than someone who smokes it.

In addition, other factors that contribute to your timeline may include your:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Mental health
  • Medical history
  • Genetic makeup and profile

Your recovery specialist will take all of these factors into account when estimating the duration of your heroin detox.

Understanding the Evaluation Stage

Before you begin the actual detox mission, your therapist will walk you through an evaluation stage.

In short, this means demonstrating to a healthcare clinic that you’re ready to accept the challenge of quitting your heroin use.

A trained professional will ask you about your health history, how long you’ve been using heroin, and any other substance abuse concerns that could lead to rendering a dual diagnosis.

At the same time, you may have to provide a sample of urine, undergo an X-ray, receive an electrocardiogram, or undergo a blood test.

The facility you choose may use this time to screen you for any other health concerns.

For instance, there are several diseases stemming from opioid abuse, including HIV, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis. A thorough examination helps ensure you’re taking the right approach to treating the full scope of your symptoms.

Find the Recovery Support You Need

Ultimately, the decision to undergo a heroin detox is a personal one. However, considering the time requirements, it’s not one to second-guess for too long.

As you prepare your body for life without heroin, you may experience strong cravings and possible health concerns.

This is why it’s best to work alongside an expert who knows what to look for and how to help. It also helps to carry out your detox in a treatment facility, where outside influences and temptations are lessened.

When you’re ready to take that next step and find a treatment facility around you, we’d love to help.

We’re a world-class recovery center specializing in treating opiate addictions. You’ll brave your treatment with around-the-clock access to medical assistance, all while enjoying a small, client-to-staff ratio and a more tranquil setting.

Get in touch today to learn more about what we do and how we can help. Then, let’s take that important next step together.

 

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Article Reviewed by Lidice Morales

Lidice MoralesLidice Morales, an honors graduate from the Kaiser University, has made a name for herself as the Director of Nursing at several behavioral health facilities and as the Director of Operations for Detox MD. Now she is the VP of Operations at DreamLife Recovery. She strives for better patient care through constant self-improvement and furthering her education. Her steadfast work ethic and passion in the field has remained the most important aspect of her professional career; showing dedication to not only the acquisition of new knowledge, but also its mastery. Lidice believes that a professional work atmosphere fosters cohesion and malleability amongst herself and her coworkers; thereby increasing both the level of patient care and quality of life.

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