One of the most looming barriers to getting treatment for a heroin addiction is the anticipation and fear around the detox and withdrawal process. Most addicts will have already experienced a taste of the highly uncomfortable symptoms if the drug was unavailable at some point. Once the body has become chemically dependent on heroin it can be a painful experience trying to break free of it. In the absence of the drug the body will, within hours, begin to exhibit the signs of distress as it attempts to stabilize.

Without medical detox support, most individuals would simply give up and return to the drug as the withdrawal symptoms mount and intensify, never making it into treatment. While detox and withdrawal are difficult regardless, through medical monitoring various interventions can be provided to minimize the suffering and usher the individual through the process safely.

By understanding the heroin detox stages it can help prepare the individual for how the process will unfold and what medical interventions will be offered to assist them. Detox is never a pleasant experience, but with medical oversight by trained detox professionals both the physical and emotional discomfort can be managed. This support allows the individual to enter the detox phase of recovery feeling prepared, confident, and reassured.

About Heroin Withdrawal

When someone enters into detox and withdrawal as the initial step of recovery from a heroin addiction they will first meet with clinical staff to share with them their history of heroin use, how long, how much of the drug is consumed on a daily basis, if there is a history of rehab and relapse, if there is a co-occurring mental health disorder, and physical health status. From this information the clinician can determine the best course of treatment, and approximate how long the detoxification phase will take.

The severity of the detox and withdrawal process will vary between individuals based on these details. The heroin detox stages can be longer or the symptoms harsher for individuals with a long history of extensive heroin use. Also, post-acute withdrawal symptoms can linger for a month or two afterward in many cases. Once this is understood as something to be expected it can help the individual gear up and accept the effects of the heroin detox stages. Generally, heroin detox lasts anywhere from 5-10 days.

What Are the Heroin Detox Stages?

Heroin detoxification processes predictably through three distinct stages. A professional detox team will usher the client through the difficult middle stage using a variety of medical interventions that help mitigate many of the uncomfortable symptoms.

Stage One: Early phase

Withdrawal symptoms begin to appear within 12 hours of the last heroin dosing and may include the following:

  • Sweating
  • Chills and fever
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Drug cravings
  • Excessive yawning
  • Tearing eyes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Elevated blood pressure

Stage Two: Peak phase

Withdrawal symptoms peak on the third day and may include:

  • Goosebumps, shivering
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle spasms
  • Low mood
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Impaired respiration
  • Tremors
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Suicide ideation

Stage Three: Subsiding phase

During the final few days of detox symptoms begin to dramatically subside, although psychological symptoms may persist for some time.

Medication Support for Heroin Recovery

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is available to assist with early recovery. These FDA- approved drugs are also opioids, but are classified as partial opioid agonists. These longer acting opioids, such as Suboxone, buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone, replace the heroin while also reducing cravings for the drug. In many cases, the drugs can begin to be dispensed at a specified stage of detox, which helps ease withdrawal symptoms as well.

MAT is carefully monitored and is provided in tandem with a rehab program, not as a substitute for addiction treatment. The drugs themselves have the capacity to be abused, which is why clients using MAT should be monitored closely with a timeline for tapering at some point in the first year of recovery. MAT can be very effective in helping to prevent relapse and sustain recovery.

Heroin Addiction Treatment

After successful completion of a medical detox the client is ready to being treatment for overcoming the heroin dependency. This process requires commitment and patience, as heroin addiction is a challenging disease to manage. The best outcomes are experienced through residential rehab programs where the client will reside for a few months. That is the length of time it takes for brain chemistry to normalize, for health and wellness to be restored, and for new recovery skills to be reinforced before returning to one’s home community. It also allows client to remove themselves from unhealthy environments and relationships that would undermine their recovery efforts.

Treatment will involve a multi-faceted integrated approach, with treatment elements selected specifically for the individual client. This customization is important if the treatment will be relevant to the client and effective in the long run. Core treatment elements include:

  • Individual psychotherapy. During these one-on-one sessions a clinical psychotherapist will work with the client to explore life issues or past traumas that may be contributing factors to the addiction.
  • Group therapy. Clients benefit from meeting in small groups and discussing their personal stories or challenges under the direction of a clinician.
  • Acquiring recovery skills. During treatment a great deal of attention is directed toward providing clients various recovery tools. These include coping skills, interpersonal skills, stress-reduction techniques, and life skills.
  • 12-step programming. The Alcoholics Anonymous method of incrementally reaching benchmarks in recovery also includes recovery group meetings.
  • Relapse prevention planning. Clients will be educated about how addiction develops, the dangers of relapse, and to strategize about preventing relapse.
  • Holistic activities. To compliment the traditional psychotherapy, certain experiential activities or therapies are utilized. These include yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, journaling, art therapy, and mindfulness meditation.

Quest 2 Recovery Leading Provider of Heroin Addiction Treatment

Quest 2 Recovery is a Los Angeles-based residential treatment program that offers medical detoxification and fully individualized heroin treatment plans. Set in a comfortable, serene home setting, Quest 2 Recovery helps clients quiet their minds and restore health and vitality. For more information about the program, please contact us today at (888) 453-9396.

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