Guide to Quitting Heroin

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) stated that in 2013,169,000 individuals aged 12 or older used heroin for the first time. This equates to about 460 people trying heroin for the first time each and every day. With so many people abusing heroin daily it’s important to know that heroin is highly addictive and abusing the substance could result in a fatal overdose. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, 15,000 people died from a drug overdose that involved heroin. Therefore, it is important to learn how to wean off heroin in order to reduce the chances of dying from an overdose and help you get back to normal life.

There are a number of treatments that have been found to be effective in helping people quit heroin. These include behavioral therapies and medication. Both these treatments help restore normal function to a person’s brain allowing them to get their life back. With that being said, medical detox is the most effective way to start your recovery journey to get off heroin for good.

Science of Heroin Addiction

In order to understand heroin addiction, it is important to understand what addiction is. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that is accompanied by compulsive drug-seeking behaviors, continuing to use the drug despite the harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes to the brain. Addiction is considered a mental illness because of the vast impact it has on altering the chemical balance of the brain.

Heroin is a highly addictive opioid drug that is processed from morphine. Morphine is a naturally occurring substance that is found in poppy plants. Heroin binds to the area of the brain that is responsible for activating the areas that regulate pain, hormone release, and cause feelings of wellbeing. The initial surge of euphoria or rush from heroin as it binds to pleasure receptors in the brain is what makes it so addicting. Over time a person’s brain will adapt to the heroin and no longer naturally produce the chemicals that are responsible for activating the reward center of the brain. This will make a person become dependent on heroin in order to feel good or even normal.

The impact of heroin addiction has is far-reaching. Heroin addiction can result in medical and social consequences such as engaging in risk behaviors such as needle sharing which can result in getting bloodborne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV/AIDS. It can also impact one’s life by causing them to engage in criminal behaviors and violence. Further, heroin addiction can negatively impact a person’s workplace, family, and educational environments.

Withdrawing From Heroin

Stopping heroin can be challenging but the result is more than rewarding. When a person stops using heroin, withdrawal usually starts with anxiety and cravings about 8 to 12 hours after the last dose of heroin was taken. Withdrawal symptoms usually peak between 36 to 72 hours and start subsiding between 3 to 5 days. Detoxing from heroin can be extremely dangerous and should not be attempted alone. Medical complications can develop quickly and can be life-threatening. For instance, intravenous heroin use is known to cause a lot of medical issues such as fevers, HIV infections, and HEP B and HEP C viral infections. Also, people who have anxiety can experience worsening symptoms from withdrawing.

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Psychological Preparation

Before deciding to do a heroin detox at home you need to mentally prepare yourself for the emotional and physical challenges that lie ahead. Heroin addiction has a relapsing nature meaning that even if you are able to successfully withdraw from the drug a lot of people go back to using. This can feel like a failure but it’s important to know that this is just a part of the recovery journey. Finding a solid support group such as Narcotic Anonymous or even surrounding yourself with family and friends who want to see you succeed can help you stay motivated and pull you back from relapsings’ dark grip.

One way to psychologically prepare yourself for detoxing is to write down the reasons that are motivating you to stop using heroin. Maybe you want to improve your quality of life or do right by your family and friends. Some people are even motivated by fear of a particular negative outcome from heroin use such as incarceration, losing your job, getting an HIV infection, or even dying. A study published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs stated that people who successfully quit heroin mentioned more specific concerns influencing their motivation to quit such as the well being of their child. Whereas, participants that relapsed mentioned general motivators such as being tired or hitting rock bottom. Therefore, when coming up with your reasons for quitting heroin it is crucial to be as specific to what you want as possible.

Learn About Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

While weaning off heroin you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms. This is because heroin causes a person to experience physical dependence. Dependence means that a person relies on the drug in order to feel normal and prevent withdrawal symptoms. Once a person stops using heroin they might experience early withdrawal symptoms. These early symptoms usually start within 12 hours after the last dose of heroin was used and include agitation, muscle aches, increased tearing, anxiety, yawning, sweating, insomnia, and running nose. As a person continues to refrain from heroin use they might experience diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. These symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening.

Medicated Detox Aids

How to get off heroin? The best way to detox from heroin is through medical detox. It is not recommended that you try to manage heroin withdrawal symptoms that are causing discomfort or lasting several hours without medical treatment. Attempting to withdraw without medications can cause unnecessary suffering. Medical detox will provide a person with medications necessary to ease the withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. According to a study published in the Dialogues Clinical Neuroscience Journal, the most effective withdrawal method is substituting and drug tapering the medications methadone or buprenorphine.

Methadone is one medication that is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved to reduce heroin’s painful withdrawal symptoms. Methadone should be taken with caution though because newly admitted patients with signs of opioid intoxication could overdose.

Clonidine is another medication that is FDA approved to aid in the heroin withdrawal process. Clonidine is a great option because it does not produce opioid intoxication and is not reinforcing. However, it is ineffective in reducing symptoms of insomnia, heroin cravings, and muscle aches.

Buprenorphine is another great medication that is used to shorten the length of the detox process. In a person who has recently used heroin, this medication can be given to stop withdrawal symptoms from even happening. This medication is able to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

Naltrexone is a medication that is used after a person has detoxed from heroin. Naltrexone works by reducing cravings in order to prevent relapse from occurring.

Finding An Addiction Rehab

Quitting heroin can be extremely difficult. If you or someone you love is suffering from a heroin addiction finding a supportive and comfortable rehab clinic can help. No one should have to suffer through a heroin detox when medications are available to ease the pain and make the process so much simpler and more comfortable. Rehab clinics are equipped with trained medical and mental health professionals to provide the tools necessary to help you get back to a healthy and happy, drug-free life.


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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