What does it feel like to detox from heroin? With harrowing, even exaggerated, depictions of withdrawal in TV, film, and other media, heroin and other opiates have developed a reputation for being some of the most difficult drugs to come off. This is part of the reason that detox from heroin can be a source of fear for people considering recovery.
Of course, fear about the detox process is not the main reason quitting a drug like heroin can be difficult, but in some cases, it may explain why even when someone addicted to heroin accepts recovery in principle, they may still be reluctant to take the first step.
The good news is that a quality detox center like FHE Health will take great care to address this fear and others, so that patients feel fully supported throughout withdrawal and beyond. In other words, while pre-detox fears are natural and can be common, they don’t justify the perpetuation of an addiction that’s destroying one’s health, life, and relationships.
This article will address common fears among patients in heroin detox. It will also discuss how patients are able to overcome these fears during inpatient rehab, with the help of highly trained and compassionate staff.
Heroin and Its Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal is especially severe for a few reasons. First, heroin (and opiates in general) is highly addictive, to the degree that even people prescribed opioids for pain and using them as directed may have to taper off (gradually use less of) the drugs to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Second, opiates affect the brain in a different way than many other drugs. The result is that after a short period of consistent use, these drugs change the user’s brain chemistry: The brain literally can’t function the same way without heroin.
What this means is that the physical effects can be drastic when a person tries to stop using the drug. Symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:
- Fever and sweating
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Panic and anxiety
- Depression and thoughts of suicide
- Extreme fatigue
Patients who are unprepared for this sometimes painful process are often unable to complete it and will begin to relapse before the substance is even gone from their systems.
Heroin Detox Pain
What does it feel like to detox from heroin? Is heroin detox pain something everyone goes through? What about heroin detox stomach pain? Is that automatic or is there a way around it? These are common questions for those who may be wondering how to come off heroin safely and effectively.
Among the many withdrawal symptoms that may occur during heroin detox, the natural inclination is to wonder if all or only some of them will happen. There are anecdotal stories of individuals who seemingly sail through the withdrawal process without suffering heroin detox stomach pain or many other types of heroin detox pain.
Yet it’s better to go into heroin detox with the mindset that while anything can happen, being medically monitored by addiction treatment professionals during the entire detox period will ensure the greatest comfort and safety, as well as a complete withdrawal. Furthermore, should complications arise, the staff are well-trained in life-saving techniques and have appropriate interventions and medications to handle emergencies.
Dangers of Heroin Withdrawal
While going through heroin detox isn’t as inherently risky as detoxing from other drugs, there’s no getting around the fact that withdrawal from heroin is extremely uncomfortable. This discomfort is precisely why so many people who try to kick heroin cold turkey on their own by doing a self-detox are so often unsuccessful at it.
Not only is heroin withdrawal uncomfortable, but the detox process from a narcotic as powerful as heroin can also cause complications. When the heroin is mixed with or carries unknown amounts of carfentanil or fentanyl, the danger multiplies exponentially, becoming a potentially life-threatening situation.
According to medical addiction treatment experts, most people withdrawing from heroin won’t die from it, but they could die from untreated complications that arise. For example, severe dehydration that occurs from constant vomiting and diarrhea can lead to heart failure and subsequent death.
Someone who starts the withdrawal process and can’t take the stomach or other pain may revert to using heroin again. Or, having gone through heroin detox and thinking they’re safe now that the drug is out of their system, they may decide to use it again. This raises the frightening likelihood of an overdose that could prove fatal. Indeed, heroin overdose following detox and treatment is an extremely dangerous situation.
Can You Undergo Heroin Detox On Your Own?
Symptoms of withdrawal aside, one of the most difficult parts about quitting a drug without medical supervision is not having any defense against the cravings. During withdrawal from heroin, cravings for the drug or other opiates are strong because addiction tells the body that it needs the presence of a certain substance.
This is why it’s highly unlikely you’ll be successful if you try to quit heroin cold turkey, although it’s technically possible. Across the entire field of addiction medicine, it’s well-established that detox in the presence of medical professionals carries a much higher success rate than trying to quit a drug on your own.
Because heroin detox is such a jarring process, professional treatment facilities have an important role in ensuring that individuals are supported throughout the process of detox and withdrawal. FHE Health uses a program called medical detox. In this program, residents can take advantage of inpatient accommodations for their comfort while being tapered off substances under the around-the-clock supervision of trained medical professionals.
This way, any health risks can be mitigated before they present danger to a patient, and addiction medicine specialists can ensure a thorough and effective detox.
What Can Medical Detox Do For Heroin Addiction?
Although heroin detox doesn’t have the potentially fatal complications that some other substances do—for example, alcohol withdrawal can cause fatal cardiac events if left unsupervised—the process can be made much easier and more comfortable with the presence of medical assistance from trained professionals before, during, and after the process.
In a medical detox setting, specialists will build a custom treatment plan that takes your needs into account during the process. This can mean several different things— for example, making sure co-occurring mental health disorders don’t keep you from staying focused and healthy throughout rehab.
How Doctor-Prescribed Medications Can Aid in Detox
Even with the presence of medical supervision, heroin detox isn’t easy. Many of the withdrawal symptoms mentioned above may be lessened by the environment and actions of staff, but many of them will still occur, and cravings for heroin can be unbearable.
This is where recent innovations in therapeutic drugs can help. Called “medication-assisted treated (MAT),” the use of pharmaceuticals and detox throughout the inpatient and outpatient treatment process is extremely beneficial in providing positive outcomes for patients’ struggles.
In the past few decades, research has changed the way we view medication as a means to manage recovery from addiction to a variety of substances. While methadone is still used in recovery for heroin and opiate addiction, drugs like buprenorphine and Suboxone are increasingly the gold standard for care.
What Are Buprenorphine and Suboxone?
Buprenorphine is a groundbreaking drug that received its final FDA approval in 2002. The MAT is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that it competes for the same spaces in the brain as heroin, morphine, prescription opioids, and other drugs of the same class. It thus dulls heroin’s effect and serves to lessen cravings and other side effects of withdrawal.
Suboxone is also a popular treatment aid, as it combines the benefits of buprenorphine with naloxone, a substance that limits the abuse potential of the drug.
Common Fears About Heroin Detox
While the best way to detox from heroin is doing so in a medical setting with specialized supervision, many addicts still have fears they must overcome before they can take the crucial first step into medical detox. Here are a few of the most common:
Fear of Discomfort
No one relishes the thought of going through a period of discomfort, especially during a process of heroin detox that may last for several days of acute withdrawal symptoms as the addictive narcotic leaves the body. With people’s personal experiences undergoing heroin withdrawal and vivid descriptions in some online forums of the pain and discomfort they felt (or didn’t), it’s no wonder that the fear of discomfort about heroin detox pain is high on the list of potential deterrents to detox and treatment. Many heroin addicts will drag their feet and try (and fail) to quit gradually on their own to avoid these feelings.
Fear of Commitment or Change
A central part of overcoming an addiction to heroin and other substances of abuse involves making a firm commitment to changing lifestyles, habits, and possibly discontinuing or severing relationships with individuals associated with drug use. Both commitment and change are scary topics to confront, let alone accept. Yet there can be no recovery from addiction without embracing the prospect of making certain necessary life changes. It is this unknown that frightens many well-intentioned individuals, many to the point of giving up on getting clean and sober. Also, some addicts fear that they won’t recognize or like either the person they become or the life they lead after treatment.
Fear of Disconnect
Going to detox to overcome addiction to or dependence on heroin means spending time away from normal life, including interactions daily with loved ones, family members, being away from work or school, social and recreational activities, and being around other people. The fear of being out of the loop and not being able to freely communicate with a normal sphere of contacts is a barrier that those contemplating how to come off heroin must address.
Fear Is Natural
No one goes through detox from an addictive substance like heroin without experiencing some fear. While much of the process of eliminating the drug from the body and the effects of the withdrawal that may or may not happen is a somewhat automatic unfolding, that doesn’t mean individuals won’t have bouts of anxiety or fears of something worse to come, perhaps an unforeseen complication, or a sudden illness that’s unrelated to the heroin detox and makes the situation seem more risky, painful, or dangerous than it is.
When faced with the unknown, fear is an emotion that naturally surfaces. It isn’t bad or wrong, and feeling fear or qualms of uneasiness does not mean that the heroin detox won’t go smoothly. Facing fear, however, is the best way to get through it. The fear of fear is very often worse than facing the reality of a given circumstance, and that includes the fear of how to come off heroin.
Ask anyone who has undergone any type of residential detox and they’ll likely tell you this: The first step is the hardest, but overcoming these fears and getting the help you need is the most rewarding feeling there is when you come out on the other side.
After deciding to seek help to get heroin detox and treatment, rest assured that at quality providers like FHE Health, the goal of our staff during detox and treatment is to provide patients with 24/7 support and trusted answers to common fears and concerns.
To learn more about heroin detox at FHE Health, contact us today.