Depictions of heroin withdrawal in TV, film and other media are harrowing, and in real life, detox from heroin and other opiates has a reputation as being one of the most difficult. This is part of the reason why detox from heroin can be a source of fear for people beginning their recovery.
Of course, this is not the main reason why quitting a drug like heroin is difficult, but it in some cases, it may explain why even when an addict has bought into the idea of recovery, they may still be hesitant to take that first step.
In the detox clinic inside FHE Health (formerly known as the Florida House Experience), our staff takes special care to be understanding of the fears and hesitations our patients feel as they begin their journey towards complete recovery.
In this article, we’ll discuss common fears associated with heroin detox and how to overcome them in order to recover fully during inpatient rehab with FHE Health.
Heroin and Its Withdrawal
Heroin withdrawal is especially severe for a few reasons. First, heroin (and opiates in general) are highly addictive, to the degree that even people prescribed opioids for pain who use them as directed may have to taper off (gradually use less of) the drugs in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Second, opiates affect the brain in a way that’s different from 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 the presence of heroin.
This means that when a person tries to stop using the drug, the physical effects can be drastic. 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.
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 for 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 a large role to play in ensuring that patients are supported throughout the process of detox and withdrawal. At FHE Health, we use a program called medical detox. In this program, patients are given the opportunity to take advantage of inpatient accommodations for their personal comfort while being tapered off substances under 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 patients are able to detox thoroughly and effectively.
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.
Medication Can Make Detox Safe and As Comfortable as Possible
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 pharmacotherapy or medication-assisted treated (MAT), the use of pharmaceuticals and detox throughout the inpatient and outpatient treatment process has been shown to be extremely beneficial in providing positive outcomes for patients’ struggles.
In the past few decades, the 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 have replaced them as the gold standard for high-quality care.
What Are Buprenorphine and Suboxone?
Buprenorphine is a groundbreaking drug that received its final FDA approval in 2002. Able to be dispensed in an outpatient setting, the onset of this drug as a standard means for helping recovery from heroin addiction meant many more addicts could have access to a higher standard of care.
Basically, buprenorphine 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. This dulls the effect of heroin 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
It’s clear that doing so in a medical setting with specialized supervision is the best way to detox from heroin, but many addicts still have fears they need to overcome before they can take the all-important first step into medical detox. Here are a few of the most common:
Fear of Discomfort
The pain and physical discomfort that has shaped the reputation of heroin detox is still a barrier to recovery for some people. Many heroin addicts will drag their feet and try (and fail) to quit gradually on their own in order to avoid these feelings.
Fear of Commitment or Change
Some addicts fear that they won’t recognize themselves when they get clean or that their lives will somehow be changed in ways that scare them.
Fear of Disconnect
Others fear the entire experience of treatment, with the belief that they’ll be “stuck” at a facility away from family and other loved ones.
Fear Is Natural
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.
To learn more about heroin detox at FHE Health, contact us today.