Wednesday August 31st 2016

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Safe detox treatments for heroin

Heroin use changes the way the brain functions in such a way that it creates tolerance and dependence to the drug. It is considered one of the most dangerous drugs not only because it’s highly addictive, but also because abusing heroin can have serious effects. Of heroin’s long-term health consequences, some can be fatal.

Treating heroin addiction is a long term process starting always with a period of detoxification, also known as heroin withdrawal. While knowing what to expect is not a pre-requisite for undergoing detox, it can really help. So, what happens during detox from heroin and how can you get through it safely? We review here. Then, we invite your questions about heroin detox treatments at the end.

What is heroin detox in the first place?

During any detox, the body gets rid of drug toxins which have accumulated and altered its normal chemistry. A user will experience a number of predicable symptoms. These symptoms manifest because when heroin (a depressant) is no longer available, it takes a few days for the brain to stop sending “speed up” signals to the other body systems. Once the body reaches a chemical homeostasis, these symptoms resolve and detox is finished.

Heroin detox: What to expect ?

The first symptoms of a heroin detox  start within 12 hours after the last dose. During this stage a person can expect to experience:

  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • muscle pains
  • insomnia
  • profuse sweating and tearing
  • running nose

You will probably also feel anxious and agitated. The duration of detox symptoms is expected to be about 3-7 days, peaking at about the third day after the last use.

Surviving the first three days of heroin detox is a big success. What follows in the next 2-3 days won’t be easy either, but the worst is behind. Shivering, abdominal cramping, vomiting, goose bumps are common symptoms during these days. It is crucial to work on boosting the immune system by eating right and staying hydrated. Anxious behavior and nausea may still persist, but it’s manageable. Healthy food and positive thoughts are a must if one is determined to beat this addiction.

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How bad does heroin detox get? What treatments are there?

While the symptoms of heroin withdrawal can be quite agonizing,they are rarely life threatening. The intensity of detox will vary by person and by use patterns in the past. So, can or should you detox from heroin at home?

Given the severity of the withdrawal symptoms, it is highly recommended that an addict considering detox seeks medical supervision. A medical professional will monitor the symptoms and assist in case complications occur. They will also be able to give medications that could lessen the intensity of the symptoms, thus making the whole process less traumatic and bearable.

The most commonly used medications for heroin detox treatment include methadone and buprenorphine. Other medications that could ease the symptoms and/or accelerate the detox process are clonidine and naloxone. The best thing about being medically supervised when under detox is preventing relapse, which is likely to happen when the symptoms are peaking.

Rapid heroin detox treatment

Q: Is rapid heroin detox safe?
A: It’s not clear, as state and federal licensing vary on this treatment method.

While it is possible to rapidly detox from heroin, it is generally not recommended. Methods are not yet standardized or regulated. What is rapid opiate detox, exactly?

One method involves using naltrexone in conjunction with anesthesia or sedation, antiemetic ondansetron, antidiarrheal octreotide, and clonidine and benzodiazepines. There is another method for rapid detox using naloxone in conjunction with acupuncture and electrical stimulation which increases endorphin and lessens the symptoms.

Both methods require follow up rehab to help prevent relapses, which are very likely. It is important to note that rapid detox is more costly and dangerous and can be achieved with medical assistance and supervision only. If you consider rapid detox, contact the nearest detox clinic and request further information.

How to detox from heroin safely

The safest way to detox from heroin is by seeking medical help. Under supervision, doctors and nurses can help prevent severe withdrawal symptoms, as opposed to cold turkey detox method when the symptoms are much more intense and the likelihood for relapsing much bigger. As explained above, the symptoms can be relieved with medications, which is why seeking medical supervision and assistance during this stage is highly recommended.

With the help of a medical professional, you’ll also receive emotional support. More and more detox clinics incorporate psychological support as a part of a clinical detox.  The turmoil can be much more bearable and the success rate higher. Even if one considers detoxing from heroin alone, consultation with a medical professional prior to commencing is a must.

Last but not least, detox is a successful beginning only if combined with behavioral rehab treatment. Having support and staying persistent during this stage is crucial if one is determined to stay away from heroin for good. So, be sure that any time in detox is followed by an outpatient or inpatient psycho-social treatments for addiction. You need to get to the reasons WHY YOU USE to prevent yourself from slipping back into using dope as a coping mechanism.

Heroin detox treatment questions

Do you have additional questions about heroin detox treatments? Please share your questions and/or experiences with successful (or not) heroin detox and we’ll try to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference sources: NCBI: Fast detoxification of heroin addicts by acupuncture and electrical stimulation (AES) in combination with naloxone.
NIH: Drug Facts on Heroin
NIDA Research Reports: What are treatments for heroin addiction?
Medline Plus: Opiate Withdrawal
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Acute treatment for addiction

Photo credit: Ars Electronica

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