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Cold Turkey vs. Medication: Which Heroin Detox Option Is Right for You?

Heroin has interrupted your life. It has hurt you physically and emotionally. It has damaged or destroyed relationships with friends, family members, and significant others. You are tired of addiction and ready to begin recovery.

You may have tried to reduce your use in the past, or this may be your first time thinking about getting clean.  Either way, you know withdrawal can be a stumbling block to that free, healthy, and whole life you desire. Withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Seeing detox through to the end seems overwhelming and confusing. How do you even begin? Luckily you have options when it comes to recovery. There are several detox methods that make the process more comfortable. Professional support keeps you safe. Personal support keeps you focused and determined. Consider the following detox methods.

Cold-Turkey Heroin Detox

Man considering heroin detoxYou may not want to complicate your recovery with any more substances even under careful, professional supervision. This a personal decision. Your treatment team will not push the use of medications unless they believe doing so is in the best interest of your health and your recovery. If you choose cold-turkey heroin detox, make sure you do have medical supervision. This ensures your safety and reduces the risk of a potentially deadly relapse.

MedlinePlus[1] warns that when it comes to opiate detox, “The biggest complication is returning to drug use. Most opiate overdose deaths occur in people who have just detoxed. Withdrawal reduces the person’s tolerance to the drug, so those who have just gone through withdrawal can overdose on a much smaller dose than they used to take.”

Medical support, with or without medication, provides accountability and eases the transition from detox to essential supportive therapies.

Medically Supervised Detox Services

Your addiction treatment plan may begin with medically supervised detox services. These services include 24-hour medical care and support. They may include over-the-counter and non-addictive medication support. Medical professionals offer these medications on an as-needed basis and to address withdrawal symptoms as they arise. Sleep aids can help combat insomnia. Anti-nausea medications can address digestive discomfort. Ibuprofen or aspirin can reduce pain and discomfort. No two individuals have the same withdrawal experience.

Medically supervised detox services address your unique withdrawal symptoms as they arise.

They make sure your detox experience is safer and more comfortable. Someone will always be on hand to answer questions, make sure no serious health issues arise, and offer personal support and encouragement.

Medicated-Assisted Treatment

As you pursue recovery, you and your treatment team may decide that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) will provide the support you need. Medication does not replace therapy in MAT. It works in conjunction with it and other proven treatment methods.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[2] explains, “Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can successfully treat these disorders, and for some people struggling with addiction, MAT can help sustain recovery.”

If you have been taking heroin in large doses or for a long time, MAT may be your best course of action. Drugs like methadone or buprenorphine can help manage withdrawal symptoms and provide the stability you need to begin recovery. Methadone is more appropriate for patients with a high-dose heroin addiction.

Buprenorphine is typically best for those with low-dose addictions or individuals tapering down from methadone. Both of these drugs work by attaching to opiate receptors in the brain. This limits or even eliminates the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin detox. It cuts down on heroin cravings during detox and in early recovery. Fewer withdrawal symptoms and fewer cravings helps you begin therapy with less downtime for physical stabilization.

Which Heroin Detox Option Is Right for Me?

Medically supervised detox services are a great first option for beginning recovery. You can choose to include medications as-needed or try a drug-free recovery. You can work with your treatment provider to create a plan for MAT if you find you need extra support. Working with professionals ensures you stay safe, the first priority. Your past and present will influence further detox details.

Consider the following factors as you consider detox options:

  • How much heroin you currently use
  • If you currently use additional substances such as marijuana, alcohol, or even prescription medications
  • The existence of co-occurring mental health symptoms or disorders
  • The length of time you have been using heroin
  • Your goals for detox, therapy, and after
  • Your experience with any past attempts to stop using heroin

Be honest about these factors when working with your treatment team. Professionals want you to succeed in recovery. They need accurate information in order to give you advice and support regarding detox. Feel free to ask questions about any and all detox methods.

No matter what style of heroin detox you ultimately choose, know that recovery does not stop there. Follow up with therapy. This is when real, lasting healing occurs. Intensive treatment helps you do the following:

  • Address co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Identify triggers for relapse
  • Develop relapse prevention skills
  • Improve interpersonal and professional life skills

What do you need to take your first step into heroin addiction treatment? A phone call to Michael’s House. We will guide you from there. We will support and encourage you as you seek a better, healthier life beginning with the best detox options.


[1] https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm. “Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal.” MedlinePlus. 20 Apr 2016. Web. 10 Apr 2017.

[2] https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment. “Medication and Counseling Treatment.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 28 Sep 2015. Web. 10 Apr 2017.