Understanding Heroin Detox

When you want to leave a heroin addiction behind, drug detoxification — which removes heroin from the body — is the first step you take. For many who struggle with a heroin addiction, detox is the most frightening aspect of a drug recovery program. In fact, some people are so afraid of detox that they keep using drugs. Sadly, continued drug abuse often leads to overdose.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US with approximately 13,000 deaths related to heroin use in 2015.1

Many treatments are available that can ease withdrawal symptoms. When you participate in professional detox treatment, it makes detoxification less painful and your odds of success increase. If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin, don’t let the fear of detoxification stand in the way of recovery. At Michael’s House, we can provide a variety of treatments to assist with detoxification and help you start down the road to recovery.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Young woman with heroin needleHeroin is considered one of the most addictive substances in the world. The DEA has labeled this a Schedule I drug.2 Heroin can cause intense and lasting changes in the brain. When a user takes heroin, the drug moves to the brain and changes to dopamine. This substance attaches to receptors in the brain, and the user experiences a flood of pleasurable sensations. Over time, the dopamine receptors become less sensitive. More heroin is required to achieve the same pleasurable response.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms from a single dose often start within 12 hours of drug use.3 Withdrawal symptoms are often mild in the beginning, but they can become more severe as the process continues. The early stages of heroin withdrawal are insomnia, restlessness, muscle aches, and a runny nose. The later stages include abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, muscle spasms, and depression.

While these symptoms may not be life-threatening, they can certainly be debilitating. It’s especially hard to deal with these symptoms when a user knows the symptoms will stop immediately when he uses heroin.

“If you want something you never had, you have to do something you’ve never done. If you want to get sober, you need to try something new and take suggestions. Give it a little bit of time and it will get better a little bit every day. Sobriety has changed my life; I’m not the same person I was.” —Cody W. of Heroes in Recovery

Medication As a Form of Treatment

Doctor talking with patientWhile it might sound counterintuitive, people in the throws of heroin addiction often need medications during the detoxification process. Consulting physicians prescribe medications to ease your symptoms and reduce the intense cravings that an addict feels during withdrawal. This might be the biggest benefit of medications your physician gives you during detoxification.

Often, consulting physicians prescribe clonidine during detoxification. This drug helps block restlessness and insomnia and may assist with running noses and headaches. Your physician may give you other drugs to ease abdominal symptoms.

Methadone and Maintenance

Doctors prescribe the drug methadone to help wean users off heroin. This medication can provide a bit of a high to users. For this reason, doctors often give this medication at specific times in specific clinics. Some consulting physicians provide methadone during detoxification, and then suggest continued methadone usage during a maintenance program.

Rapid Detoxification

Michael’s House offers a social model detox program in collaboration with consulting physicians, but some detoxification centers offer rapid detox programs for addicts who feel uncomfortable with inpatient treatment programs. In a rapid detoxification program, the patient is placed under general anesthesia, and medications are pumped into his system. These medications bind to receptors in the brain and stop them from picking up any heroin that might be remaining in the bloodstream. The withdrawal symptoms still occur, but the patient is under anesthesia, so he doesn’t consciously feel any of these effects. When withdrawal symptoms decrease, the patient is awakened.

Final Thoughts

It is important to remember that heroin detox is not a cure for addiction. Most addictive behaviors can be connected to other issues such as depression. It is very important to follow detox with a drug treatment program. Here, you can learn how to restructure your behavior so that a relapse into addiction is less and less likely. Unfortunately, many people in the grip of addiction don’t commit to a formal recovery program once they’ve completed detoxification.

Give yourself a fighting chance at recovery, and stay in treatment after detox. Michael’s House offers comprehensive heroin detox as a part of our heroin addiction treatment program. For more information, give us a call today at 760-548-4032.


1 Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts and Figures.” American Society of Addiction Medicine. Web. 03 July 2017.

2 “Drug Schedules.” DEA. Web. 03 July 2017.

3Opiate and opioid withdrawal.” MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Web. 03 July 2017.