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Heroin Detox

Heroin Detox

Heroin is perhaps the most well-known opioid drug in the world.

In 2013, the number of heroin overdose deaths in the U.S. was 8,257 – more than double the number in 2010.1

Heroin is one of the deadliest drugs on the street – and, of all abused substances, it’s also one of the most addictive.

Despite the difficulties that people may face when trying to quit, with the proper detox and recovery methods, heroin dependency can be conquered.

What Is Detox?


Detoxification is a natural process which occurs as your body rids itself of toxic or otherwise foreign substances.

If the toxic influence has resulted from long-standing drug use, the body’s detox phase will likely be characterized by a range of very uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. For many who attempt a drug detox on their own, this unpleasant period of time can be extremely difficult to manage and overcome.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

A number of characteristic withdrawal symptoms are associated with the acute opioid withdrawal syndrome that is often experienced when a person first stops using heroin.

These symptoms usually start within 6-12 hours of your last heroin dose. Without the aid of medications, the peak (or worst) time for these withdrawal symptoms is usually 3-4 days after the last drug dose. Generally, the more severe cases of heroin abuse lead to much more difficult withdrawal experiences.

Typical withdrawal symptoms can include2:

  1. Strong drug cravings.
  2. Moodiness: anxiety, depression, fear of withdrawal.
  3. Stomach cramps.
  4. Sweating, runny nose, watery eyes.
  5. Restlessness.
  6. Diarrhea.
  7. Fever and chills.
  8. Muscle spasms, tremors, joint pains.
  9. Nausea and vomiting.
  10. Increased heart rate and blood pressure.

While these symptoms may be extremely uncomfortable, they are usually not life-threatening.3

Detox Is the First Step to Recovery

In the context of recovery from drug addiction, a formal detox period is the first stage of recovery that prepares your body and mind to more fully engage and succeed in the rest of the rehabilitation process.

Detox itself does not always entail thorough treatment efforts. In many cases, after completion of the detox portion, addiction recovery programs will continue their treatment efforts by having you then go through a combination of group and individual therapy. These therapeutic approaches help address the need for social support and begin to instill the cognitive-behavioral changes needed to avert future drug temptations.

Heroin Detox Challenges

The difficulty that individuals struggling with addiction often face when trying to quit heroin independently is that the drug cravings – combined with the pain experienced during withdrawal – become too much to tolerate.

More often than not, it’s near this point in time that individuals are at high risk of relapse, as they contemplate using again simply so they can alleviate their immense discomfort.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

The good news is that you don’t have to go through these challenges alone. With the help of detox, medications and rehabilitation programs, you can often alleviate the intense withdrawal symptoms and have a range of medical and social supports available to carry you through to stable recovery.

Heroin Detox Solutions

Detoxing from heroin can be a much more comfortable and safe experience when you choose to do it with the help of a professional heroin detox or rehab program – rather than making the attempt by yourself.

While you may still experience some symptoms of heroin withdrawal while attending a detox or rehab program, many of these symptoms can be greatly alleviated with the help of medications, 24/7 monitoring, and compassionate support from staff personnel.

Detox Programs and Methods

Heroin Detox inpatient treatment
As you begin to explore your options for detoxing with the help of a detox or rehabilitation program, you’ll discover that there is range of options for you to choose from, including:

  1. Inpatient detox programs.
    • In either a hospital or non-hospital (residential) setting.
    • Private, luxury, executive or standard facilities.
  2. Outpatient detox.
  3. Rapid detox.
  4. Anesthesia-assisted (ultra-rapid) detox.

If at any time you need some help simplifying this process of understanding the different detox programs available, please feel free to contact us at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers?, and we would be happy to help you sort through your options to determine which approach will best meet your needs.

Inpatient Detox

Unlike outpatient rehab programs, inpatient rehab programs provide residential addiction treatment with 24/7 access to care from staff personnel and access to certain medical services, should they be needed.

Who Benefits Most from Inpatient Treatment?

While inpatient treatment is highly beneficial for anybody struggling with heroin addiction, there are certain individuals who would greatly benefit from taking advantage of inpatient program services. Inpatient treatment might be best for you if you:

  • Have struggled with a history of relapsing.
  • Have had a severe, long-term heroin addiction.
  • Have coexisting medical or mental health conditions that need special attention.

If any of these describe your specific situation, you may have the most recovery success with an inpatient detox program. With constant staff monitoring and care, this immersive experience helps set many down the path towards reclaimed health and sobriety.

Hospital versus Non-hospital Programs

Some inpatient programs occur at hospitals – where medical professionals are present around-the-clock to help you through the uncomfortable phases of withdrawal and detox.

Other inpatient programs occur outside of a hospital setting – in a residential center where medical professionals may visit intermittently to monitor your detox progress and make sure it’s on track.

Luxury, Executive or Standard Treatment?

Another variation in detox facility types has to do with the kind of amenities and facility resources that are available as part of the addiction treatment.

Facilities with more plush amenities and resources (as well as those in more desirable locations) typically come with higher costs. Facilities with fewer of these amenities are still able to provide quality addiction treatment, and often at more affordable costs.

All facility types offer addiction treatment. Amenities offered, however, differ accordingly:

  1. Luxury facilities – wide range of high-end, resort-like amenities.
  2. Executive facilities – many plush amenities similar to luxury facilities, with the added benefit of providing the resources and structure for busy professionals who wish to remain actively involved at work throughout recovery.
  3. Standard facilities – no high-end amenities. The majority of rehabilitation programs will be of this variety. Standard rehab can be sought on both an inpatient (residential) and an outpatient (non-residential) basis and are usually more affordable than luxury or executive programs.

Outpatient Detox

Outpatient detox lets you undergo addiction treatment while you still live at home. Similar to inpatient programs, medications may still be used to help walk you through the detox phase more comfortably.

When you choose an outpatient detox program, you will need to frequently check in with your healthcare provider who can help monitor your progress and changing needs.

Who Benefits Most from Outpatient Treatment?

Outpatient detox is not the best detox option for everyone. You may have a better chance of being successful in outpatient detox if you:

  • Are a new heroin user or haven’t used for very long.
  • Have only used heroin in smaller quantities.
  • Don’t have a history of relapsing.
  • Don’t have any coexisting medical or mental health conditions.

Your best advice on whether or not outpatient detox is the best approach for you will come from your healthcare provider who knows your unique needs and circumstances.

Rapid Detox

Rapid detox is just what it sounds like – a detox approach that is meant to more quickly get users through the detox phase and into the treatment maintenance and recovery phases. This approach typically uses opioid antagonist medications (which may include naloxone or naltrexone) that block heroin’s effects in the body.

While this speedy method may sound appealing at first, it is fraught with a few specific and serious risks that negate the utility of such an approach. These risks include4:

  • Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat).
  • Pulmonary edema (accumulation of fluid in the lungs).
  • Rapid onset of unpleasant withdrawal.

Anesthesia-assisted Rapid Detox

Heroin Detox inpatient treatment
Anesthesia-assisted rapid detox is rapid detox (described above) that occurs while under general anesthesia. While this method of detox is ultra rapid – with physical elimination of the drug from the body in as little as 4 to 8 hours – it is also highly risky.

As many as 8.6% of subjects who underwent anesthesia-assisted rapid detox in one study either developed cardiac arrest or died.5


Several different medications have been used to aid people in the process of heroin detox:

  1. Opioid agonists (methadone, buprenorphine): these opioid drugs mimic the effects of heroin – but to a lesser, generally safer extent.
  2. Opioid antagonists (naloxone, naltrexone): these drugs block the effects of heroin, preventing overdose but also minimizing the incentive for continued heroin abuse.
  3. Mixed opioid agonist-antagonist (Suboxone): Suboxone contains both buprenorphine and naloxone. It partially mimics the effects of heroin (buprenorphine) while also lowering potential risks of overdose (naloxone).
  4. Alpha-2 agonist (Clonidine): Clonidine helps reduce “fight or fight” chemicals in the body that are usually present in higher amounts during withdrawal and are responsible for a number of the unpleasant symptoms to arise.

Methadone and buprenorphine are some of the most recognized methods for opiate detox. They are longer acting than heroin, and they facilitate an easily controlled and tapered method for users to step down gradually from their peak opioid use. The process can be lengthy, but the goal is to keep withdrawal symptoms at a manageable level throughout detox.

Learn More and Find a Detox Program

Heroin is a difficult drug to detox from, but it’s not impossible to do so. The process is often made much easier and more successful for those who seek the help of professional detox services. Call us today at 1-888-744-0789 Who Answers? to hear about a variety of heroin detox and treatment options.


  1. Compressed mortality file 1999-2013 on CDC WONDER Online Database. (2014). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.
  2. Kosten, T. R., O’Connor, P. G. (2003). Management of drug and alcohol withdrawal. N Engl J Med, 348(18), 1786.
  3. Opiate withdrawal. Medline Plus.
  4. Van Dorp, E., Yassen, A., Dahan, A. (2007). Naloxone treatment in opioid addiction: the risks and benefits. Expert Opin Drug Saf, 6(2), 125-32.
  5. Collins, E. D., Kleber H. D., Whittlington, R. A., Heitler, N. E. (2005). Anesthesia-assisted vs buprenorphine- or clonidine-assisted heroin detoxification and naltrexone induction: a randomized trial. JAMA, 294(8), 903.

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