Despite the known dangers of heroin, use and abuse of the drug continue to increase across the United States. According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), heroin use increased by about 50% across all demographics between 2002 and 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that heroin use in the population of young adults aged 18-25 has more than doubled in the past decade.
An increase in heroin usage in the United States goes hand-in-hand with an increase in heroin overdose and death, fueling the need for effective treatment for heroin addiction. Approximately 435,000 Americans used heroin in 2014, and even more dabbled with prescription opiates that same year.
Still, there is some good news. Evidence suggests that a large portion of the people abusing heroin in the United States are seeking treatment for their disease. While this is encouraging, many people don’t know what to expect when they enter a facility for detox and treatment. Here’s what you need to know to stay healthy before, during, and after detox. So, here’s what you need to know to stay healthy before, during, and after detox.
Heroin is among the most dangerous substances in existence, largely due to the ways in which it affects the chemistry of the brain when used. Heroin, like other opiates, binds to opioid receptors in the brain, triggering the release of an excessive amount of dopamine – a chemical responsible for feelings of pleasure. After prolonged use, heroin essentially tricks your brain into thinking it cannot function normally without the presence of opiates, so it shuts down the brain’s natural risk/reward trade-off.
In addition, heroin belongs to a group of drugs to which the body naturally builds up a tolerance. In this context, tolerance is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as “when the person no longer responds to the drug in the way that person initially responded.” When a person builds tolerance for a drug, the same quantity of that drug has a diminished effect with increased use, triggering the need to use more and more in order to achieve the same results.
Heroin Overdose and Other Dangers
According to the CDC, overdose deaths from heroin increased by more than 20% between 2014 and 2015 alone, with over 13,000 deaths in 2015. Generally, overdose occurs when enough heroin is consumed to stop the heart and breathing altogether, putting the user in a coma-like state.
While overdose is the most publicized risk of using heroin, long time users also open themselves up to other threats. According to NIDA, heroin blocks pain signals so that users have trouble knowing whether or not something is wrong. Additionally, all intravenous drug users are at further risk of contracting diseases like Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Seeking Heroin Detox
While the current state of heroin abuse in the U.S. is certainly concerning, the fact that heroin users make up 15 percent of new admissions to treatment facilities (inpatient, outpatient or other) as of 2008, according to NIDA, is an encouraging step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) has determined that only 11% of the people who needed treatment for a substance abuse disorder received it back in 2013. Where is this disconnect coming from? A large part of it could possibly be attributed to the misconception that detoxing from heroin is safe.
The Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey
The “quitting cold turkey” method is hardly recommended for any addictive substance, but there are two major reasons why it is especially not recommended when it comes to heroin addiction.
First, detoxing at home— especially without help— has a very low success rate. This is mostly because at-home detox tends to be treated as a single-step process instead of part of a larger, multi-step treatment plan. NIDA has pointed out that when detox is treated as a quick and easy solution rather than the first step in the rehab process, it can open up a number of new risks for the patient— including relapse.
Second, addicts in recovery are at their most vulnerable in the time immediately following detox. With so many changes happening at once in an effort to heal itself, the body can suffer a number of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, all of which can be more easily handled in medical detox than at home. This is why detox with the oversight of medical personnel in a dedicated treatment facility is so highly recommended. After all, detox is just the first step in the recovery process, so stopping it there would put the patient at a greater risk of relapsing. Many addicts who opt for the cold-turkey method of detox do not know this, and as a result, they usually fall back into old habits just to pacify the withdrawal symptoms, consequently increasing their risk of overdose.
Key Aspects of the Heroin Detox Process
As mentioned, heroin addicts and their loved ones simply don’t know what to expect when entering an inpatient facility for detox and addiction treatment. Here are few questions you or someone you know might have about the process of medical detox from heroin.
How Long Does Heroin Detox Take?
Detox from heroin usually takes an average of 5 to 7 days, but the process can occasionally stretch up to 10 days or more. Overall, the length of heroin detox differs with every addict. The extent of addiction and the services needed in detox have a huge impact on how long the process will take.
Symptoms of Withdrawal During Heroin Detox
The primary objective of detox is to help manage the symptoms of withdrawal as a patient is weaned off of his or her preferred substance. Unfortunately, withdrawal from heroin comes with several potentially serious side effects. According to Medline Plus, early withdrawal symptoms include:
- Increased tearing
- Muscle aches
- Runny nose
Symptoms that might appear later on during withdrawal include:
- Abdominal cramping
- Dilated pupils
Since withdrawal from heroin involves getting the brain readjusted to functioning without the presence of opiates, its production of dopamine may be rendered insufficient for a short period of time. However, there are several FDA-approved medications that are designed to assist heroin addicts throughout detox and the withdrawal portion of the recovery process. Treatment programs like this are called medication-assisted treatments (MATs) and include options like Methadone, Naltrexone, and Buprenorphine.
Chances of Fatality During Heroin Detox
While heroin withdrawal is technically not life-threatening, there are some circumstances that put heroin addicts at risk of dying during detox. For example, if an addict has a co-occurring alcohol use disorder, seizures can be a likely side effect of heroin withdrawal. Without medical supervision, seizures like this can be fatal.
Alternatively, the addict in recovery may experience an increase in suicidal thoughts and behavior. Unfortunately, thoughts of suicide can be pretty common during heroin detox, and addicts have been known to attempt suicide while undergoing withdrawal.
As such, it’s very important to seek professional treatment for heroin addiction. Patients should speak openly about any side effects they may be experiencing with their medical team to ensure proper management.
Get Help Today!
At TTC Care, we used evidence-based treatments to help our patients recover from substance addiction. For those looking to quit heroin, such treatments can involve the use of medication to assist with detox. Our team of qualified professionals works with all our patients to determine the severity, frequency, and duration of use—as well as any driving forces behind addiction— when building individualized treatment plans.
If you or someone you know is fighting a battle against heroin addiction, call TTC Care at (844) 201-3136.