Coming Down Off Heroin

When someone finally arrives at the moment when they are ready to quit heroin they have likely experienced serious and devastating consequences from the addiction. Heroin addiction causes a wide range of serious health and mental health effects, as well as complete devastation of relationships, career, and finances. Once heroin takes hold of a person’s life it latches on tight, making the decision to break free of the drug a very courageous one.

Anyone who has lived through heroin addiction knows all too well the severe withdrawal symptoms that come in to play when the drug is unavailable. Termed “dope sick,” the absence of heroin causes intense flu-like symptoms that are so difficult to endure that addicts are afraid to even consider going through detox. Nevertheless, it is well understood that completing a medically supervised heroin detox will help someone coming down from heroin adjust gradually.

A successful heroin recovery outcome begins with medical detox and then progresses through the treatment process. During treatment, through engaging in various psychotherapies, the person will learn how to change their behavioral response to triggers and cravings. They are taught coping skills and strategies that give them the confidence to move forward into a life without heroin use.

How Long Does it Take to Become Addicted to Heroin?

Heroin is derived from morphine, a natural byproduct of certain poppy plants found in countries such as Afghanistan and Thailand. Heroin is a highly addictive drug that leads to a rapid increase of tolerance. The higher tolerance results in an increased dosage and frequency as the individual attempts to relive the euphoric high first experienced. 

The effects of heroin use are virtually instantaneous, with an immediate surge, or “rush,” of euphoria and pleasure. Heroin use impacts the brain’s chemistry, attaching to opioid receptors in the pain and pleasure center, resulting in a flood of dopamine. It takes very little time to become addicted to heroin. In fact, for some individuals, heroin addiction can take hold after one use of the drug.

This powerful drug makes lasting changes in brain cells, causing the heroin to eventually take the place of naturally occurring dopamine. Without the drug, the user eventually is unable to experience pleasure, and like a vicious cycle results in continued dosing increases. Regardless, negative effects of the drug will continue, including:

  • Warm flushing of the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Itchy skin
  • Eyes of heroin addict with pinpoint pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Heavy limbs
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Incoherent, slurred speech
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Being in a state between conscious and semiconscious, or nodding out

In recent years, heroin is turning up on the street laced with the deadly fentanyl. In most cases, individuals who purchase this version of the drug are unaware of the presence of fentanyl, which can result in a deadly overdose. Fentanyl-related heroin overdose deaths have been a driver in the spike of overdose deaths for the past few years.

Warning Signs of Heroin Addiction

Recognizing the signs of heroin addiction isn’t always easy at first. Heroin addicts are secretive and will take great strides to hide their drug addiction from others. However, as the addiction progresses it will become harder and harder to hide the signs of the disease from others.

Warning signs of heroin addiction include:

  • Paraphernalia. Syringes, burnt spoons or tin foil, small baggies, pipes, balloons, straws, rubber tubing, and hollowed out pens are all items associated with heroin use.
  • Needle marks on forearms, legs, and feet
  • Bruising, scabs, unhealed track marks
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Runny nose
  • Constipation
  • Grayish skin pallor
  • Money missing
  • Mood swings
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Apathetic and lethargic
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hypersomnia
  • Secretive behavior
  • Exhibit withdrawal symptoms

What Happens When Coming Down Off Heroin?

The heroin detox process follows a fairly predictable pattern. The first withdrawal symptoms appear 6-12 hours after the last dose of heroin. The length of the detox period, as well as the severity of symptoms, will be dependent on factors such as the duration of the heroin habit, the level of heroin dosing, whether the individual also has a mental health disorder, and the general state of the individual’s health.  All these factors will play a part in the detox experience.

Generally, symptoms will peak between 24-48 hours and then gradually begin to subside.  Most heroin detoxes are completed in 5-7 days, or longer depending on the length of the tapering program. However long-lasting effects can linger for weeks or months, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

A medical detox provides continual monitoring of vital signs while managing the discomforts of withdrawal symptoms and cravings with medication. The detox professionals also offer emotional support to help the individual navigate the discomforts of detox and successfully complete the process. 

Heroin withdrawal symptoms mimic severe flu symptoms. These may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea 
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Chills and/or goosebumps
  • Excessive yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Intense cravings

Many of these symptoms can be controlled with prescription and over the counter medications administered during a medical detox.

Does MAT Help Heroin Recovery?

In recent years, heroin and opioid addiction treatment increasingly includes the use of medications that will help individuals stabilize during the early months of recovery by preventing relapse. Medically assisted treatment (MAT) involves using such drugs as Suboxone, methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone to block the effects of opiates and as a result incrementally remove the desire to use them at all. The goal of using these drugs is to help the individual achieve a better quality of life through ending cravings and extending sobriety.

The drugs are intended to be used for up to a year following completion of an addiction treatment program, although in some cases they will be used for years. A tapering schedule will begin after a certain number of months or years in recovery, weaning the individual off of the MAT. 

What is Narcotics Anonymous?

Narcotics Anonymous is the sister program to Alcohol Anonymous’ 12-step program and is designed for people with addiction to drugs, versus only alcoholism. Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) became an offshoot to Alcoholics Anonymous in 1953, when it was determined that people struggling with drug abuse and addiction had unique challenges that could be better addressed within a more targeted scope. N.A. serves individuals struggling with addiction to opioids, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, or any mind-altering substance, including alcohol. 

Fellowship is a core aftercare element that can add an additional protective layer to recovery. With the help of a sponsor and the support of the N.A. community, these recovery meetings become an integral focus of the regular weekly routine. N.A. is an essential aftercare component, along with ongoing outpatient therapy and sober living housing.

N.A. groups are available globally and are free of charge. A.A. opens its doors to all, regardless of religion, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. The only to requirement to N.A. is that the member be open to attaining recovery from drug and alcohol use. The main objective of N.A. is to provide a safe, nonjudgmental, and supportive space for recovering addicts to find fellowship. N.A. also can offer opportunities to serve others, such as becoming a sponsor newcomers.

How Long is Rehab Stint for Heroin Addiction?

After coming down off heroin and completing the detox portion of the program, it is time to shift toward active addiction treatment. A long-term residential program is the most effective level of support for treating someone with a heroin addiction. While outpatient services are available for treating heroin addiction, it is nonetheless recommended that enrollment in a 90-day residential program will yield best results.

  • Evidence-based therapy. During these one-on-one sessions the therapist will help the client identify underlying factors that might be driving the dependence on, such as using it to self-medicate a mood disorder or a difficult emotional event or trauma. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) shows clients how their disordered negative thoughts led to the compulsive use of heroin, and then helps them replace those with healthier cognitive skills and behavior patterns.
  • Group counseling sessions. Group therapy provides the social support so helpful when battling addiction. Members of the group share their own experiences and bond together under the common goal of overcoming addiction. A licensed therapist directs the topics of discussion and helps facilitate positive conversations.
  • Addiction recovery classes. Achieving long-term sobriety will rely on accessing coping skills to manage triggers. Classes provide instruction for better emotion regulation and relapse prevention strategizing.
  • Complementary activities. Heroin rehab usually includes some holistic and experiential activities that help reduce stress and balance out the hard work of therapy. Activities might include 
  • Transitional housing. Many individuals in early heroin recovery find that sober living housing helps them adhere to their commitment goals.  

Starting with a tapering plan and detox, then transitioning to treatment that helps individuals make needed changes in how they behave in response to triggering thoughts offers the best opportunity for a successful treatment outcome for beating heroin addiction.

Solutions 4 Recovery Provides Evidence-Based Treatment for Heroin Dependency and Addiction

Solutions 4 Recovery is an upscale heroin addiction treatment program located in a popular coastal community in Southern CA. Solutions 4 Recovery’s team of compassionate and highly experienced clinicians that create a customized treatment plan designed specifically for the individual’s specific treatment needs. Solutions 4 Recovery is also a dual diagnosis provider for individuals with a co-occurring mental health issue. For more information about coming down off heroin, please call Solutions 4 Recovery today at (888) 417-1874.