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What to Expect During Heroin Detox

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What to Expect During Heroin Detox

The fear of intense withdrawal symptoms often keeps people tethered to opioid and heroin use. However, this challenge highlights the crucial role of a comprehensive heroin detox program, which can be a life-changing first step toward long-term recovery. Despite the pain and emotional rollercoaster, when a person is really ready to stop using, the good thing about detoxing from heroin is that the worst part of it is really only a few days.

For those people who love someone with a heroin addiction, it can be troubling and tortuous to witness your loved one going through the phases of the detox process, but for those who may not be aware of what the process can look like, or how it may affect their loved one, this is a step by step guide to the ins and outs of the heroin detox process, and how you can best help your loved one.

Why is Heroin so Addictive?

Before we get into the process of detox, it can be helpful for those on the outside looking in to understand how their loved one could have ever gotten this far down the road of addiction. Everyone who lives on planet Earth is well aware that heroin is one of the most addictive and deadly drugs out there. Because of this, it seems insane that anyone would even try experimenting with the drug for the first time, but it happens, every single day, to people who never believed they would ever be there either.

Heroin is so addictive because it sends a massive explosion of dopamine into the brain, which, feels pretty awesome. After that, users will administer more and more of the drug to continue following that high. Over time, a tolerance develops, as well as a physical dependence and a mental craving. These three factors combined create a perfect storm for heroin use to fall off the deep end, way faster than expected.

So, when the time comes, if a person makes it out alive, to stop using heroin, there is going to be a definite period of heroin detox and withdrawal that will take place. So here is what it will look like.

Phase One

This phase will usually begin anywhere from 2-6 hours after the last use. The initial phase of heroin detox is usually something that many heroin users are familiar with and work very hard to avoid. Usually, during this window, the last dose of heroin begins to fade away, and the person is left with the feelings of:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Aggression

Apart from the mental and emotional side effects of this stage, users most commonly begin to experience pretty severe physical side effects such as:

  • Intense stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tremors
  • Watery eyes

It is usually during this time that a user knows they need to use more of the drug in order to fend off the progression of heroin detox, but for those who are planning to get clean from heroin, this next phase is where the work really starts.

what to expect during heroin detox



Phase Two

This phase will begin sooner or later depending on how often and how much the individual is accustomed to using in a day. For heavy users, the second phase can begin 4-8 hours after the last use and will last for about three to five days. This is the most torturous part of the heroin detox process, but when followed through, can be over relatively quickly.

The second phase of the heroin detox process usually intensifies the first night without the drug. Users will commonly experience physical side effects such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Restless Leg Pains
  • Goosebumps
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle spasms
  • Runny nose
  • Abdominal Cramps
  • Bone Aches
  • Diarrhea
  • Chills and Sweat fits

Aside from the physical effects, users will always experience mental side effects when they go through the second phase of heroin detox. Again, these effects can vary depending on the user and how extreme their addiction has become, but for the most part, these symptoms occur throughout the majority of heroin users. Users will experience:

  • Extreme agitation
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of ability to feel pleasure

Post-Acute Withdrawal

With any drug or alcohol, there will always be lingering effects when a long-term or heavy user makes the decision to stop using. These are a medically documented and proven phenomenon called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, and they can last anywhere from 30 days to 18 months after the last use.

Most drug users experience some level of PAWS during their early sobriety, and it can sometimes be very mild. On the other hand, certain effects from post-acute withdrawal can be severe, however, with heroin users, the effects of PAWS are much milder.

Some of the most common side effects of Post Acute Withdrawal in heroin users are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty finding a healthy sleep pattern
  • Nightmares
  • Lack of Coordination

The Trouble with Stopping

If there is one reason why most heroin users go back to using, is because of the intense and seemingly overpowering cravings that occur after using stops. Any user who struggles with a drug or alcohol addiction will experience cravings when they stop, and while they use, as a matter of fact, but cravings are one of the most common reasons why many addicts relapse.

The thing about cravings is, that they happen to everyone and that having them doesn’t mean you are doomed to fail. Just like with any other aspect of going through a heroin detox, none of it is permanent, and your emotions will change from moment to moment in the early days.

If you or your loved one is going to begin the process of heroin detox, be assured that millions of people have done it before and have made it out the other side alive. Yes, it is no fun, but it is temporary, and you CAN do it.

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