Heroin Detox a Step by Step Guide

heroin detox at design for change recoveryHeroin is a potent drug. In many cases, only one or two uses can lead to addiction as the drug begins to affect your brain quickly.[1] The obvious draw of heroin is the powerful high that can be gotten from using the drug. Unfortunately, the consequences of heroin use are just as powerful. Both short- and long-term usage can have significant negative consequences. Though heroin abuse does provide a powerful high, an “escape,” a temporary chance to forget the rest of the world, it also enslaves and consumes its users.

Once the addiction has formed, the need to get and use heroin is overpowering and almost impossible to control by yourself. This leads to the feeling many have of knowing how terrible it is and how it controls them, while also knowing they will continue using until they cannot anymore.

When it comes to the actual symptoms and observable consequences of heroin usage, some of the short-term symptoms include the following:

  • Euphoria
  • Dry mouth
  • Warm, flushed skin
  • Arms and legs that feel heavy
  • Itching
  • Mental confusion
  • Shifting in and out of drowsiness[2]

In addition to these short-term consequences, there are also some significant long-term symptoms and consequences, including the following:

  • Collapsed veins
  • Insomnia
  • Infections of the heart lining and valves
  • Skin infections such as abscesses and cellulitis
  • Higher chance of contracting HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Mental disorders
  • Lung diseases like pneumonia and tuberculosis
  • Menstrual problems and miscarriage[3]

These symptoms listed above are, of course, only the measurable and physical consequences; even more pronounced are the changes to the brain and how the pleasure centers of the brain work (for instance, the processes that regulate our desire for food and sex). [4] One of the important areas of the brain regarding pleasure is the limbic reward system. Normally, when we enjoy pleasurable things, there is a rush of dopamine released to this reward system. Heroin hijacks this system and takes it over. The body very quickly begins to associate heroin with “the most pleasurable thing.” These processes are the underlying factors that drive heroin dependence and addiction to be so fast and so powerful. [5]

The Step by Step Process of Heroin Detox

As the first section should help show, heroin addiction is a tough thing to overcome. Even when individuals desire and want to be free of the drug, it can be challenging to figure out how to escape the clutches of heroin effectively. The first and most important thing for anyone to do is seek professional care through a rehab or treatment facility. This is especially important to do since the first step of recovery is generally to go through detox. When it comes to heroin, detox and withdrawal are difficult, dangerous, and potentially harmful when not done with proper care and trained professionals.

Withdrawal is generally the primary challenge of the process of detox. Withdrawal is a natural process that the body undergoes. It is important to keep in mind the effects of heroin on the body mentioned in the first section. For someone addicted, the brain has now changed, and the body has adjusted to the presence of heroin. This is the body’s natural response: to function as optimally as possible, work, and survive as healthy a way as possible.

Your brain and body want to be functional and as efficient as possible. When a foreign substance is introduced, food, drink, drugs and medicines, and so forth, the body processes these things and adjusts to their presence to continue being as efficient as possible. This is going to happen even when the substances are, in general, bad for us. When something powerful like heroin is introduced to the body, many different physiological functions are forced to adjust and change to keep the body working as efficiently as possible under the circumstances. Long-term use of heroin and other powerful drugs can affect extreme changes to the body.

Because of these things, when the substance making these changes is suddenly removed, the body is sent into a state of “withdrawal.” Your body must now figure out how it is supposed to function with the substance gone. This is especially problematic when many of the body’s functions have now changed and been rewired to accommodate the drug that was affecting the body. Detox and withdrawal are the body’s way of getting back to a normal state of function now that the substance (i.e., heroin) is now gone.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Detoxing from Heroin

As mentioned in the previous section, withdrawal is one of the most difficult parts of the detox process. In most cases, heroin withdrawal begins around 8 to 12 hours after the last usage and can subside within 3 to 5 days. [6] When the body is undergoing the process of withdrawal, some of the most common side effects include the following:

  • Increased pulse rate
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Abnormally heightened reflexes
  • Sweating
  • Gooseflesh
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Yawning
  • Runny nose
  • Muscle spasms
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Anxiety[7] [8]

Seeking Help at Design for Change Recovery

Substance abuse and addiction is always a difficult and serious problem. Issues related to substance abuse can cause family problems, disrupt job performance, affect financial situations, cause significant health problems, and many other consequences. It is vitally important that we get ahead of problems when we can get them so that no opportunity is missed to get help where it is needed.

Considering all the difficulties and problems connected to heroin abuse and addiction, we at Design for Change Recovery want to emphasize that you do not have to do these things alone. It may be intimidating and frightening, but these things do not have to be addressed without help. Here at Design for Change Recovery, we offer numerous programs and treatments supervised by medical and professional staff so that those who need help can receive the care they need. Please consider reviewing our various programs[9] to see what meets the situation or need. It is also recommended to review our accreditation,[10] staff,[11] and facility,[12] so that you can be confident Design for Change Recovery is the right decision for you or your loved ones.


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