Medically-Supervised Heroin And Opioid Detoxification

The heroin and opioid detoxification process can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable without proper treatment. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe and can last for weeks. Finding a licensed, medically-supervised detoxification center is the first step on the road to recovery.

What Is Heroin And Opioid Detoxification?

Heroin and opioid detoxification is the process by which the body rids itself of the harmful toxins found in opioids. The body’s natural detoxification process begins just hours after the last dosage of heroin or other opioids enters the system.

Heroin and opioid detoxification is the first step towards recovery, but is not a cure for addiction. If a person suffers from heroin or other opioid addiction, they have likely developed a physical dependence on the drug, and need further treatment.

Physical dependence means the body has become used to having the drug in the system. The body expects to have the drug, and when it doesn’t, it goes through a period of painful sickness called withdrawal.

People may become physically dependent on an opioid after filling a prescription for pain – abusing drugs isn’t the only risk to become dependent on opioids. Opioids are inherently addictive, and should always be taken as directed and with caution.

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When a person uses heroin and abuses other opioids, they will also likely develop a physical dependence. To be physically dependent on heroin or other opioids means a person will struggle with pain and discomfort during detoxification.

If suffering from addiction, a person will likely experience painful symptoms of withdrawal when they abruptly stop use. Heroin and other opioids are powerful narcotics with high potential for abuse and dependence, and understanding them is a crucial step towards recovery.

Heroin And Opioids Explained

While many opioids are prescribed to treat pain and other disorders, heroin is an illicit drug with no known medical benefits.

Both heroin and other opioids are widely used in the United States. In 2014, nearly half a million people used heroin. The same year also saw over 4 million people use prescription opioids for nonmedical reasons.

Common prescription opioids that may be abused and cause physical dependence include:

  • Vicodin (hydrocodone)
  • Dilaudid (hydromorphone)
  • Oxycontin or Percocet (oxycodone)
  • fentanyl
  • methadone
  • morphine
  • codeine

Most prescription opioids are synthetic, meaning they’re manufactured in a lab. Abusing prescription opioids are likely to cause physical dependence because of how they interact with the pain and pleasure receptors in the brain.

Heroin is a white or black powder derived from morphine, which is the natural substance extracted from the poppy plant. When a person injects heroin it enters the bloodstream immediately, creating an almost instant euphoric effect.

Regular heroin use will often cause people to develop a tolerance to the drug, meaning they need a higher and more frequent dose of the drug. Once a tolerance is developed, physical dependence has likely onset, making addiction to heroin inevitable.

People suffering from addiction to heroin and other opioids will likely develop withdrawal symptoms after stopping use of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can cause discomfort and pain, making heroin and opioid detoxification potentially unbearable without medical assistance.

Heroin And Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin and opioids like morphine, codeine, and methadone can cause difficult and painful withdrawal that can feel like a severe flu. Although withdrawal is generally not life threatening during the heroin and opioid detoxification process, the symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and challenging for the person on their own.

Early symptoms of heroin and opioid withdrawal include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • hot and cold flashes
  • insomnia
  • muscle cramps
  • runny nose
  • sweating
  • watery discharge from eyes and nose
  • yawing

Some withdrawal symptoms may occur later in the process, and can include abdominal cramping, dilated pupils, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and goosebumps.

The onset of Heroin and opioid withdrawal occurs between 8-12 hours after last use. How soon withdrawal symptoms begin depends on whether the opioid is short-acting (a person feels the effects quickly and they last shorter) or long-acting (the effects take longer to set it and last for longer).

Withdrawal symptoms for a short-acting opioid like heroin usually occur within 8-24 hours after last use. The symptoms generally persist for at least 4 days, but can last as long as 10 days.

For a long acting opioid, like Oxycontin, withdrawal symptoms can occur 12-48 hours after last use, generally lasting between 10-20 days.

The heroin and opioid detoxification process is likely to cause withdrawal symptoms, which can potentially last for weeks. The symptoms are not life threatening, but can very hard and potentially dangerous for a person to endure on their own.

It is advisable to consider treatment during heroin and opioid detoxification because there are a few drugs that can help ease the discomfort of withdrawal, and also serve to combat the disease of addiction in the long-term.

Treatment During Heroin And Opioid Detoxification

Medical supervision during a heroin and opioid detoxification process allows professionals to regularly monitor people for any complications that may arise.

Medically supervised detoxification occurs in a medical setting, providing the recommended 3-4 daily checkups for people struggling with heroin and other opioid withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms can be mild to moderate to severe, and the severity of the symptoms will likely determine a course of action for the professionals involved.

For example, people experiencing mild symptoms of withdrawal will just need careful monitoring of fluids and vitamins to help with sweating and diarrhea.

Moderate to severe opioid withdrawal will likely call for similar management to mild symptoms, but also implement FDA approved medications to assist in the detoxification and withdrawal process. These medications can provide crucial relief during this painful, but necessary function of recovery.

Medications Used During Heroin And Opioid Detoxification

There are at least four effective medications that may be used during treatment of a heroin or other opioid addiction. Three out of the four are typically used during withdrawal and the heroin and opioid detoxification process.

Medication used during withdrawal and detoxification include:

Methadone is likely the first drug to be administered, as it helps relieves uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and is effective with detoxification. The effects of methadone help decrease the severity of withdrawal symptoms, and the medication may be administered less and less over a long period of time. It also may be used to treat opioid dependence for a long-time after the initial detoxification process.

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Some people struggling with severe opioid addiction may stay on methadone for years.

Buprenorphine, brand name Subutex, is also commonly used to treat withdrawal symptoms and cravings, and can even decrease the length of the heroin and opioid detoxification process. Like methadone, buprenorphine can be used long-term to continue with treatment for drug dependence.

Clonidine is mainly used to help treat more of the physical symptoms of withdrawal, like cramping, runny nose, muscle aches, and sweating. It is also capable of reducing agitation and anxiety, but does not help with the urges and cravings a person might have for heroin and other opioids.

The fourth drug, naltrexone, is mostly used to help prevent relapse during and after recovery. This drug comes in both pill and injection form and can help with cravings and dependence.

Receiving treatment during heroin and opioid detoxification is not a cure for addiction; long-term, inpatient treatment should follow. Inpatient treatment centers are capable of providing around the clock, 24-hour care, careful monitoring of patients and symptoms, and administration of medications when necessary.

Inpatient treatment centers may also provide behavioral therapy, essential for the long-term treatment of addiction.

Call now for treatment during heroin and opioid detoxification, and take the first step towards living a balanced, opioid free life.


  • MedlinePlus – Opiate and Opioid Withdrawal
  • World Health Organization – Withdrawal Management for Opioid Dependence

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