Anyone who is hooked on an addictive street drug such as heroin will need to get fully detoxed from it if they want to start living any sort of new life. The process of recovery is always going to be split up into two separate phases: the physical detox and the long term recovery. You have to get through the detox before you can start living the long term recovery.
Now the acute detox phase is only going to last about 3 to 5 days, and in some cases might stretch out a bit longer than this. But there is also the post acute withdrawal stage that can really last for several months or even the first few years, where the body is still undergoing some long term physiological changes after years and years of drug abuse.
Detox from heroin
Detoxing from heroin can be particularly challenging because of the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. Because of this, the average drug addict will have a very hard time breaking free from the addiction because the opiate detox phase is so incredibly miserable. Detox symptoms will typically include stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety, body aches and pains, restlessness, irritability, and other flu like symptoms. But of course it is not just the type of symptoms that occur but the duration and the intensity of them that makes it so uncomfortable.
There are really 3 basic methods that you might use in order to try and get through heroin detox: Detoxing at home, detoxing in a drug rehab, and doing an ultra rapid detox. Let’s take a closer look at the options.
Heroin detox at home
If you heroin detox at home then you are in for a rough ride. Cold turkey is no walk in the park and basically you will experience the full range of detox symptoms. There is little you can do to control these other than ride it out if you choose to go through this cold turkey.
You can have some success using over the counter medications to help control the symptoms, but do not expect miracles. You can try taking:
Tylenol alternating with Ibuprofen every 4 hours to help with body aches and pains. Take 1000mg of Tylenol and then 4 hours later take 800mg of IBU and then 4 hours later more Tylenol and so on….
Benadryl (Diphenhydramine HCL) for anxiety and possibly to help with sleep. If you are restless and anxious taking 50mg of Benadryl can help. Take every 4 hours as needed.
Immodium – for diarrhea.
That is about it really. Anything else you take might complicate things or make things worse. Get lots of sleep, take it easy, and rest. Drink lots of fluids and try to eat 3 meals each day if you can. Remember that opiate withdrawal is not a life threatening condition, no matter how bad you might feel. The best strategy is to simply get through it without complication if possible. Don’t take something you might regret or over complicate this process. Heroin detox is not supposed to feel great, so you should expect at least some degree of discomfort. Do what you can to minimize it but do not create even more problems for yourself by going overboard.
Detox in a drug rehab
This is the ideal route to take as the medical staff at a rehab can help treat your withdrawal symptoms a bit better than you can do by yourself at home. In some cases they will even give prescription medications that can help control the opiate withdrawal symptoms more directly. Of course drug rehab is not cheap and not everyone will be able to secure funding for these kinds of services. If you can swing it then that is great and you should take full advantage of it. It sure beats a heroin overdose.
Remember what I mentioned above about getting off of heroin actually being a two part process, consisting of acute detox followed by long term recovery? Well, of the 3 options listed here, going to a drug rehab probably offers the greatest potential to you in terms of your long term success in recovery. The other 2 options offer very little in the way of long term, follow up care. Drug rehab is typically followed up with counseling, outpatient services, long term treatment, introduction into 12 step fellowships, or other long term strategies for recovery.
It does not do much good to get detoxed from heroin only to end up going right back to the old life and relapsing again. Drug rehab usually offers access to residential treatment and follow up care.
Ultra rapid detox
This is a relatively new procedure where you go in for a surgical procedure and get “put under” so that your body can be quickly flushed and detoxed very rapidly. The good part is that when you wake up you will not feel any withdrawal symptoms. The bad part is that this is expensive and is not covered by any insurances just yet. Another downside is that some people have unfortunately died during the procedure so it remains quite controversial. Plus, there is little emphasis on follow up care or on long term strategies when you are essentially being detoxed on what is practically an outpatient procedure.
Remember, detox is useless in the face of what could very easily amount to “yet another relapse.” How much effort and money are you putting into a detox procedure? If it is relatively pain free and you have little to no discomfort then this does not provide much incentive to stay clean in the long run. After all, you detoxed once, why can’t you do it again?
Even if you do go through a great deal of agony in heroin withdrawal, the mind still tends to forget the intensity of that pain over time and the threat of relapse will always be there. If you don’t have a long term strategy for how you are going to stay clean and sober in the long run then you might want to hold off on detox altogether until you can get the proper motivation to see it through to a new way of life.