Overview of Heroin

If you have a substance use disorder, particularly a heroin use disorder, you have probably been struggling to break free for quite a while. If you have considered treatment for your disorder, you are probably concerned about the most intimidating part of quitting heroin: detox and withdrawal. Fortunately, Coastal Detox can help you to end heroin abuse safely and comfortably. View All Opiates

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Heroin Detox Program

What is Detox?

Detoxification is a process that clears toxins (poisons) from the body of someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs. Additionally, the goal of detox is to reduce the effects of withdrawal during this first stage of treatment.

For a person struggling with heroin addiction, detox can bring on painful withdrawal symptoms that start within 24 hours of stopping drug use. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on the duration of abuse and other factors. Although heroin withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, trying to detox alone without medical supervision can make symptoms worse. In addition, people who are in recovery from heroin addiction need to detox from the drug or begin medication-assisted treatment before they can begin counseling and therapy.

Heroin Withdrawal

When a person stops using heroin, the body needs time to recover. Consequently, that causes withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal can start any time long-term use is cut back or stopped. Additionally, withdrawal symptoms for people who first quit using heroin can be very severe—medications during the beginning phase of our heroin detox program help ease cravings and other painful symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable but generally not life-threatening. Symptoms typically start within 12 hours of the last heroin usage and 30 hours of the last methadone exposure. However, severe symptoms usually peak about 48 to 72 hours after last use and can last from 4 to 10 days, but the severity lessens over time.

Early symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle aches
  • Increased tearing
  • Runny nose
  • Sweating
  • Yawning
  • Insomnia

Later symptoms include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupils

Withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable but generally not life-threatening. Symptoms typically start within 12 hours of the last heroin usage and within 30 hours of the last methadone exposure. However, severe symptoms usually peak about 48 to 72 hours after last use and can last from 4 to 10 days but the severity lessens over time.

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Detox and Treatment for Heroin Abuse

Withdrawal from heroin and other opioids on your own can be complicated and may be dangerous. Our heroin detox program includes:

  • medications
  • counseling
  • support

Withdrawal can occur in several settings, including:

  • In a facility set up to help people with detoxification
  • In a regular hospital, especially if symptoms are severe
  • At home, with a robust support system and medications – This is a complex method, and the withdrawal process takes time.

Many treatment centers can provide trained addiction specialists who use medication-assisted therapy to treat heroin addiction, ease withdrawal symptoms, and reduce cravings. Therefore. Quitting heroin “cold turkey” is not recommended for a successful detox.


  • • Lofexidine is a blood pressure medication that is now commonly used to treat the physical symptoms of withdrawal from opioids, such as heroin. While it’s not a treatment for heroin addiction, it is a valuable aid in detoxification.
  • Methadone eases withdrawal symptoms and helps with detox. Additionally, methadone is a long-term maintenance method for opioid dependence.
  • Buprenorphine (Subutex) is used to treat withdrawal and can reduce the length of detox.
  • Clonidine helps reduce anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping.

It doesn’t help reduce cravings. Other medications can help with sleep and treat vomiting and diarrhea.

Withdrawl Symptoms

Understanding Possible Complications of Withdrawal

Although the symptoms of heroin detox are generally not life-threatening, there can be complications. It’s essential to consider these points before detoxing at home or on your own. Other complications include:

  • Vomiting and breathing the stomach contents into the lungs. This is called aspiration and it can cause a lung infection.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration and chemical and mineral (electrolyte) disturbances in the body.
  • The worst complication is returning to drug use. Most opiate overdose deaths happen to people who have just detoxed. Consequently, withdrawal lowers the individual’s tolerance to the drug. This means that those who have gone through withdrawal can overdose on a much smaller amount of the drug.

How Long Does it Take to Detox?

Heroin detox can take anywhere from a few days to more than a week. The length of time it takes depends on several factors, including:

  • Age
  • Weight
  • Genetics
  • Mental health
  • Tolerance level
  • Medical history
  • Alcohol or other drug use
  • Method of use (i.e. snorting, injecting, etc.)
  • How long the person has been using heroin

People who inject heroin may take longer to detox than people who snort it.

How Do You Know if Someone is Addicted to Heroin?

In the early stages of heroin use, there might not be any signs of a disorder. This is true because heroin users tend to go to great lengths to hide their drug use. But the more it is used, the harder it is to hide it. Signs of heroin use include:

  • Secrecy
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Financial issues
  • Memory problems
  • Needle marks (if injecting)
  • Nose sores or runny nose (if snorting)
  • School or employment problems
  • Risky or dangerous behaviors
  • Aggressive behavior

Risk Factors for OUD (Opioid Use Disorder)

Anyone who uses heroin is at risk for OUD, but some factors increase the risk of developing an addiction. The Mayo Clinic reports that some of the risk factors include:

  • Unemployment
  • Heavy tobacco use
  • History of risk-taking behavior
  • History of severe depression or anxiety
  • Exposure to high-risk people and environments
  • Personal or family history of addiction to other substances

Why Does Heroin Addiction Develop?

It’s not about willpower. Heroin addiction is a substance use disorder (SUD). It’s a chronic disease called opioid use disorder. In addition, it rewires the brain and makes it hard for people to quit, even when addiction is ruining their lives. Heroin goes to your brain quickly. It doesn’t matter how it got into your body, but after using it once or twice, it can be challenging to stop using it again.

The Reward System

Similar to other addictions, opioid addiction happens when a biological system in our brains, the reward system, is taken over by opioids. Our reward system drives us to repeat natural things we enjoy or need to do to survive, like eating when hungry. This triggers the release of a chemical called dopamine in our brains.

Dopamine rewards us with a feeling of calm or pleasure. However, these natural levels of dopamine can’t compare to the levels triggered by heroin and other opioids. After a while, the brain is ‘rewired,” needing this higher level of dopamine. The brain will begin to need more and more dopamine to feel normal. Once opioids rewire the brain, the individual may feel trapped in a continuing cycle.

The Prescription Problem

Frequently, people are prescribed opioid pain medication by their doctor. When that prescription runs out, they crave the pleasure and relief they got from the prescription drug. Enter heroin, which is cheaper, more robust, and easy to get. When a person takes an opioid repeatedly over time, the brain no longer produces dopamine naturally the way it used to. As a result, the person needs higher and more frequent doses to feel the same level of pleasure.

What Follows a Heroin Detox Program?

Because heroin addiction is a disease of the brain, both pharmacological (medications) and behavioral treatments help restore some amount of normalcy to brain function and behavior. While both treatments are helpful when used alone, research shows that combining treatments (with the supervision of professionals) is the most effective method.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

There is evidence that medical treatment of heroin use disorder will increase the likelihood of patients staying in treatment programs longer, which reduces drug use, infectious disease transmission, and criminal activity.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “people seeking recovery from opioid problems are more successful when they combine a prescribed medication used to treat addiction with professional counseling and a strong support system. Typical medications include:

  • Buprenorphine
  • Methadone
  • Naltrexone

MAT is a clinically proven treatment for heroin addiction and is used in many heroin rehab programs to:

  • Help manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal, cravings, and the rewarding feeling created by opioids.
  • Address the physical changes heroin addiction has caused to the brain.


There are many effective psychotherapy (talk therapy) and behavioral therapy techniques available for heroin addiction treatment, such as:

Individual Therapy

During individual therapy, people work with a counselor one-on-one in confidential therapy sessions to develop their goals and strategies for recovery. Additionally, individual therapy can help people discover their deeply rooted motives for drug use or even an underlying mental or medical condition.

Group Therapy

Group therapy comprises up to 15 group members with 1 or 2 therapists. During group therapy sessions, individuals can discuss treatment issues with others in the same situation. Additionally, they learn to see things from other perspectives and develop valuable skills in relapse prevention.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a short-term therapy technique that is meant to help the patient adjust their behavior and expectations as they relate to drug use. It deals with the present and does not focus on the past. Patients learn new skills in coping with life’s stressors.

Contingency Management (CM)

The CM method uses a point or voucher system. Patients can earn points for clean drug tests, attendance at meetings, etc. Vouchers can be redeemed for things that encourage healthy living, like healthy meals at a local restaurant or gym memberships.

Preventing Relapse

One of the common complications of heroin addiction treatment and recovery is relapse. Addiction is a complex condition and recovery frequently includes obstacles. There are many reasons why people relapse. The main one is that the person has the mistaken belief that the addiction is under control. Then they want to test that belief. Other common reasons are:

  • Thinking that “one last time can’t hurt”
  • An inability to cope with stress
  • Problems managing physical and emotional pain
  • Switching one drug for another
  • Unable to face triggers

If you or someone close to you displays these behaviors, be aware that a relapse may be coming soon. Also, keep in mind that people who relapse are more susceptible to an overdose. The dose of heroin that they used before might now be fatal.

Find Help Through Our Heroin Detox Program

Even though heroin addiction is a severe condition, it doesn’t have to be forever or even long-term. For yourself or someone you love, this condition needs attention sooner rather than later. Currently, only 20% of people with opioid use disorder are receiving treatment for it. Don’t be part of the suffering majority.

Coastal Detox has a new heroin detox program and recovery facility in Stuart, Florida, on the beautiful Treasure Coast. After detoxing in our state-of-the-art facility, we can offer four different treatment programs. One will surely fit your lifestyle, circumstances, and needs.

You don’t have to be from Florida to take advantage of our treatment center. Research demonstrates that removing yourself from your environment frees you physically to address your problems. Our intake department is available 24 hours a day to answer your questions. Give us a call now and get your life back.


Finding the right help for yourself or a loved one can be overwhelming and stressful. We can remove those stresses by helping you find the right rehabilitation facility. Call us now to start the road to recovery.