Heroin Detox: Symptoms, Timeline, & Treatment

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Heroin detox is a process that involves purging the semi-synthetic opioid and its toxic metabolites from the system, ideally under medical supervision. Detoxing from heroin is associated with the presentation of intensely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

For many people struggling with heroin addiction, the fear of withdrawal acts as a significant barrier to breaking free from their addiction. In some cases, this fear prevents them from even considering addiction treatment, even though evidence-based treatments are proven effective for treating opioid use disorder (heroin addiction).

Thankfully, the ordeal of withdrawal and detox can be made more manageable with medical intervention. Read on to discover how to detox from heroin by engaging in an inpatient detox program followed by ongoing treatment in Ohio.

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Heroin Detox Symptoms

Regular use of heroin prompts the brain to adapt, resulting in the development of both tolerance (where higher heroin doses are needed to achieve the same effects) and physiological dependence. Dependence on heroin is marked by withdrawal symptoms that manifest when someone reduces their intake or discontinues usage altogether. While withdrawal symptoms are not typically life-threatening, they can be aggravating and painful, rendering it challenging for many people to break their heroin addiction without professional help.

Withdrawal is characterized by a specific set of symptoms that occur when someone stops using a substance to which their body has become dependent – heroin, for example. The withdrawal symptoms associated with all opioids are similar, although the onset, duration, and presentation of symptoms can vary significantly. These differences are influenced by factors that include the specific opioid(s) used, the dosage and duration of use, concurrent use of other addictive substances, and the interval between doses.

Common heroin detox symptoms may include both physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms

These are the most common physical symptoms associated with detoxing from heroin:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping and muscle aches
  • Sweating and chills
  • Excessive yawning
  • Runny nose and watery eyes
  • Rapid heartbeat and increased blood pressure
  • Tremors and shaking

Psychological symptoms

Psychological symptoms that may manifest during a detox for heroin include:

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness
  • Insomnia and disturbances in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating and memory problems
  • Agitation and increased sensitivity to stimuli

Heroin Detox Timeline

How long does it take to detox from heroin, then? The heroin withdrawal timeline differs from person to person, contingent on variables such as the person’s physical health status, the duration of heroin use, the amount of heroin consumed, and whether other substances were used alongside heroin. This is a general outline of the stages and timeline of heroin withdrawal:

Early withdrawal symptoms (within 6 to 12 hours after the last dose)

Initial symptoms may include cravings for opioids, anxiety, restlessness, and aching muscles.

Many people detoxing heroin also experience symptoms like teary eyes, runny nose, excessive yawning, and sweating.

Peak withdrawal symptoms (within 1 to 3 days)

The most intense symptoms typically occur within the first 3 days of detox and may include severe muscle aches, abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting. Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, and drug cravings can also peak during this time.

Gradual improvement (3 to 5 days)

Physical symptoms gradually begin to subside, although some discomfort may persist. Some people may experience reduced abdominal cramping, muscle aches, and sweating.

Psychological symptoms may still linger, including mood swings, insomnia, and cravings, although they tend to become less severe.

PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) – several weeks to months

Some people detoxing from heroin may experience a protracted withdrawal phase that is clinically described as PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome). PAWS can last for weeks or months after the last use of heroin. The symptoms associated with PAWS include persistent psychological effects like depression, anxiety, and intense cravings, along with difficulty concentrating and disrupted sleep patterns. Seeking professional medical help and support during this period can significantly improve the management of symptoms and increase the likelihood of successful long-term recovery from heroin addiction.

Heroin Detox Treatment

Heroin detoxification is the first vital step in the treatment of heroin addiction. It aims to manage the acute physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms while preparing individuals for ongoing addiction treatment. The most effective heroin detox treatment usually involves a combination of medical intervention, psychological support, and behavioral therapy.

MAT (medication-assisted treatment)

Medications approved by the FDA to treat opioid use disorder include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. These medications may be prescribed to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and prevent relapse. MAT is often used as part of a comprehensive treatment plan to manage the physical aspects of heroin detoxification.

Medical monitoring and support

Medical professionals closely monitor individuals undergoing detox to ensure their safety and manage any potential complications that may arise during the withdrawal process. Monitoring vital signs, managing dehydration, and addressing any severe symptoms are key components of medical support during detox.

Psychological support and counseling

Behavioral therapies, such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and CM (contingency management), are frequently indicated to address the psychological aspects of heroin addiction. These therapies help individuals understand the underlying triggers of their addiction, develop coping strategies, and learn healthier behaviors to prevent relapse. When MAT is employed to treat heroin addiction, it is always most effective when blended with psychotherapies like CBT.

Support groups and peer counseling

Participating in support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) can provide people battling heroin addiction with a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences with others who have lived experience of opioid addiction can provide encouragement, guidance, and a sense of belonging during the challenging detoxification process.

Holistic therapies and wellness practices

Incorporating holistic therapies like yoga, mindfulness meditation, and art therapy can help individuals manage stress, improve emotional well-being, and promote overall wellness during detox and recovery.

Aftercare planning

Developing a comprehensive aftercare plan helps people to maintain long-term abstinence from heroin after detox. This plan may include continued therapy, support group participation, ongoing medical monitoring, and lifestyle changes to support a drug-free and healthy lifestyle.

Successful heroin detox treatment, then, is often part of a broader, long-term addiction treatment program that addresses the complex physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction. It is important to seek professional guidance and support to create a personalized treatment plan tailored to individual needs and circumstances.

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Get Treatment for Heroin Addiction at Ohio Recovery Centers

At Ohio Recovery Centers, we are dedicated to providing tailored addiction treatment programs specifically designed to address heroin addiction.

Studies indicate that both mild and moderate heroin addictions can be effectively managed through intensive outpatient treatment, which offers the same level of success as residential rehabilitation. Our outpatient treatment is not only flexible but also more cost-effective, ensuring that you receive the necessary care without financial strain. Select from our comprehensive programs available at our Cincinnati facility:

  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • Outpatient programs

All of our addiction treatment programs at Ohio Recovery Centers integrate a personalized mix of science-backed treatments, and include a robust aftercare component. For immediate assistance, please reach out to our admissions team today at 877-679-2132.

Table of Contents

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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.
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Christopher Glover CDCA

My name is Christopher Glover, and I am from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am currently in school and working to grow in competence to better support our community. As a recovering individual I know the struggles that you or a loved one can go through and that there is help for anything you may be struggling with.

The hardest part is asking for help and we are here as a team to best support you and your decision to start your journey towards a better future. Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

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Amanda Kuchenberg PRS CDCA

I recently joined Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers as a Clinical Case Manager. I am originally from Wisconsin but settled in the Cincinnati area in my early 20s.  My career started in the fashion industry but quickly changed as I searched to find my drive and passion through helping others who struggle with addiction. 

As someone who is also in recovery, I wanted to provide hope, share lived experience, and support others on their journey.  I currently have my Peer Recovery Support Supervision Certification along with my CDCA and plan to continue my education with University of Cincinnati so I can continue to aid in the battle against substance addiction. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn.

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Patrick McCamley LCDC III

 Patrick McCamley (Clinical Therapist) is a Cincinnati native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2019. Patrick received his bachelors degree in psychology from University of Cincinnati in 2021 and received his LCDC III (Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2022. Patrick has worked in Clinical Operations, Clinical Case Management, and Clinical Therapy throughout his career.

Patrick has tremendous empathy and compassion for the recovery community, being in recovery himself since 2018. Patrick is uniquely qualified to be helpful because of the specific combination of his academic background and his own experience in recovery.

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Bill Zimmerman CDCA

Bill Zimmerman is a Greater Cincinnati Area native who has worked in substance use disorder/co-occurring mental health disorder treatment since 2018. Bill received his (Chemical Dependency Counselor Assistant) license from the Ohio Chemical Dependency Professionals Board in 2020.

Bill has worked in Clinical Operations in both support and supervision, and Program facilitating and 12 step recovery support during his career. Bill has a passion for the recovery community, having been in recovery himself since 1982. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn

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Taylor Lilley CDCA, PRS

Growing up in Louisiana with addiction running rampant on both sides of my family. A life away from drugs and alcohol seemed impossible for someone like me. I remember what it was like sitting across from someone thinking there is no way they could ever understand what I was going through.

Sharing my experience offers a credibility and a certain type of trust with clients that only someone who has walked down this road can illustrate. To immerse myself further into the field of addiction, I am currently studying at Cincinnati State for Human and Social Services.  I hope I never forget where I came from, if I can do it, so can you!

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Thomas Hunter LSW

Hello my name is Thomas Hunter. I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a licensed social worker.In my scope of practice I have worked in the areas of mental health and recovery for thirty years. The clients I have worked with in my career have ranged in age from seven to seventy.

I strive each day to serve my purpose of helping those in need and I believe I do so by utilizing all of my experiences to accomplish my goal of supporting those who desire to establish their sobriety and maintain it in their recovery. Connect with Thomas on LinkedIn.

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Mary D.Porter,LICDC

 My name is Mary D. Porter. I received my Masters of Social Work in 2008 from The University of Cincinnati. I received My Licensed Independent Chemical Dependency Counselor Licensure in 2001. I retired from The Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center on April 14, 2014. Currently, I am the Associate Clinical Director for The Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers in Cincinnati.. Due to the fourth wave of the Opioid Epidemic in 2019,  I decided to enter back into the workforce to assist the addicted population.

The overdoses were astounding and I wanted to help.  I consider myself  to be an advocate for the addicted population. My compassion, resilience, empathy, wisdom, knowledge, experience and  love I have for this forgotten population goes beyond words. I consider what I do for the addicted population as a calling versus a “career,” because I too was once an “addict and alcoholic.” Today I am 45.5 years alcohol and substance free.

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Ben Lemmon LCDC III

Hello, my name is Ben Lemmon, and I’m the Vice President and Clinical Director at Ohio Community Health Recovery Centers. I’ve been working in the addiction and mental health field since 2013 and decided to enter the field after overcoming my own challenges with addiction.

When I first meet a client, I always explain to them that the reason we are meeting is because they are not capable of obtaining or maintaining sobriety, and my goal is to create a person that can maintain sobriety. I believe a person’s personality is made up of their thoughts, feelings and actions and my job is to help clients identify the thoughts, feelings and actions that have them disconnected from recovery and provide them with the tools to live a healthy and happy life. Connect with Ben on LinkedIn