Heroin is a powerfully addictive opioid drug that can affect every single aspect of a person’s life. There are many different ways a person can become addicted to heroin, and addiction is unique to every individual. Because of this, withdrawal from heroin will be unique as well. While there is a specific set of symptoms that one can expect to experience when detoxing from heroin, each person will also face unique challenges. For this reason, individualized care and medically supervised withdrawal are very important. To better understand how heroin addiction occurs, and why withdrawal from heroin is so difficult, it’s important to understand how heroin affects the brain.
Heroin Use and the Brain
Heroin can be ingested in a number of ways including sniffing, smoking, and injecting intravenously. While injection of the drug provides the person with the most intense and rapid onset of effects, no matter how it’s used, heroin will always end up in the brain.
The brain naturally contains receptors that interact with opioids. These receptors are involved in breathing, the perception of pain, emotion, reward, and well-being. When a person uses heroin, the drug eventually ends up in the brain, activating these receptors and leading to the drug’s desirable effects. Heroin’s interaction with opioid receptors causes the brain to release an unnatural amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is responsible for many positive emotions and feelings.
Over time, heroin use can decrease the number of active opioid receptors in the brain and also decrease their sensitivity. Because of this decrease in sensitivity, a person will have to use heroin more frequently, and in larger amounts, in order to achieve the desired effect.
When an outside chemical such as heroin causes the brain to release dopamine, the brain stops releasing dopamine on its own. Because the brain has become accustomed to this new source of dopamine, when a person stops using heroin, it causes a deficit of dopamine and the negative symptoms of heroin withdrawal.
Effects of Heroin Withdrawal
Because addiction is different for everyone, the symptoms of heroin withdrawal will also differ from person to person.
There are many factors that will affect the severity and duration of heroin withdrawal symptoms. The longer someone uses heroin, the way it was used, and the amount that was taken each time all factor into how dependent the brain and body have become on the substance. Because of this, the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms will depend on these factors as well.
As discussed above, heroin is an opioid that interacts with the brain, suppressing some of the functions of the central nervous system such as heart rate, blood pressure, temperature regulation, and breathing. The drug binds to opioid receptors, causing a rush of chemicals that are responsible for feelings of contentment and pleasure. When a person is experiencing heroin withdrawal, they may feel the opposite of the desired intoxicant effects. For example, if the heroin “high” consists of intense euphoria and sedation, heroin withdrawal may cause a person to experience intense depression and insomnia.
The symptoms of heroin withdrawal will range in severity according to how long the person has used, their history of drug use, and the amount the person was using.
Mild Symptoms of Withdrawal:
- Mild nausea and abdominal cramps
- Tearing and runny nose,
- Chills and cold sweating
- Fatigue and excessive yawning
- Aching of the muscles and bones
Moderate Symptoms of Withdrawal:
- Vomiting, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal distress
- Agitation and irritability
- Tremors and uncontrollable shaking
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and lack of energy
Severe Symptoms of Withdrawal:
- Extreme anxiety and depression
- Increased blood pressure and rapid heart rate
- Muscle spasms and soreness
- Impaired breathing
- Extreme drug cravings
- Difficulty feeling pleasure or happiness
While the physical effects of heroin withdrawal aren’t considered life-threatening on their own, some of the medical and psychological symptoms may cause potentially life-threatening complications.
For example, if someone is facing extreme anxiety and depression due to heroin withdrawal, they may be more inclined to seriously consider self-harm or suicide. This is why it’s highly recommended people seek professional, medically supervised support when detoxing from heroin.
Heroin Detox at Serenity Lane
Heroin is what is known as a “short-acting” opioid. This means it both takes effect quickly and leaves the system quickly. The National Institutes of Health have determined that withdrawal symptoms for short-acting opioids begin onset within 8 to 24 hours after final use and last anywhere from 4 to 10 days.
Serenity Lane is proud to be one of the top-quality addiction treatment programs in the northwestern United States. We currently provide a cutting-edge, medically supported withdrawal program, also known as detox, at our inpatient care facility in Coburg, Oregon.
We’re proud to offer a full continuum of treatment services for people suffering from heroin addiction. Detox is the first step in your journey toward living a drug-free life.
Our team of medical professionals uses a standardized process designed to be the most effective way to receive long-term recovery from dependence on heroin. They are prepared and qualified to handle all aspects of detox, including withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues that may be present.
It’s important to remember that even if they aren’t life-threatening symptoms, the withdrawal process is known to be painful, scary, and it can make it harder to want to stop using heroin. In order to be sure that safety is the top priority of medical detox, we embrace the benefits of having qualified, compassionate professionals who can handle the withdrawal process with ease.
The discomfort and pain that are associated with heroin withdrawal can make it crucial that those going through detox get a medical intervention that combines both their emotional and medical needs. That’s why a medical detox program is so important.
The end result of a successful medical detox is that the individual is no longer at high risk for complications related to their substance use. The feeling of cravings may still be there, and that’s why medical detox is usually the first step in the continuum of care provided to individuals seeking treatment.
Specialized Treatment for Opioid Drug and Heroin Withdrawal Using Buprenorphine
Over the past decade, we have seen an alarming rise in the misuse of opioids, both in a prescription form, such as OxyContin®, Percocet®, morphine, and Vicodin®, as well as street drugs like heroin. Here in Oregon, with the closure of many methadone clinics, there are fewer options for the treatment of opioid use than ever before.
To fill this void, The American Society of Addiction Medicine has worked to find alternative, effective treatments for opioid addiction. In October 2002, the drug buprenorphine received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for this purpose.
In clinical studies, buprenorphine has proven effective in minimizing the extremely painful side effects of opioid withdrawal without patients feeling either euphoria or sedation. It’s also virtually impossible to overdose on buprenorphine.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Addiction at Serenity Lane
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the use of certain medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a unique approach to the treatment of substance use disorders. Some of the drugs approved by the FDA, known as FDA-approved medications, are naltrexone, buprenorphine, and methadone. These work best in combination with clinical therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders—which is why MAT exists.
Medications used in MAT, such as buprenorphine, naltrexone, or methadone, work by normalizing brain chemistry, relieving physiological cravings, and normalizing body functions without the negative withdrawal effects of heroin.
Opioid receptor binding—which is when something finds a way to attach itself to a special space in the brain that is meant to receive the signals that opioid medications send—causes the signs and symptoms of overdose. It also causes the euphoric effects or “high” associated with opioid use. MAT works by acting on the same targets in the brain as heroin.
For example, methadone and buprenorphine suppress withdrawal symptoms and relieve cravings. Naltrexone, however, blocks the effects of opioids at their receptor sites in the brain and is used only in patients who have already been through detox.
At Serenity Lane, our MAT program incorporates evidence-based, solutions-focused methods for treating heroin addiction. Some key elements of the program include:
- Integrating a medical component
- Providing extensive, holistic family education and therapy
- Engagement in treatment programming
- Ongoing support, monitoring, and communication through all levels of care
It’s important to understand that medication alone is not a cure-all solution for heroin addiction. Medication at Serenity Lane is used as just one component in our comprehensive treatment programs.
Serenity Lane has been a trailblazer in the addiction treatment space and has served the Oregon community since 1973. We offer individualized, effective, and innovative solutions for your clients, neighbors, colleagues, friends, acquaintances, and family members struggling with heroin dependency, or any other addiction. Our residential treatment center in Coburg, Oregon, can help you or a loved one today.
Don’t wait another day to get the help you or a loved one need. Call to speak to a recovery specialist now: 541-262-1422
- What’s it like to detox from heroin?
Detoxing from heroin is often described as an extremely unpleasant experience. While its physical symptoms are rarely life-threatening, heroin withdrawal has been compared to a very severe flu. Its symptoms may include cold sweats, fever, labored breathing, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, and depression. It’s highly suggested that anyone who is quitting heroin do so under the close supervision of medical professionals at a detox facility.
- How long does heroin withdrawal last?
The symptoms of heroin withdrawal typically start within 8 to 24 hours after the last dose and last anywhere from 4 to 10 days. This depends on a number of factors such as length of time a person has used and their method of ingestion.
- What does heroin withdrawal feel like?
Heroin withdrawal has been described as feeling like a severe flu. This includes cold sweats, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, and depression.