Is It Dangerous to Detox from Heroin?
Detox can indeed be dangerous, especially when dealing with heroin, a deathly addictive drug that claimed the lives of over 15,000 people in the United States in 2016. The number of deaths related to heroin continues to climb, with a startling 300% increase since 2011. While heroin detox is a necessary facet of the road to recovery, it can also be life-threatening when attempted without appropriate and much-needed medical supervision. Sadly, even certain institutionalized detox protocols can yield dangerous results, notably death in the case of a quick-fix, anesthesia-assisted outpatient detox program.
An effective detox treatment program is first and foremost a safe one that requires long-term commitment, therapy, and patience from both the user and his or her loved ones.
Debunking the Myth of Detoxing From Heroin
Much of the fear surrounding the question “is it dangerous to detox from heroin?” has been falsely proliferated on the internet. The dearth of accurate information hurts both individuals struggling with heroin addiction, and the people who care for them. From the combined poison of fear and exhaustion, many individuals and their families decide to forgo treatment altogether. As the saying goes, better the devil you know. But the choice to maintain the status-quo rather than delve into the relative unknown of detox will likely cost a life that could have been saved.
Why is Heroin Dangerous?
With so much misinformation circulating the internet, it is important to get back to basics and recognize how heroin abuse affects the brain and body of an addict.
The Opioid Epidemic
Heroin and prescription painkillers like Oxycontin or Vicodin qualify as “opiates,” a term that refers to the opium poppy plant from which the drugs are derived. These semisynthetic compounds share the precious analgesic property of relieving pain with morphine, the substance that occurs naturally in the poppy plant they come from. While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reserves Schedule II opiates for medical practices, Schedule I drugs like heroin are denied widespread legal usage for their addictive qualities. This rare qualification points to the assessment that the dangers of heroin outweigh any feasible benefits.
The History of Heroin
Unfortunately, the dangers of heroin weren’t always recognized as such. Originally synthesized in 1874 as a medical alternative to morphine, heroin was originally falsely celebrated for its nonaddictive properties. With the emphatic endorsement of the medical community, heroin was widely circulated, with Bayer marketing it as especially effective in suppressing coughs for children. Heroin was even used to curb cocaine additions before its chemical design proved to fail patients. Only in 1924 was the manufacture and sale of heroin banned by the United States Congress.
The Painkiller Connection
Sadly, the ban was not enough to erase the drug from existence. In recent years, the rate of deaths related to heroin has surged. The United States is in the midst of a veritable opioid epidemic, with an estimated 2 million Americans currently struggling with a drug addiction. The most common point of entry into heroin addiction, which represents 10% of total opioid addictions, is prescribed painkillers.
The Health Risks of Opioids
Like morphine, heroin distorts a user’s nervous system by binding to opioid receptors in the nervous system. The effects become more difficult with repeated usage, especially when it comes to the brain. Heroin warps the neuronal and hormonal balances that dictate optimal functioning. By eroding the nerve fibers and myelin sheaths that make up the brain’s white matter, heroin impairs:
- a user’s ability to control impulses and behavior
- a user’s ability to make decisions
- a user’s ability to react to stress
In addition to brain impairment, heroin affects:
- Heart rate, that can slow to such an extent that it becomes fatal
- Blood pressure
How Heroin is Different
These nefarious effects are also true of other opioids. Where heroin differs is how rapidly the process occurs, leaving users hungering for more with unparalleled intensity. Heroin is especially dangerous because of how quickly the “high” comes on, a sensation of euphoria that rises only to dissipate within a few hours. Users also describe feelings of:
Some people report mild anxiety, but this is usually the beginning of the “comedown,” which usually includes:
- Clouded mental abilities
- Excessive itchiness
With a blitz of a “high,” heroin condemns users to seek multiple doses in any given day, exposing them to a heightened risk of overdosing. Habitual usage begets a tolerance that makes the initial intensity challenging to recreate.
Besides the dangers of overdosing, heroin use significantly increases the risk of health complications related to needle-sharing. Injecting heroin directly into the vein is just one of the three principal ways of taking heroin. The other two options are:
- smoking it
- snorting it in lines of powder
Risks of Needle-Sharing
While using a needle yields a more powerful rush, all three methods are addictive. One of the myths to break, especially among young individuals, is that heroin is only addictive when injected. This is not true. The difference between the three methods of ingestion is that needle-sharing puts a heroin user at risk of blood-borne diseases and viruses. In addition to causing damaged and collapsed veins, an individual injecting heroin may contract:
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis C, and
- Bacterial infections of blood vessels
- Bacterial infections of the heart
- Surface infections like abscesses, or boils
Heroin usage not only affects the user. This statement may seem obvious on an emotional level, with families struggling to support a person they love who is addicted to heroin. But the fact is also true on a physiological level, with shared needles leading to viruses that travel via blood and can be given to a user’s sexual partners or children.
Risks of Unknown Compounds
Heroin is often laced with substances that can clog blood vessels that nourish vital organs. Organs that are often compromised in an addict’s body includes:
Heroin manufacturers and drug dealers often add fillers to heroin so they can charge more for stashes that weigh more. Unseen to the naked eye, the most common substances that sellers cut the drug with are:
- Baby powder
- Baking soda
- Crushed painkillers
- Rat poison
A healthy response to these compounds will cue a person’s immune system to reject the adulterants, leading to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Sadly, some added compounds are too lethal for the body to transmute or even reject, like the synthetic drug fentanyl, deemed 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. With death on the line, the risks of heroin use outweigh those of a medically-supervised detox.
Why Detox is Necessary
Despite the discomfort and possible complications of detox, heroin addiction is treatable. Make no mistake: in the throes of detox, an addict may be blinded to this necessary character and only identify with the evil of withdrawal. Therefore, the process solidifies itself as the only evil.
Explaining why detox is necessary is commonsensical. Heroin addiction is an awful, dangerous, and life altering disease. Detox is necessary because it’s part of the path for achieving sobriety. Everyday that passes with continued heroin use is another mark closer to health complications and at the very worst death.
There is even a point to be made that by going through detox, once it is finished the addict will know a new hell—one they never want to experience again, thus staying the course and refraining from heroin use.
Peaks Recovery Center Treatment Plan
At Peaks Recovery Center, this process of detoxification involves uncovering the root cause of substance abuse, which often reveals itself as a diagnosis of:
- Anxiety disorder
- Depressive disorder
- Bipolar disorder
Peaks Recovery Center addresses these co-occurring disorders through age-appropriate and gender-specific treatment. In addition to full-time medical assistance, the program includes three types of evidence-based counselling sessions:
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy
- Trauma therapy
Each aspect of the rehabilitation program is designed to best serve young men and women aged 18 to 30 seeking sober living solutions. The needs of a young adult are different than those of an older person, both physically and psychologically. Young adults are more likely to thrive when surrounded by their peers. The familiarity of being with people that are the same age normalizes the experience for a young adult, who may have felt alone or misunderstood at school or home.
Set in the breathtaking beauty of Colorado Springs, Peaks Recovery Center eliminates the damaging distractions and added stresses of a young man or woman’s daily experience. The goal is to promote healing in the most nurturing environment possible. By providing single-sex housing and programming, Peaks Recovery Center aims to foster a culture of accountability built on trust. Every part of the treatment plan looks to deepen this trust—in both a person’s relationship to themselves and to their peers.
Peaks Recovery Center gives patients the tools to succeed in achieving sobriety in the long-term. With a wealth of coping mechanisms and methods that encourage patients to remain accountable, Peaks Recovery Center is the ideal place for young men and women struggling with heroin addiction.
What is Withdrawal?
Too often is addiction thought of as a choice, rather than a disease. At Peaks Recovery Center, medical professionals understand that beating addiction, and the subsequent withdrawal symptoms a patient can experience from heroin abstinence, changes the brain chemistry of a patient. Rehabilitation is equal parts physical and emotional, with a large part focusing on the heroin withdrawal process.
What are the Dangers of Withdrawal?
While heroin induces feelings of euphoria, withdrawal triggers the opposite, notably depression. These extreme lows, met with heightened states of anxiety, can lead to violence towards the self—namely, suicide—and in rare cases, others. Monitoring these emotive spikes is just one of the ways that medical professionals can assist you or your loved one in this challenging time. And one of the ways that directly lessens the dangers of detox.
What is the Standard Timeline of Withdrawal?
Though the exact timeline of any detoxing effort is case-dependent, mental and physical symptoms of withdrawal usually settle in between 6 to 12 hours of abstinence from the drug. The good news is that heroin is relatively quick to leave the bloodstream. The withdrawal timeline can be as short as 1 week of inpatient detox treatment with medically-monitored supervision.
Withdrawal symptoms tend to reach a peak in the first 1 to 3 days. The intensity will vary with the level of addiction, which can be broken down into three categories.
- Generalized sensations of weakness and dizziness
- Excessive yawning
- Sneezing, sniffing, and tearing
- Sweating and/or chills
- Achiness throughout the body
- Vomiting to the point of dehydration
- Pain, body-wide and/or localized in the stomach, including abdominal complications like diarrhea to the point of dehydration
- Restlessness and agitation
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Violent muscle spasms
- Increased anxiety and irritability
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
Note that patients who suffer from severe heroin addictions also experience the symptoms of mild intensity. Depending on how dependent on heroin they have become, longterm users can feel the effects of withdrawal within an hour of abstinence.
Medical facilities not only provide medications to soothe these symptoms and ease the process of long-term recovery, they also administer therapy to maximize a person’s chances of success. Individuals struggling with heroin addiction must both quit a lifestyle that no longer serves them, and adopt new habits that support their newfound, healthy lifestyle. Therapy and support groups become integral to the process of transforming. Medical detox is thus a twofold process that makes available:
- medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms
- therapy sessions to forge new habits that support sober living
Why Choose Peaks Recovery Center
Without medical treatment to support the symptoms of withdrawal, users who do not partake in a specialized program tend to relapse. The chances of success in reaching sobriety are exponentially greater when you decide to surround yourself or your loved one with a team of qualified, experienced professionals that are seasoned in treating young people. Peaks Recovery Center offers the support of both professionals and peers to best serve young men and women struggling with addiction.
Quitting “cold-turkey” is dangerous because it starves a young man or woman of a much-needed support system through the emotional, physical, and hormonal rollercoaster of withdrawal. These changes are difficult enough to manage with help. Alone, they can push a user towards relapse or pose health complications.