How to Detox from Heroin

Effective treatments and support are available for those seeking to recover from heroin addiction, including both pharmacological (medications) and behavioral strategies. Both approaches can help someone struggling to regain control of their life to restore some element of normalcy to their behavior and brain function. Research shows that for most people, an integrated, holistic approach is most effective.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Use?

Although we’ve all heard of heroin, trying to identify the symptoms of someone using the drug may not be as easy as you think. Identifying a heroin abuser is made even tougher by the universal goal of the user: keeping their use secret. Common physical symptoms of heroin use include:

  • Anxiety
  • Bags and dark circles under the eyes
  • Burn marks on the fingers or mouth from smoking
  • Chest pain
  • Constipation
  • Cotton mouth
  • Cuts, bruises, and scabs
  • Depression
  • Euphoria
  • Excessive yawning
  • Fatigue
  • Flu-like symptoms (such as fever, aches, vomiting, or a persistent chill)
  • Goosebumps
  • Hacking cough
  • Infections and abscesses
  • Irritability
  • Itchy skin
  • Legs and arms that seem heavy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Low sex drive
  • More energy
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Nausea
  • Needle marks or “track marks” (which look like little red dots or bruises)
  • No menstrual cycle
  • Nosebleeds
  • Overstimulation
  • Pinpoint pupils
  • Psychosis
  • Puffy eyes
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Respiratory problems
  • Runny nose, sniffling
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sores or burns on the nostrils or lips from smoking
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Watery eyes

No one of these symptoms by itself would prove heroin abuse, but the more signs you see together, the more likely there is a problem. Furthermore, the signs of heroin abuse are not just physical. In fact, people who abuse heroin also typically display behavioral changes, and you are almost certainly going to notice the different version of your family member or friend. Here are some behavioral signs and symptoms of heroin addiction:

  • Apathy
  • Avoiding other people, including family and friends
  • Bad performance at school or work
  • Disorientation
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Garbled, incoherent speech (words may be understandable, but still don’t make sense)
  • Hiding things
  • Hostility toward others
  • Hyper alert or jittery moods followed by sleeping and fatigue
  • Keeping needle marks covered with long sleeves, pants, and closed shoes, even when it’s hot
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Letting one’s physical appearance go
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies that used to be important
  • Lying
  • No motivation
  • Poor coordination
  • Slow movement
  • Slurred speech
  • Spending time with a new friend that also use heroin
  • Wearing sunglasses all the time, even inside and at night
  • Won’t make eye contact

Also watch for less direct signs and symptoms of heroin addiction—behavior that isn’t directly related to heroin use, but tends to come with it, being related to acquiring or using the drugs themselves:

  • Antihistamines in bulk (to counteract the release of histamines from heroin)
  • Asks to borrow money frequently
  • Bottle caps
  • Bottled water
  • Burn marks on aluminum foil or gum wrappers (from smoking)
  • Cotton balls or bits of cotton
  • Empty capsules
  • Empty plastic pen cases (for snorting or smoking)
  • Missing or “lost” valuable possessions or money
  • Missing or “lost” prescription medications
  • Rolled up money
  • Rubber bands or straps
  • Shoelaces that are gone
  • Small plastic bags
  • Spoons with burn marks
  • Straws with burn marks from smoking, or used for snorting
  • Syringes, needles, or tiny caps for syringes
  • Unexplained jumps in mileage on car
  • Water pipes for smoking

What are the Risks and Effects of Heroin Abuse?

Repeated use of heroin changes the brain’s physiology, leading to long-term imbalances in hormonal and neuronal systems that cannot simply be reversed. Heroin use can also cause the white matter in the brain to deteriorate, negatively affecting decision-making, behavior regulation, and stress responses. Heroin use leads to tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance means that it takes more and more heroin just to get the same effects. Physical dependence means that the body adapts to heroin being present, and triggers withdrawal symptoms if it goes away.

Chronic heroin users experience various medical complications, no matter how they ingest the drug. These include constipation and insomnia. Lung diseases including pneumonia and tuberculosis, can also occur. Mental disorders such as antisocial personality disorder and depression are also common. Sexual dysfunction is common in male users, and female users often experience disrupted menstrual cycles.

People who repeatedly snort heroin often damage the tissues in their noses and their septum. People who smoke experience more serious respiratory illnesses and burns. Chronic injectors experience collapsed and/or scarred veins, bacterial infections of the heart valves and blood vessels, boils or abscesses, and other infections of the soft-tissue. Heroin additives can clog the blood vessels that lead to the kidneys, liver, lungs, or even the brain, causing infection or even death of patches of cells in these vital organs. Immune reactions to contaminants may lead to arthritis or other rheumatological problems.

People who inject drugs are also at much higher risk for infections with hepatitis B and C, HIV, and other blood-borne viruses, which they sometimes then pass on to their family members. Smoking and snorting users are still at risk, particularly through risky behavior and proximity to more infected people.

Finally, overdose is a potentially deadly consequence of using heroin. A sufficient dose of heroin slows the heart rate and respiration enough that survival is impossible without medical help—and sometimes in spite of it.

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin is difficult to quit in part because it causes such awful withdrawal symptoms. Some of these include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Goose bumps
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach cramps
  • Teary eyes
  • Vomiting

These are uncomfortable and even painful, but usually not life-threatening. As your heroin detox progresses, though, other risks can arise, including:

  • Aspiration (breathing vomit into your lungs), which can cause a lung infection
  • Dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting
  • Depression
  • Increased risk of relapse which carries overdose risk with it
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Self-medication to relieve withdrawal symptoms

Finally, you will experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which produces symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotional blunting
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances

It can be extremely difficult to endure PAWS and heroin cravings. The urge to use can be overpowering. The right heroin detox program may help you avoid the worst of these problems.

Heroin Detox Timeline

Among opioid drugs, heroin is relatively short-acting. This means that the human body processes it fairly quickly. When the effects of heroin begin to wear off, that’s when withdrawal symptoms can begin. These usually emerge within 6 to 12 hours of the user’s most recent heroin fix, and they peak in their intensity within 1 to 3 days. Withdrawal symptoms resolve gradually, often within 5 to 7 days—although for many, the acute phase of withdrawal from heroin is followed protracted withdrawal symptoms or post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). These ongoing PAWS withdrawal symptoms can last for up to 6 months.

Finding a Heroin Treatment Program

Choosing the right heroin treatment program is essential for your success. You have the absolute best chance with our ibogaine treatment center Clear Sky Recovery. Our holistic approach and high-end facilities will give you the edge you need to get through this. Contact Clear Sky to find out more about why our heroin treatment program is like no other.