In the late 19th century, heroin was first synthesized by an English chemist named C.R. Alder Wright. It derived from the opium poppy and was introduced to the world as a children’s cough suppressant. In less than two decades, the American public recognized the danger it presented to society when it was banned shortly after World War I. These days, heroin is both a Schedule 1 and IV drug that is considered both highly addictive and extremely dangerous.
Heroin is one of the most addictive drugs ever made and has a shockingly high overdose rate. According to the CDC, “During 2016 alone, almost 15,500 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin in the United States, a rate of almost five deaths for every 100,000 Americans." This number should be appalling in and of itself, but it becomes an even more sobering figure when you consider that heroin-related overdose deaths have increased five times over the last eight years. Sadly, experts do not expect this crisis to die out any time soon.
If you or someone you love struggles with heroin addiction, it is vital that you get help and treatment posthaste. Heroin can not only wreak serious havoc on your body, mind, and spirit but can also destroy families, hopes, plans, and futures. Although heroin detox can be an arduous journey, ultimately it is one that is worth taking regardless of the inevitable obstacles that will likely be faced. To help you mentally and physically prepare for this battle, below, we will discuss the heroin detox timeline, so you know what is likely to come on this path ahead.
What is Heroin
As mentioned, heroin, also known as diamorphine, is a potent opiate that can be taken in many ways:
- Injected intravenously
Once it enters the brain, heroin binds to opioid receptors and is converted to morphine. It has a rapid onset that leads to a powerful rush of pleasure. The strength of this pleasure surge depends upon the method of intake. Short-term effects include:
- Clouded mental functioning
- Coma or death (due to overdose)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed breathing
Long Term Effects of Heroin
Regular heroin use alters the physiology and physical structure of the brain and can lead to critical hormonal and neuronal imbalances. This deterioration of the brain can lead to:
- Altered decision-making
- Brain damage
- Inability to regulate behavior
- Incapacity to act normally in stressful situations
- Organ failure
- Physical dependence
As tolerance and physical dependence grow, the body becomes accustomed to the drug's effects and presence. So, when it is no longer within the system, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur. Quite often, the greater the addiction, the stronger the withdrawal symptoms.
After months, if not years, of suffering from this addiction, many heroin users come to the right conclusion that they need to get free themselves of the drug. Some erroneously believe that they can get clean simply through willpower, seclusion, and going cold turkey; however, such actions can actually lead to death or relapse since withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. For this and many other reasons, it is critical that detox occurs under medical supervision. Ideally, this will take place at an inpatient, residential treatment center.
The Heroin Detoxification Timeline
When most people think of detox, they think of the withdrawal stage. In actuality, detox consists of three unique steps, with each one intended to help facilitate the process of fighting an addiction. These steps in the heroin detox timeline are evaluation, stabilization, and guiding a client into treatment.
The initial aspect of the heroin detox timeline begins when a client meets with medical professionals to create a strategy for the imminent battle. Such a process should not take any longer than a day or two, especially since time is of the essence in most cases. During this meeting(s), the medical professional gauges:
- Any underlying psychological or medical conditions.
- The amount of the substance currently in the bloodstream.
- The prospective client’s physical and mental wellbeing.
- The seriousness of their addiction.
Once they have gathered this information, they can begin charting a course of action and create a treatment plan that will create the highest likelihood of long-term success. For heroin users, this includes finding a rehab facility in which the detox process can be medically supervised.
This is what comes to the mind of most people when they hear the word detox. At this point, doctors seek to safely wean a client off their physical dependence to the drug. This can be the hardest stage since most heroin users experience a series of painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
During this stage, a client is guided through their detox and monitored by medical professionals. In some cases, a heroin user may be given less potent drugs to ease this uncomfortable transition.
While many of the symptoms of withdrawal are universal, the severity of the physical symptoms will depend upon the severity of the addiction and the frequency and potency of their heroin use. That said, this stage and the typical experiences can be broken down into a five-day period:
Heroin Detox Timeline – Day One of Stabilization
In the first hours of detox and stabilization, the effects of the last heroin dose will likely begin to wear off. As they do, withdrawal symptoms may set in along with a host of uncomfortable feelings.
A heroin user who is attempting to detox on their own will often relapse at this point, as withdrawal symptoms magnify and willpower collapses. Most commonly, a heroin user may initially begin to feel extreme anxiety, discomfort, and irritation.
Heroin Detox Timeline – Day Two of Stabilization
The second day of heroin withdrawals can be the hardest since the body is feeling the full brunt of withdrawal symptoms, without any lingering heroin in the system to act as a buffer. Symptoms that may have been felt initially in day one will be augmented in day two as the body's cravings for the drug may become nearly unbearable. It is expected that a client will deal with some, if not all of the following symptoms, although the severity may vary on a case by case basis. Such symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Abdominal pain
- Cravings for drugs
- Extreme sweating
- Muscle spasms
- Nausea, including diarrhea and vomiting
Many of these symptoms lead to dehydration, which in turn can lead to cramps, muscle spasms, and possible death in extreme cases. This is one of the reasons why it is so crucial to have medical supervision there to monitor your vital signs and liquid levels.
Heroin Detox Timeline – Day Three of Stabilization
Depending on the severity of the addiction, some users withdrawal symptoms will peak on this day, with others beginning to feel those symptoms abating. In many cases, symptoms of nausea climax on day three with fatigue understandably setting in afterwards. Other symptoms may continue, but they should begin lessening at this stage.
Heroin Detox Timeline – Day Four of Stabilization
Heroin users who reach this point will typically begin to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Symptoms should begin to diminish, though a feeling of general discomfort will persist. On day four, many clients will be able to get their first solid sleep, and some may even be able to have a meal and keep down their food.
Cravings will likely persist and some minor symptoms similar to that of the flu or cold are to be expected. Such symptoms include:
Heroin Detox Timeline – Day Five and Beyond
At this point, physical dependence should be entirely weaned, and most symptoms should have dissipated by this point. Energy and the ability to move without pain will return. At this point, the real test begins as we enter stage three of detox.
Guiding a Client into Treatment
Now that the client is clean and clear of mind, the true fight for long-term recovery commences. This final step of the detox timeline will be the most critical since the tools gained during this time can greatly aid a client in the lifelong fight awaiting them.
At an inpatient facility, a client will spend the next thirty to ninety days learning healthy ways to combat heroin addiction and cravings. A client will undergo group and one-on-one therapy in order to learn about themselves, their addiction, and others who also struggle in this fight.
Once this is completed, and the client is released back into the world, the fight continues anew. For this reason, clients are encouraged to join a weekly group and continue to spend time in one-on-one and group therapy.
If you or a loved one suffer from heroin addiction, it is vital that you treat it as soon as possible rather than letting it fester. Here at Manifest Recovery Center, our trained and certified professionals are more than capable of guiding you through your journey towards sobriety. If you have any questions, please reach out and seek the help you so desperately need.