Heroin detoxification

Heroin, also known as diamorphine is derived from the drug morphine, which is extracted from the opium poppy. Heroin is an opioid used for its euphoric or painkilling effects. It is highly addictive. Regular use will lead to an increase in tolerance whereby more and more is needed to get the same effect. Drowsiness and the slowing of cardiac function and breathing may continue for several hours after use of heroin. These are the principal reactions that feature in those incidences of overdose that prove fatal.

Minimising the experience of withdrawal symptoms

Detoxification is the term used for the process whereby the effects of the opioid are eliminated from the addicted individual in a safe and effective manner. While rarely life threatening, withdrawal symptoms can be decidedly uncomfortable and may include anxiety, tremors, sweating, runny nose, insomnia, nightmares, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, aches and cramps and of course craving for the drug. Most symptoms reach the peak of severity within 2 to 4 days then tail off by day 7. A few may continue for weeks and occasionally even months. The clinical team will do all they can to make detoxification as easy as possible by reducing symptoms and general discomfort.

Anticipation of the withdrawal syndrome contributes to addiction’s hold and is partly what demotivates someone addicted to heroin from taking action to come off the drug. Recognition of the psychological dimension of detoxification from heroin is vital to successful management of the process.

Consenting to detoxification means letting go of control

As the patient is handing over control of his/her drug use – perhaps for the first time – it is important for clinicians to explain and discuss the process with the patient to build trust and confidence.

Each person’s individually tailored detoxification plan will take into account:

  • personal recovery goals
  • previous experience of detox
  • historic and current levels of use
  • degree of dependence
  • other drugs currently consumed
  • general health status
  • psychological state

Substitute opioid medications with less intense effects than heroin will be prescribed and may be supplemented temporarily by other drugs for symptom management.  Complementary therapies that help ease any stress, refocus the mind away from agitated preoccupation with symptoms and improve sleep are also helpful.

The benefits of a residential treatment and recovery programme

There is considerable benefit to be had from undergoing detoxification from heroin within a rehab centre whose primary purpose and purpose is recovery from addiction. In a positive, recovery-oriented environment, the patient has 24-hour access to medical attention and the immediate availability of psychological support and encouragement, including from fellow patients. Seek support from people with whom you can be open and honest

Detoxification is not a standalone treatment

Detoxification from heroin is never a standalone treatment because potential resumption of heroin use brings with it the very real danger of overdose, given the drop in tolerance once abstinence has been achieved.  It is essential that an aftercare programme is devised well in advance of discharge that includes heightened awareness of the risks inherent in relapse and how to prevent it.

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