Heroin detox: The first three days survival guide

A significant aspect of heroin addiction is the physical dependence that your body develops on the drug. This means that when you stop taking heroin, your body needs time to get used to its absence, leading to a range of withdrawal symptoms. Heroin detoxification, commonly referred to as “heroin detox“, is the process of allowing heroin to leave the body while managing these symptoms of withdrawal. The initial stages of the detox journey are often the most challenging and can even be potentially dangerous. To prepare you for the process and to help make it as manageable as possible, here is our survival guide for the first three days of heroin detox.

Time to detox from heroin

Expert tips for common heroin withdrawal symptoms

Heroin addiction is a resilient condition that does not relinquish its grip without a fight. Once you have become physically dependent, heroin withdrawal symptoms will emerge within hours of cessation. The important thing is to understand these symptoms and to follow the bespoke heroin detox plan that your medical team creates.

Here are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience during heroin detox and our expert tips on how to manage them.

1. Cravings

Cravings for heroin typically begin within just a few hours of your last dose. These cravings can make the first day of heroin detox incredibly difficult and without professional assistance, often result in relapse.

Expert tips for heroin cravings

  • Stay occupied: This may sound simple, but an idle mind is more likely to focus on heroin cravings. Try to keep your mind distracted by reading, drawing, listening to music or any other activity which can take your focus off the cravings.
  • Affirmation reminders: Positive affirmations can be a powerful tool during the difficult early stages of heroin detox and give you the motivation and willpower you need to manage cravings. Whenever heroin cravings flare up, remind yourself of your reasons for heroin detox and allow those reasons to empower you.

2. Muscle aches and agitation

Muscle aches, tingles, spasms, and general agitation are common symptoms of heroin withdrawal and can make the first few days of heroin detox extremely uncomfortable.

Expert tips

  • Take a warm bath: This can soothe aching muscles, provide short-term relief during acute muscle agitation and help foster overall well-being.
  • Get a massage: Gentle massages, even a simple self-massage, can ease muscle tension, help knead out knots and sore spots and help you feel more relaxed.

3. Anxiety

Anxiety is both a symptom of heroin withdrawal and a natural reaction to the daunting prospect of heroin detox and rehab. This is a natural reaction, and anxiety will fade as you progress through heroin detox. However, various effective methods exist for managing anxiety in the early stages of heroin detox.

Expert tips

  • Use grounding techniques: Engage in grounding exercises, like the “5-4-3-2-1” method. This is where you identify five things you can see, four you can touch, three you can hear, two you can smell and one you can taste. This can divert attention and anchor you in the present moment.
  • Practise mindful breathing: Taking deep breaths can help calm your anxious thoughts and also distract you from cravings. Professional heroin detox centres will teach you various mindfulness techniques, which can be a lifesaver when anxiety hits.

4. Sweating and fever

As the body begins to adjust to heroin’s absence, excessive sweating and fever are very common. While it may be uncomfortable, this elevation in body temperature is a positive sign that your body is beginning to flush the toxins out to leave you with a clean slate to begin the next stages of treatment.

Expert tips

  • Stay hydrated: Excessive sweating can dehydrate you quickly, and this can be potentially very dangerous. Ensure you drink enough water to replenish lost fluids and replace lost electrolytes with sports drinks.
  • Use a cool cloth: Placing a cool, damp cloth on your forehead is a simple but effective way to help with mild fever and provide some much-needed relief.

5. Increased heart rate

A racing heart is a common withdrawal symptom of heroin detox, and it can be a scary experience. Increased heart rate can be both a symptom and cause of anxiety and make it difficult to relax or sleep, so knowing how to cope with it can be highly beneficial during the first few days of heroin detox.

Expert tips

  • Practise relaxation techniques: Progressive muscle relaxation or guided imagery can help to decrease heart rate and induce a feeling of calm.
  • Limit stimulants: Avoid caffeine and nicotine, which can exacerbate an already increased heart rate and add to insomnia and other common heroin detox sleep complications.

6. Loss of appetite

In the initial stages of heroin withdrawal, you may lose your appetite or find yourself unable to eat because you are vomiting or feeling nauseous. This can be a major issue because your body needs nutrients to heal from the damage caused by heroin.

Expert tips

  • Try the BRAT diet: If you can stomach some food, go for the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast), which is gentle on the digestive system and can provide vital nourishment.
  • Sip herbal teas: Chamomile or ginger tea can soothe the stomach, help to rehydrate you and can also be an effective natural sleep aid.

7. Mood swings

The emotional roller coaster of withdrawal begins on the very first day of heroin detox. Irritability, extreme reactions and depression are all common mood symptoms. This can be a tumultuous time as your brain chemistry tries to rebalance, leaving you emotionally disorientated.

Expert tips

  • Journaling: Writing down your feelings can be incredibly therapeutic. It allows you to process emotions and serves as a reminder of your journey and determination.
  • Deep Breathing: Again, focusing on the breath can help stabilise your mood and ground you in the present moment.

8. Fatigue and insomnia

The rebalancing of your systems can drain you of energy and, especially when coupled with heroin detox sleep issues, can leave you feeling incredibly fatigued. However, this is a sign that your body is focusing its energies on removing the heroin from your system so you can start afresh.

Expert tips

  • Take short naps: While maintaining a regular sleep schedule is vital, short, controlled naps can provide a necessary energy boost, particularly if you are struggling with insomnia.
  • Rest, even if you can’t sleep: Sometimes, simply lying down in a dark, quiet room can provide some form of rest, even if sleep doesn’t come. This can help with relaxation and reduce sensory overload often accompanying heroin withdrawal.

How your professional heroin detox team can help

Navigating heroin detox is challenging, but the journey becomes more manageable with the guidance of a professional detox team at a UKAT rehab clinic.

Here’s a snapshot of their invaluable support:

  • Medical monitoring: Constant oversight of vital signs ensures prompt identification and handling of complications.
  • Medication assistance: The team can provide medications to ease withdrawal symptoms, making heroin detox smoother.
  • Nutritional guidance: Proper nutrition aids recovery, so your heroin detox team will ensure you receive the necessary nutrients to regain strength.
  • Individualised care: Each person’s heroin detox experience is unique. Your team will tailor the detox plan to your specific needs.
  • Round-the-clock support: Anytime you need assistance, whether for cravings or just emotional support, your heroin detox team will be there for you.

Supportive hand hold

Final thoughts

Heroin detox can be a daunting experience, and the first three days are likely to be some of the most challenging of your life. However, it is important to understand that once the early stages of heroin withdrawal pass, things can and do become easier. Addiction is a formidable adversary, but the human spirit’s determination and resilience are even more powerful. Follow these expert tips, listen to your heroin detox team and remind yourself of the brighter future waiting for you on the other side.