Last updated: 04/30/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Most people need to be on some sort of medication while going through heroin detox. Without this option, the process can be extremely uncomfortable, painful, and in some cases, dangerous.
Why Is Medication Necessary for Heroin Detox?
Detoxification is the process of allowing the body to rid itself of a drug while managing the symptoms of withdrawal. This means the process will often go much smoother and be easier on the patient if medications are used to manage these symptoms. While not all rehab centers believe in the use of medications during detox and addiction treatment, it is usually especially necessary for heroin abusers to receive this option at this time in their recoveries.
Management of withdrawal without medications [in opioid addicts] can produce needless suffering in a population that tends to have limited tolerance for physical pain.” Individuals addicted to heroin and other opioids are used to these drugs minimizing their experience of pain, and as such, they often have a very low tolerance for it. Unfortunately, opioid withdrawal can create severe pain. As a result, it can be traumatic for a person in this state to go through detox without the help of medication.
In addition, someone going through opioid detox who does not have their pain and other symptoms managed with medication is often more likely to relapse. The entire point of detox is to make the withdrawal process less difficult on the patient and to keep them from relapsing back to their drug abuse. And since the drug itself is one of the most intense substances a person can abuse and likely to cause some of the most intense and painful withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids, in general, medication is almost always necessary for heroin detox.
What Are My Options for Detox Medications?
You will often start taking one medication in order to treat the bulk of your withdrawal symptoms as you detox from the drug. If you need to switch to another pharmacological option later in your treatment, you and your doctor will likely make the decision together and the switch will need to be handled as carefully as possible.
- Clonidine is a possible option for opioid detox. Iit can be used to help “reduce anxiety, agitation, muscle aches, sweating, runny nose, and cramping.” However, because it is not itself an opioid, it cannot reduce cravings. This is why clonidine is not often chosen to treat heroin withdrawal, as the cravings associated with this drug in particular can be severe.
- Methadone, an op, in particular,is the most popular medication for the treatment of heroin detox and addiction. The drug reduces cravings, minimizes withdrawal symptoms, and allows patients to live their daily lives without the potential of substance abuse. A person can also continue methadone as a maintenance drug instead of being weaned off it early on in heroin addiction treatment, and this option is often best for those with severe dependencies on opioids.
- Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist, and while it is able to perform most of the same duties as methadone, it is more protected from abuse. This is because of its ceiling effect and the fact that it is usually marketed with naloxone, which precipitates withdrawal in anyone who tries to abuse the drug. Buprenorphine can be prescribed in a doctor’s office.
One of these options is likely to be beneficial to your heroin withdrawal treatment, and you may instead decide to continue being maintained on buprenorphine or methadone if this option is right for your needs. In general, though, most people need medication in order to detox from heroin, especially because of the issues that can arise without the use of one of these options.
Seeking Detox Treatment for Heroin Abuse?
It is important to begin your recovery as soon as possible and to attend professional treatment for addiction as well as withdrawal.