Detoxing from heroin, while somewhat less dangerous than detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines, is definitely an unpleasant experience. Long-term use of any opioid drug gets the brain used to depending on an outside source for “pleasure” feelings, while releasing more “alertness” chemicals to counter the depressive opiate effect. When the drug supply is suddenly cut off, the brain is left on its own, still producing fewer pleasure chemicals and more high alertness—and the result is emotional depression combined with fluctuating heart rate and blood pressure, muscle spasms, high anxiety, watering nose and eyes, digestive upset and blurry vision. Occasionally, especially if someone becomes dehydrated or has another health condition, heroin withdrawal can be fatal.
The best way to ensure a reasonably safe heroin detox experience—along with moral support and preparation for long-term sobriety—is to undergo withdrawal under medical supervision at a professional treatment center. Besides proper care during acute detox, a good clinic will provide several weeks of follow-up inpatient treatment, therapy to work out a long-term sobriety plan, and referrals to long-term counseling and peer support.
Unfortunately, heroin treatment centers are not always tightly regulated, and some “clinics” are little more than fly-by-night operations. If you want to find the best heroin treatment and get permanently clean, here are a few tips.
1. Look for a treatment center with an established reputation.
Ideally, one that has been at the same location for at least two or three years, is well spoken of by its physical neighbors and by other medical providers, has received positive media coverage, and participates regularly in community outreach events. Other favorable signs: it’s expanded its services or facilities in the last few years, it has an active online presence and provides useful general information as well as talking about itself, and it responds promptly to inquiries (if a live person answers the phone, give that center a bonus star).
If you can, get referrals from a doctor, your insurance company or a local Narcotics Anonymous chapter.
2. Consider carefully whether this is really the right center for you.
Even a heroin detox program that’s excellent in itself may not be a good fit for you personally. Do they stress any philosophies than run counter to your beliefs? Do they seem stricter—or more lenient—than you’re comfortable with? How do you feel about their requirements regarding special evaluations or group participation? Will the center be able to accommodate you if you’re on a special diet? Are there any possible difficulties with getting there and back again?
That last point ties into another piece of good advice:
3. Try to stay close to home.
Not so close that you have to run a gauntlet of temptation the whole way home from the center, but close enough so you can make an advance visit to look over the facilities, close enough so your family will be easy to reach in case of emergency, and close enough so you have no unnecessary difficulties with any follow-up needed after detox. (It’s often helpful to stay in touch with the center after completing formal treatment; some facilities even have active “alumni networks.”)
All that’s not to say that going out of town or even out of state for heroin rehab is always a bad idea, just that it can complicate matters and raise expenses. If you do hear of an out-of-state detox program that sounds perfect for you—perhaps you personally know someone who was helped by it—or if you have to travel some distance because you live in an area that lacks any nearby options, you can minimize long-distance problems by:
- Being doubly diligent about checking the center’s reputation and references in advance.
- Arranging for a contact near the treatment center’s neighborhood (perhaps an extended-family member or a friend of a friend) to check on you regularly during the inpatient period.
- Having a close friend or family member accompany you on the trip out and the trip back. (Having someone to “debrief” with during the return journey will get your permanent sobriety off on the right foot.)
- Arranging for long-term counseling/outpatient treatment and peer support back home, before you leave the rehab clinic. Or, if you must return to an area with no immediately convenient services, filling in your regular doctor and setting up virtual contacts for accountability. (These contacts may even be able to advise you on starting a peer support group in your home territory.)
4. When you do find the best heroin detox program for you, plan on being the best patient you can be.
Depending on how sick you get during the acute period of heroin detox, you may not be in much condition to worry about good manners then; but before and after, try not to take an “I expect you to solve my problems for me and do things my way” attitude. Start eliminating “I need a fix” from your vocabulary before you even leave home. Bring what you’re asked to bring, leave home what you’re asked to leave home and don’t arrive with all the luggage you’d tote to a luxury resort. Be pleasant, not impatient, with the people who check you in. Try not to complain about how miserable you feel—especially after the worst of detox is over and your body is starting to adjust to the new normal. (The last thing you need is to talk yourself back into self-pity and blaming everything else for your problems.)
Cooperate with your detox supervisors: do your share in preparing for long-term abstinence from heroin, and don’t be impatient to “get this all over with.” During group therapy, listen to your fellow detoxers and be empathetic with their struggles instead of dwelling on your own. Start looking for opportunities to help others out in small ways. And, once you finish “official” heroin treatment, don’t expect the world to reward you by removing all those old stressors you used to shoot up in reaction to. Use the new coping strategies you learned in treatment, and accept that it will take a while to fully earn back your loved ones’ trust.
Remember, if you want to stay clean from heroin for the long term, taking your share of responsibility—in every aspect of life—will be part of the deal. Start practicing it early on. Even with the best heroin detox program available, recovery will ultimately be only as good as you make it.
If you or a loved one need a heroin detox program, call Inland Detox at (888) 739-8296 and ask about our services.