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Yes, Heroin Withdrawal Can Be Deadly

Heroin withdrawal (or withdrawal from opiate prescription drug addiction) is one of those things about which it’s sometimes said: It won’t kill you, but it’ll make dying look pretty attractive by comparison. And it’s true that, unlike a self-imposed alcohol detox program that carries high risk of being lethal, most attempts to break the heroin habit by cutting off the supply have no worse effects than a severe case of flu. Despite the hundreds of professional heroin detox centers available, the low risk of actual death tempts many people to attempt detox without medical advice.

Don’t. The truth is, a severe case of flu can kill you—and, directly or indirectly, so can trying to detox from heroin at home.

1. Heroin Detox can Kill through Dehydration

Typical symptoms of opiate withdrawal include heavy perspiration, vomiting and diarrhea—all of which deplete the body’s fluid reserves. When fluid output exceeds fluid intake, dehydration sets in, and potential unpleasant and dangerous effects include:

  • Rising body temperature
  • Dry eyes
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Inability to swallow
  • Inability to urinate
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness
  • Bloating
  • Severe headache
  • Severe cramps in limbs, stomach and/or back
  • Rapid breathing and pulse
  • Thickening of the blood
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Falling blood pressure
  • Going into shock
  • Loss of consciousness, or convulsions
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Heart failure

Although actual death from dehydration is rare in the presence of an available water supply, it does sometimes occur in people who are confined, immobile, or mentally incapacitated, if no one else is available and alert to help. Especially since some dehydration symptoms are similar to “normal” heroin withdrawal symptoms, detoxers are best kept under observation in medical detox centers with staff trained to tell discomfort from danger.

2. Heroin Withdrawal can Drive a Person to Suicide

Tragically, some people who attempt withdrawal outside of heroin detox centers wind up taking “dying looks pretty attractive by comparison” literally. While there are few statistics on suicides triggered specifically by heroin withdrawal, it’s known that the mere existence of addiction—to any opiate—multiplies by as much as eight the chance a person will eventually commit suicide. It’s also known that people with any form of drug addiction are twice as likely as non-addicts to have a diagnosable mental illness—and that over 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness. (A recent report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health stated that more people die from suicide than from drug overdoses: one wonders how many drug overdoses might actually have been suicides, how many suicides had drug addiction as a contributing factor, and how many suicides were prevented thanks to the many options for drug rehab in Los Angeles.)

Most suicides are rooted in a pervasive sense of hopelessness, and the stress and pain of opiate withdrawal can intensify feelings of hopelessness. Especially if a person is predisposed to depression or “this will never end” thinking, mental misery may reach a point where suicide looks like the only way out.

While it’s unsafe for anyone to attempt home heroin detox, you are at the worst level of risk if:

  • You’re prone to regular black moods.
  • You have been diagnosed with clinical depression.
  • Your family has a history of clinical depression or suicide.
  • You have ever planned or attempted to commit suicide.

3. Heroin Withdrawal Puts You at Risk of Erratic and Dangerous Behavior

Even detoxers who don’t deliberately attempt suicide may lose their normal judgment to the agitation and anxiety common with heroin withdrawal—or, if they develop severe dehydration as noted above, they may suffer hallucinations from that condition. If they react violently to a surge of panic emotion, they might badly injure themselves by falling or lashing out blindly.

4. During Withdrawal is Among the Riskiest Times for a Lethal Heroin Overdose

Without qualified supervision and support, there’ll be little to stop you from giving up mid-detox and reaching for a fresh dose of heroin—at just the point where your body is physically weakest and has already lost some of its tolerance for the old “normal” dose, and where your judgment is most impaired. (Don’t kid yourself: it’s a lot easier to think “I’ll be just fine” in the pre-visualizing than in the actual attempt.) In that condition, the same size dose that relaxed you a week ago might well kill you today.

Cravings for more heroin, at a dosage level you can no longer tolerate, will likely persist for several weeks after initial detox, which brings us to the final way “home-based” heroin withdrawal can be deadly:

5. Only Qualified Medical Detox can Provide You with the Best Resources

And when all you have is the immediate loss of physical cravings, you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary danger in the form of temptations to relapse—which can mean either an “accustomed-level” overdose as described above or a return to “every day” addiction for the long term. And long-term addiction will almost certainly kill you eventually, whether, through overdose, needle-transmitted infection, accumulated physical damage (especially to the kidneys and liver), or a random act of violence brought on by desperation for more of the drug.  

So take a wise course of action and seek professional help today. Just to give a quick idea of the range of options available, a few Google searches yielded the following volumes of results:

  • “Rehab centers in Los Angeles”: 82,300,000
  • “Drug rehab Los Angeles”: 67,100,000
  • “Heroin rehab Los Angeles”: 67,200,000

Of course, it takes more than a top search result under “heroin rehab Los Angeles” to determine whether a particular detox center is right for you. You’ll need to verify its credentials and reputation, check whether your insurance will pay for it, and arrange for an advance visit before committing yourself. (For more hints on finding the right center, see our articles “What to Ask Before Choosing a Treatment Facility,” “How to Choose the Best Drug Detox Center in Los Angeles,” and “Tips to Find a Drug Detox Center That Is Best for You.”) Still, the mere existence of such a wide array of options—in just one metropolitan area—should provide reassurance that the perfect place for you is out there.

Again, don’t waste any more time trying to handle heroin addiction on your own. A better future awaits!

Inland Detox, among the best rehab centers in the Los Angeles vicinity, is located less than two hours away in the Temecula Valley. If you or a loved one are struggling with heroin addiction and need professional detox help, please call (888) 739-8296. We also offer an alcohol detox program and programs for getting off benzodiazepines, cocaine, and methamphetamines.