For those struggling with severe opiate and heroin addiction, the question of how to quit opiates and get off heroin can be an extremely difficult one to answer. On the scale of addiction, opiates and heroin are at the top. They are the most addictive drugs in the world, they have the most severe withdrawal symptoms, and they have a high potential for overdose. This makes them dangerous while also making them extremely difficult to break free from.
This difficult level of overcoming opiate and heroin withdrawals, combined with the increasing rate these drugs are prescribed, has led the United States to declare opiate addiction a public health crisis.
For those of you struggling with opiate and heroin addiction, it is often not your fault. Addiction starts in many different ways and can be extremely hard to overcome.
For those who have loved ones struggling with addiction, it’s important to remember that addiction is very, very difficult to break free from. It can often take many failed attempts for the addict to find sobriety. However, with a long-term positive outlook, you can help your loved one find the light at the end of the tunnel.
This “How to Quit Opiates and Heroin Guide” is for those addicted and those with loved ones who suffer from addiction alike. We will take a look at what makes addiction so difficult to deal with, what forms of treatment are being used currently, and what alternative methods can be used to treat these addictions as well—some you may have never heard of.
At the end of this guide, hopefully you will have a much better understand of opiate and heroin addiction, how it works, and how you can arm yourself with the necessary weapons in order to have the greatest impact and increase your likelihood of success moving past addiction into a life of sobriety.
Let me just add one small personal note here. I have seen addiction in its worst cases. I have struggled with addiction myself. But I have also seen the greatness that follows many of those who get through it. Many of my closest friends have gone through the battle of addiction only to become the strongest individuals that I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Overcoming addiction is not easy and will test even the strongest of individuals. However, the strength that comes from conquering addiction is unmatched, and I believe that every individual has the strength inside of them to pass through addiction and find the power that exists within themselves.
Why are Opiates and Heroin so Addictive?
Being addicted to opiates and heroin is often not the fault of the addict. Many addicts start using for medical reasons, or begin using occasionally in what seems like harmless fun.
Many of these addicts often start with opiates, in prescription pill form, and, once they are hooked, they move to heroin because of the cheaper cost and more intense high.
But what is it that makes these drugs so additive in the first place? Let’s take a look at what addiction does to the brain.
Addiction and the Brain
Inside the brain, when opiates and heroin are taken, they produce a numbing effect while also operating on the brain’s natural pleasure center to induce euphoria. This means that, in essence, the addict feels an immense amount of pleasure while diminishing or eliminating pain.
On the surface this can sound enticing. However, because of the way these drugs work, when the drug is removed the brain cannot produce the same levels of natural chemicals to keep up with the immense amount produced by opiates and heroin.
The more the drug user puts these drugs into their system, the more the brain adapts to the high levels of pleasure chemicals in the brain. Within a few days of using, the brain becomes addicted to these high levels of “feel good” chemicals.
Now, the addict must use more of the drug to produce the same feeling. The brain adjusts to a higher level, and the addict has to use more.
This vicious cycle is bad enough, but couple this with the high likelihood of overdose that comes with opiates and heroin, and the addiction becomes extremely dangerous.
As long as the addict is using, they can avoid the pains that come from stopping. However, eventually this habit catches up to them, and they begin to look for a way out.
But the way out is extremely hard on the body and on the brain. The addict has become used to a certain level of drug use, somewhere near 100 times the natural amount that the brain can produce on its own.
So, when an addict tries to stop using, the impact becomes very apparent. The brain cannot produce enough chemical to keep the addict feeling pleasure. In fact, the brain cannot even produce enough chemical for the addict to feel “normal.”
This is where withdrawal begins. And opiate and heroin withdrawals are so severe that it can be very difficult, sometimes even impossible, for the addict to stop using on their own.
The Reality of Opiate and Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms
While the brain adjusts back to its normal chemical balance, the body and brain must undergo a series of changes back to these original levels. This can take days, months, or even sometimes years for an addict to recover fully, depending on their level and the length of use.
During this time the addict experiences almost the complete opposite of how they felt while using. Addicts, simply put, are making themselves feel good today and paying for it tomorrow. The more they rob from their future, the worse that future will often be.
This readjusting of the brain, what we call withdrawal, is often very severe and includes:
- Extreme depression
- Cold sweats
- Hot sweats
- Muscle aches
- Mood swings
If you are an addict and have tried to quit, you understand how severe this can be. If your loved one is going through withdrawal symptoms it is important to understand, they are in severe pain, possibly unlike anything you have ever experienced in your lifetime.
This is the reality. This is why many addicts do not or cannot quit. These withdrawal symptoms keep a majority of addicts stuck to opiates and heroin without being able to quit.
So, once an addict wants to change they begin to try different methods of getting clean. There are many different options when it comes to treating addiction. Let’s take a look at these options and how they work.
We will start first with the short-term, or the detoxification, treatment phase where the drugs are removed from the system. Then move on to more long-term solutions for staying off of these drugs indefinitely.
Short-Term – Detoxing from Opiates and Heroin
In the short term, the opiates and heroin must be removed from the system in order for the addict to start on their road to full recovery. Here are the most widely accepted and used methods for detoxing an addict off of these drugs.
Usually, the most common, and usually first attempted, method of detoxing off of opiates and heroin is just quitting without any medical assistance. This method, although extremely difficult, can be effective, especially if the addict has the ability to get out of their regular environment and find a safe, if possible supervised, space to detox and fight through withdrawal symptoms.
And yes, the addict must prepare for a fight. This is why leaving home and going somewhere supervised can be a great help.
Finding a family member of a friend outside of the addict’s home city can be a great way to increase the chances that this strategy will work.
The addict will be sick. The addict will struggle. And the addict, most likely, will beg to use drugs to stop the withdrawal symptoms.
When quitting cold turkey, the schedule will usually go something like this.
Days 1-3 – Extreme withdrawal symptoms
Days 3-5 – Slight reduction in withdrawal symptoms
Days 5-10 – Less severe symptoms
Days 10+ – Slow tapering down and readjustment that can last for another 30-60 days
Usually, if an addict can make it through the first 7-10 days, the likelihood that they can remain clean will go up drastically. After day 10, the majority of withdrawal symptoms will have been overcome.
Naturally, what the addict does after this detox phase will make the biggest difference in their overall recovery plan. This type of treatment approach has the lowest success rate, but it also does not cost much more than time and energy to go through.
Medical detox from opiate and heroin can describe a few different methods.
One method is a medically supervised detox that is mostly natural. This method uses hydration, often called “flushing,” to help speed up the process of detox while still relying on the body’s natural processes.
This often occurs in a medical setting while hooked up to an IV for a certain number of hours a day.
The other type of medical detox is using medications, usually Suboxone or Methadone, to help wean the addict down to a smaller dose of opiates while also introducing an opiate blocker.
These drugs “block” the receptors in the brain from the effects of opiates. This means that if the addict tries to use opiates, the receptor is already “blocked” by the medication, and the euphoric effects of opiate or heroin use are drastically reduced if not completely blocked from taking effect.
Suboxone and Methadone, however, can be very dangerous. They have a very high level of risk for abuse. Methadone is currently one of the most prescribed drugs and also carries with it one of the highest overdose rates in the United States.
These drugs are also very difficult to get off of. Where short acting opiates and heroin take about 3-7 days to detox, Methadone and Suboxone can take 30-60 days to completely leave the system, which means many of those who switch to these drugs often become lifetime addicts and will have an even harder time getting off of these drugs than they would with short-acting opiates or heroin.
Rapid detox sounds much faster. However, it is not. Rapid detox is a method of drugging the addict with non-opiate medications that will help the addict to sleep through the detox process, usually lasting 3-7 days.
During this time, the addict is supervised, usually by a friend or family member, and given drugs prescribed by a doctor while they sleep through their harsh withdrawals. Although the timeframe for detox may not change, rapid detox makes the process much easier for addicts to get through harsh withdrawal symptoms without the pain of experiencing the withdrawal themselves.
Ibogaine is a drug from Africa that targets the receptors that are affected by opiate and heroin addiction. Ibogaine works to reset and heal the brain in the areas affected by opiates and heroin. Ibogaine helps the addict overcome 80-100 percent of withdrawal symptoms in about a 12-hour period of time.
Often, Ibogaine treatment induces a psychedelic experience that lasts for 8-12 hours.
Ibogaine is not legal in the United States which means many addicts travel to places like Mexico, Bahamas, or other foreign countries to take Ibogaine in a medical facility.
Vitamins and Other Alternatives
There are countless other products online that claim to offer substantial help for those looking to detox from opiates and heroin. Although some of these may work, especially different vitamins or methods like using a sauna detox, these methods will not eliminate much of the grueling withdrawal symptoms that come with quitting opiates and heroin.
These methods are “try at your own risk,” whether on a physical or a financial level. If they are used to help the body detox naturally they can be beneficial, as long as the addict has a realistic expectation of just how much these types of treatment will actually help.
Long-Term – Staying Off Opiates and Heroin
Traditional Rehabilitation Centers for Opiate and Heroin Withdrawals
Traditional rehabilitation facilities give the addict a more stable, long-term treatment method for staying off of opiates and heroin. Most treatment centers, in the United States especially, use the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous model of treatment—also called the “12 Step Program.”
During this time, addicts are given a path to long-term sobriety by committing to following the 12 steps. For some addicts, this method works very well.
Being outside of one’s environment and staying away from the people and places where the addict was using can have a significant impact on overall recovery. The longer an addict stays away from their environment, the higher their likelihood of success. This is what make many long-term treatment center models successful. A 30-day program will work better than a 7-day program, and a 60-day program will work better than a 30-day program. Often, the underlying reason for a higher success rate in any program is simply time.
However, many of these traditional rehab facilities rely heavily on Methadone and Suboxone programs. This means that these facilities are continuing to use addictive, and often dangerous, opiate drugs to stabilize addicts.
While this approach can be beneficial for some, it can create long-term problems and addictions that the addict may not be aware of before participating. If this is a route an addict is considering, make sure to be completely educated and clear on exactly what long-term outcomes can follow this type of treatment method.
Suboxone and Methadone
As discussed before, these opiate blockers are often used long-term for addicts to stay off opiates and heroin. These drugs contain opiates and are used, not only to detox the addict from opiates and heroin, but as a long-term treatment to help keep addicts off of opiates and heroin.
These drugs contain opiates, and can be very dangerous, they carry a high risk for overdose and are extremely difficult to stop using. However, for some addicts, these medications help them stay relatively sober and find success long-term.
Naltrexone is an increasingly popular choice that comes in the form of a pill or an implant. This drug, acting similar to Suboxone and Methadone, blocks the opiate receptors in the brain to reduce cravings and block opiates from being effective.
However, unlike Suboxone and Methadone, Naltrexone does not contain opiate medications, but only acts as a blocker, making it a unique solution for staying off of opiates and heroin. This means no overdose potential, and none of the “feelings” that can come from using opiates on a daily basis.
12-Step, SMART, or Other Meeting Based Programs
Some addicts choose not to attend traditional outpatient rehabilitation facilities, whether due to conflicts with work, time, or financial issues, and opt to use local Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, SMART recovery, or other local based meetings to help them stay off of opiates and heroin.
These meetings can greatly increase the success rate of the addict, especially when compared to no action or support at all.
These meetings offer a plan, support, and other necessary tools that can be a great benefit to the addict.
However, beware, sometimes these meetings can facilitate addicts meeting other addicts and leading to relapse. This can be one of the negative outcomes of these types of meeting-style programs. They often have little supervision and can sometimes lead to a more negative experience than the addict just facing sobriety alone.
But they are not all bad, in fact most are not, and many meetings can offer massive support to those trying to stay sober for the long-term.
Ibogaine Aftercare Facilities
For those looking for a more natural approach, Ibogaine aftercare facilities offer a chance for those who have detoxed to spend time in a unique environment, often with a spiritual focus, where addicts can evaluate and plan their future while away from home.
This is often just that, a place to go after detox that is way from the addict’s environment. These facilities offer more time away from bad environments where the addict can stabilize and create a stronger foundation for future success.
Leaving Home – Wwoof Program – and Long-Term Relocation
The best overall method for change is complete relocation. Although often difficult, this choice can be the most effective for long-term change.
It is important to note that forcing this type of treatment on an addict who does not want to change will often yield poor results. Addicts cannot be forced to change. And, no matter where the addict goes, if they are determined to keep their addiction, they will.
For those who want to change, getting rid of any negative influence is always best. Moving to a new place offers a fresh start, but not every addict can do this.
For those who can leave home, but lack the financial ability to do so, the Wwoof program offers a chance for the addict to move away, often outside of the country in fascinating and interesting locations, where they are able to work for their room and board, usually on a farm.
Wwoof gives the addict more than just time, but discipline, and a chance to really dig deeper into themselves and find their own path forward. This discipline offers clarity and often gives addicts a new life that they would never be able to find through any other program.
Once again, the key to long-lasting change is time. Any method of detox that can be coupled with time away from the negative environment, indefinitely if possible, will offer the most effective rate for true change, sobriety, and long-term success.
Staying Off Opiates and Heroin May Be Hard, But It Is Possible
Getting off of opiates and heroin can be one of the most difficult challenges an individual will ever face in their lifetime.
But, once again, the strength that comes with overcoming addiction to opiates and heroin is unmatched.
But there are many changes that need to be made in order for an addict to be successful. Negative influences, even friends and family members, must be completely cut off.
Environments must change. And an addict must pass successfully through detox in order to have a chance.
However, change is possible. Those who do make it through will become better individuals and can find greater success because of it. But it isn’t easy.
Anyone, with the right program and treatment method, can change. If you are an addict, know that you have the power within you to accomplish this.
If you are the loved one of an addict, keep helping. It may be hard for you, but it is much harder for the addict. Hopefully there will come a time where the addict will want to change, be there and support them until they do. When they finally decide to change, give them as much love and support as you can. It’s not easy, but it is worth it.
For those who have tried, keep trying. If you have tried one method, then try another. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for overcoming addiction. But there is a method that will work for you if you are willing to try find it.
The world needs more great people. Don’t give up hope. Every individual life matters. Every individual can find long-term sobriety. Every individual can be happy. You matter. Please, keep trying. Success is out there, use your inner strength, take a deep breath, reach out, and take it.