Overcoming Heroin Addiction: Navigating the Detox Journey


Heroin is an opiate drug – a specific type of painkiller. The painkilling properties of opiates are particularly addictive and can lead to dangerous levels of dependence.

Between 2020 and 2021, there were 140,558 individuals in treatment for addiction to opiates. This means that almost half (49%) of the people seeking support for substances between April 2021 and March 2021 were struggling with opiate use specifically.

Overcoming heroin addiction can be especially tricky, given the complex process of opiate withdrawal. What does withdrawing from heroin look like, and what can you expect to experience? What options are there for heroin detox and how can you access support during this process?

Heroin Addiction

Whilst alcohol addiction is commonly considered to be the most prevalent type of dependence, heroin addiction is also prevalent, to the extent where ‘opioid use disorder and opioid addiction’ are thought to be at ‘epidemic levels.’

Heroin addiction can be identified as follows:

  • Frequency and dosage of use are increasing


  • Use in risky, unsafe or inappropriate situations


  • Strong cravings


  • Continued use despite the impact it may have having on the individual and their life


  • Continued use despite the impact it may have on health (on both physical and psychological levels)


  • Use leading to difficulties engaging with work, educational childcare, social or other life commitments


  • Individual using wishes to reduce use (and may not feel able to)


  • Individual may be going to extra lengths to obtain heroin


  • Individual may be experiencing ‘tolerance’ which leads to need for higher doses


  • Individual may experience withdrawals between use or if use is decreased


Opiate use disorder can be diagnosed if an individual experiences two or more of these signs in the period of a year.

Heroin Detox: The Essential First Step

Heroin addiction can be particularly insidious as the chronic use of strong painkillers such as opiates work on beta-endorphins in the brain. These beta-endorphins are a type of neuropeptide (proteins produced by neurons) that help to manage pain and regulate the movement of neurotransmitters.

Over time, the body adjusts to these beta-endorphins being produced when heroin is used. Because it gets used to this happening, it stops producing its own with as much regularity, leading the body to rely on the use of exogenous (outside) stimulation to deal with pain.

Heroin also stimulates specific opioid receptors in the coeruleus region of the brain, meaning that it alters function in the limbic system.
For this reason, withdrawing from heroin can be especially tough as the body needs to contend with the process of re-regulating its own pain management as well as coping with withdrawal symptoms.

Despite its difficulties, detoxing from heroin is ultimately a pathway to liberation. It offers a way out of the cycle of addiction that has been built within the body and the brain and provides the individual struggling with a process where the ‘overwhelming drive for substance seeking’ linked with cravings can essentially be rewired.


Detoxing from Heroin: A Guide to Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from heroin does not only happen during detox; it can also happen when an individual extends the gaps between use or reduces their regular dosage.

For that reason, it’s very important to understand what heroin withdrawal looks like in order to provide the knowledge required to manage these symptoms.

Opioid withdrawal is known by the code F11.3 in the ICD-10 (the 10th edition of The International Classification of Diseases).

This means that heroin withdrawal is classed as a medical condition, indicating it has a specific set of symptoms that may require clinical monitoring. These symptoms include:

  • ‘Goosebumps’ on the skin


  • Issues with homeostasis (regulating body temperature)


  • Excessive sweating


  • Nausea and vomiting


  • Diarrhoea


  • Pupil dilation


  • Insomnia


  • Aches, pains or cramps in the muscles


  • Discharge from the eyes or nose


  • Tachycardia (increased heart rate)


  • Anxiety


  • Low mood


  • Confusion and struggles to concentrate


  • Changeable mood


  • Hallucinations


How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Withdrawing from heroin will begin between 8 and 24 hours after the last use of the drug. These symptoms can last for between 4 and 10 days. Symptoms typically peak at the 2 to 3 day mark.

Who Can Access a Detox?

A detox from heroin should be considered as a form of healthcare, so largely, it is available to anyone who needs it. However, there are some instances where a heroin detox would not be recommended for health reasons.

There are if:

  • You are pregnant


  • You will be being treated with methadone maintenance


If you have any concerns about your ability to detox from heroin safely, our team can speak with you and advise on any potential clinical risks.

Rehab Detox

Detox Options: Medical vs Home Detox

Detox can be accessed in two different ways; in the rehab setting, or at home. There are benefits to each kind of detox, and the type that you choose will depend on a number of personal factors.
At UKAT we hope to provide options for you to be able to decide what suits you and your needs best. Whilst a medical practitioner will advise you, you will likely have some opportunity to raise your preference regarding home or medical detox.

Benefits of a medical detox:

  • Will take place in a rehab setting



  • Often means less risk of relapse in the early stages due to reduced access to substances


  • Ability to focus on the process fully without other distractions or complications present



Benefits of a home detox:

  • You are able to stay in your home environment and may therefore feel more relaxed


  • More consistent access to a support network of family and friends


  • No need to travel or to change typical life routines


  • It is less of an adjustment after treatment as you are already in your home setting


There are certain situations where a home detox will not be medically advised. This will occur in situations where our medical staff believe there are increased risks (either clinical, social or personal) if an individual detoxes at home. In these instances, the team will highlight these concerns to you when you are discussing your treatment package.

Ways of Coping During Heroin Detox

If you do decide to detox at home, or would like to know how you can help make the detoxing process go as smoothly as possible, there are some ways that you can help to manage withdrawal symptoms.

  • Stay hydrated (2-3 litres of water a day)


  • Take vitamin supplements (particularly vitamins B and C)


  • Keep an eye on your heart rate


  • Try to rest – sleep more than usual where possible


  • Try to reduce stress levels with light activities (light exercise such as stretches, mindfulness activities such as meditation, etc)


  • Stay close to loved ones


  • Be open about how you are feeling (both physically and psychologically)

Help after rehab

After Detox

Some people access support to get help through the detox stage, but your journey with UKAT does not have to end there. At UKAT, we offer a range of treatment packages (lasting either 7, 14 or 28 days) that also incorporate therapeutic interventions to assist with the psychological weight of heroin addiction.
Some of the therapies on offer at our CQC regulated rehab centres include:

  • Addiction Counselling





  • Drumming therapy





  • Interventions




  • Physical recovery therapy




Research indicates that therapy is an essential part in helping people stay motivated in treatment for heroin addiction, and it is also associated with higher levels of treatment retention.

Get Support

To receive non-judgmental, confidential advice on the process of heroin detox you can contact our team today to learn how to make a referral. We can talk you through all of the options available at our rehab centres and can help answer any questions or concerns you may have.