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Can You Stop Heroin Cold Turkey?

While it seems optimistic that someone would be ready to quit heroin cold turkey, it could do more harm than good. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are intense and often more than what people can handle by themselves. While someone could try to stop heroin cold turkey, they increase their risk of relapse and overdose. 

How Heroin Addiction Develops

Heroin is highly addictive and fast-acting. Unlike other drugs, heroin quickly binds to opioid receptors in the brain, particularly those that control pleasure. The exact reasons why heroin is so addictive are still unknown.

However, studies believe the loss of the brain’s white matter plays a significant role. A decrease in white matter can affect decision-making, heart rate, stress responses, and behavior control. 

Short-term Health Effects

When heroin is injected or snorted, the first effect that takes place is commonly referred to as a “rush.” The first negative effect of heroin is addiction. 

  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe itching
  • Clouded mental functioning
  • Semiconsciousness 
  • Heavy feeling in the arms and legs
  • Flushing of the skin 

Long-term Health Effects

Without a doubt, the worst long-term effect of heroin use is chronic addiction. Chronic heroin users often experience various health conditions, such as collapsed veins, skin infections, liver disease, and increase risk of kidney disease. 

  • Insomnia
  • Damaged tissue inside the nose
  • Infections of the heart lining
  • Abscesses
  • Constipation
  • Stomach cramps
  • Pneumonia
  • Mental disorders
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irregular menstrual cycles

Other Potential Effects

Other health effects of long-term heroin addiction include arthritis, pneumonia, and tuberculosis. One of the most predominant health risks is hepatitis B and C and HIV, mostly from sharing injection needles. 

Most heroin found on the streets contains additives: sugar, powdered milk, and starch, which can clog blood vessels, causing permanent damage. It’s common for people who use heroin to permanently damage their lungs, kidneys, liver, and brain. And, of course, long-term addicts are at risk of a heroin overdose.

The Dangers of Quitting Heroin Cold Turkey

While it seems optimistic that someone would be ready to quit heroin cold turkey, it could do more harm than good. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are intense and often more than what people can handle by themselves. 

Because heroin is so highly addictive, heroin withdrawal symptoms can kick in even after a few hours of the last dose. Once someone develops a physical dependence on heroin, they’re almost bound to experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using heroin, even after just one dose. Most of the time, heroin withdrawal resembles those from prescription opioids. However, heroin leaves the body faster than prescription painkillers, which makes withdrawal symptoms appear more quickly. 

Overall, withdrawal feels like a severe case of the flu. The discomfort can last weeks, and the severity of the physical symptoms fluctuate as the drug exits the system. Most common heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle aches

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) can continue even after six months of someone’s last dose. These come and go as waves and might require medical attention to control. The most common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Intense and persistent anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty performing complex tasks
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Depression

The Risk of Overdose

But the biggest problem has to do with the timeline. By the third day, heroin withdrawal symptoms are in full swing. People often experience abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, sweating, and shivers. Also, they might feel tired, have trouble sleeping, and express overall body weakness. 

When someone quits heroin cold turkey, they’re likely to experience intense cravings for the drugs. Or, they might go back to using to taper off these uncomfortable symptoms. Therefore, they’re likely to relapse. Unfortunately, as their body has already entered detox, they’re likely to suffer an overdose. Most users don’t believe their tolerance for the drug will diminish quickly, but the body is an intricate machine. 

Unfortunately, the percentage of people who don’t receive formal treatment is high. Only about 2.5 million people out of 23.1 million in the United States received the treatment they needed for alcohol or drug abuse, as revealed by the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Best Way to Quit Heroin

Because cutting cold-turkey can be incredibly dangerous, it’s best to start with a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and heroin medical detox process to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms.

To prevent these symptoms from harming them physically and psychologically, a physician might recommend specific prescription medications to help through the withdrawal process under a medically supervised program. MAT programs are also helpful for those struggling with mental health conditions that could make the withdrawal process even worse.

After a medically-assisted detox, most heroin addicts move to a long-term residential program to assist with their addiction. Unfortunately, heroin detox is rarely enough to help someone achieve long-lasting recovery. Most people need to seek help from a drug treatment facility to find the right treatment. Depending on the severity of their addiction, a specialist might recommend either an inpatient or outpatient setting. Other modalities will include individual counseling and support groups to encourage recovery. 

Heroin Addiction Treatment in Florida

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug or alcohol abuse, don’t wait any longer. Countless treatment options can help them conquer their substance use disorders and manage any withdrawal symptoms. Remember, quitting potent drugs like heroin alone can be life-threatening. It’s essential to have the support and supervision of drug addiction specialists by your side. 

Located in beautiful sunny Florida, our Boynton Beach rehab center is close to busy suburbs, endless beaches, and a unique, supportive community that’s here to help you achieve long-term sobriety. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment today. The sooner you talk to one of our admission counselors, the sooner you’ll start treatment, and the sooner you’ll leave addiction in your past. 

Our team of addiction therapists at Lighthouse Recovery Institute can help you find the right treatment option for your needs. From medical-assisted treatment programs and intensive outpatient programs, we can help you break the chains of addictions and live a clean life.