Ready to detox from heroin? Here’s how to handle the cravings and physical withdrawal.
Congrats on deciding to make a change for the better in your life. Once you can kick the dope, you won’t be a slave to your addiction anymore. But you probably already know, if you’ve ever run out of your supply, that detox isn’t easy or fun. It’s a hard process with a huge payoff. It’s like you’ve got to get through a gauntlet of physical and mental obstacles to get to the freedom waiting on the other side. Trust us, it’s worth it.
So how do you do you get through the first three days?
Before D-Day (Detox Day)
Prep yourself. Make yourself a detox kit that includes OTC meds including Imodium for diarrhea, Tylenol for muscle cramps, and Benadryl or Dramamine for nausea. Get some ice packs and pop them in your freezer. Choose a comfy spot to hang out and stock up your toilet paper. Get hydrating drinks, if you’re not big on water try Pedialyte, Gatorade, or popsicles to stay hydrated. I’m big on Sprite when I’m sick. If you have a comforting food or drink, get that. Get some epsom salts for the bath. Preparing yourself before you get dopesick will help you avoid a crisis when you’re withdrawing. You won’t feel up to running to the drugstore, so plan ahead.
In addition to your detox kit with meds and drinks, we’re going to load you up on some activities to keep you busy when cravings hit.
If you have cravings, which you will, you can:
Reach out to someone supportive, online or via phone.
Clean out a drawer in your house.
Make yourself a cup of tea and drink it.
Listen to a recovery podcast, watch one episode of a television show you like, or download a share online and listen to it.
Focus on your breathing for 2 minutes.
Play the tape through – Using sounds great, but what happens after the drugs wear off? Where have you ended up before? Why do you want to quit?
Anytime you have a craving that you don’t think you’ll make it through, try doing one of these tasks before you use and see if that helps your craving subside. Remind yourself that cravings are temporary, and that even if you used, the relief would also be temporary. Use simple self-care tasks like the ones listed above to stall your way through cravings, and they will come and go.
The craving will be intense in the moment, but focus on completing your simple task and making it through the next few moments without using. Can’t think of completing a simple self-care task? Focus on breathing.
Heroin Detox Day 1
Think of ways to make your life easy on yourself. In moments of craving, you won’t be able to make the right decision. So dump your dope. Delete your dealer’s number. Cancel your plans. Call your mom or your cousin and ask if they can take the kids for a few days. You will begin to get irritable, so minimize irritations.
If your restless legs are driving you crazy, alternate a heating pad and ice packs on your calves. Do gentle stretches. Try lying on your stomach. Get up and take a slow walk.
Runny nose, teary eyes, and yawning are normal.
If your muscles aches get too bad, try rolling around on a tennis ball. Try taking a hot shower, or a cold one. If that sounds too intense, try taking a bath. Add in epsom salts, as they soothe sore muscles. If hot or cold water sounds like too much, get in lukewarm water and adjust with more hot or cold once you’re in the bath.
If your skin feels creepy crawly, try taking an antihistamine like Benadryl. Try wrapping something loosely around whatever part of your body is bothering you (key being loosely here, don’t hurt yourself), to feel something different in that area and distract yourself. Try putting on some lotion (you don’t need anything fancy) – just put it on a little spot first, because this may comfort you or may bother your skin more. Test it out and see if it works for you.
Heroin Detox Day 2
Remember to take care of yourself! When using, we forget about self-care. Self-care is what keeps us healthy enough to make smart decisions.
Drink water. If you don’t like water, drink your favorite drink. Something with electrolytes, like Gatorade or Pedialyte, is extra-hydrating.
Try to eat something. If this sounds impossible, that’s okay. But try to eat a banana with peanut butter, some plain crackers with your favorite kind of soup, toast with honey on it, or some yogurt with stomach-soothing probiotics.
If you are sweating a lot, put a damp towel on your forehead. There’s no shame in changing your sheets a ton. Part of detox is sweating a bunch. It’s normal. Sleep on towels if you need!
If you are having hot or cold flashes, drink cool water or hot tea. Use an ice pack or take a cool shower, or use a heating pad and take a hot shower. When I was in rehab, someone who had been around longer than me told me showers would be my friend. They were right.
If you are having nausea and vomiting, remember that you can take Dramamine or Antivert. Remember to stay hydrated. Try to rest as much as possible.
Heroin Detox Day 3
This will be peak of the physical symptoms for most people. This means the worst day. The good news? Once you’re over this, you never have to feel this way again.
Use all the tools at your disposal, including your mind. Think about your goals. Write them out and post them in your bathroom and bedroom. If you have support people in your life, ask them to come and be with you on your third day. Try to go outside, if you haven’t in the last two days.
Distract yourself from physical and mental discomfort with the simple tasks listed in your cravings toolkit. This is a great day to have a supportive friend or loved one by your side.
Still drink water. Can’t? Try a spoonful. Then another. If you feel hot, get a cool glass of ice water, press it against your face, then sip some of it.
If your stomach is upset try rubbing it in a circular, clockwise motion. Try chewing ginger chews, or drinking ginger tea. Chamomile tea and peppermint tea can also soothe your stomach. Don’t worry about trying to eat today if you are too sick.
If you are so sick you can’t hold down any fluids for 4 or 5 hours straight, head to the ER.
Remember, this is a gauntlet of physical symptoms and mental cravings you are climbing through to save your life. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. And once you make it past that third day, you never have to feel that way again. You’ll be free.
What is Dope Sick?
Time for a quick definition, in case you were wondering. A heroin detox can often lead to a condition called “dope sick.” This term refers to the oftentimes miserable feelings brought on by heroin or opioid withdrawal in general.
This blog post has been reviewed for medical accuracy by Shannon Brigham, PA-C.