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Weaning Off Heroin

We have all seen the ads to quit smoking. Usually these ads are for gum or a patch or sometimes even a prescription. When using these products, there are different “levels” for what you take at the start versus the end. This is because the side effects of quitting smoking are uncomfortable and make the person crave a cigarette. By gradually reducing the amount of nicotine in each patch or piece of gum, the person experiences less side effects and therefore, less cravings. Do other substances require gradual decrease in use to stop? Is heroin one of them?

Weaning Off Heroin

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office reported multiple seizures of heroin and other substances throughout the year 2020 and has continued its efforts to keep it off the streets. Clean Recovery Centers has been working in our communities to shed light on heroin use and provide resources for those wanting to quit. What is the safest way to stop using? Is weaning off heroin safer than quitting all at once? Let’s take a look into this further.

The Science of Heroin Addiction

What is heroin? A man-made opioid derived from morphine, heroin is a common depressant taken by smoking, injecting, or snorting. Heroin works in the brain by binding to opioid receptors. Chemicals in the brain, called neurotransmitters, bind to these receptors, disrupting the regulation of hormones, pain, and stress response. This is how heroin creates a feeling of euphoria and relaxation which tells the brain to keep using the substance to maintain these feelings.

Over time, the brain adapts to this change in chemical production, which leads to receptors responding less. This is when signs of heroin addiction can be noticed, as the brain starts requiring more or stronger heroin in order to achieve the same effects. Additionally, this is why stopping heroin abruptly can be dangerous. The brain creates neurotransmitters to accommodate heroin. Take heroin away and the brain becomes overwhelmed with chemicals that essentially are all dressed up with nowhere to go.

What is Tapering off Heroin?

Tapering off heroin or any opioid means taking less over time to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. This means instead of stopping heroin all at once, the person will take less and less over an extended period. This allows the brain to adjust as if going down a hill, not jumping off a cliff. Chemical levels are disrupted with each lessened dose, but are able to regulate quicker and with fewer side effects.

Is Weaning Off and Tapering off Heroin the Same Thing?

Tapering off and weaning off of heroin are the same thing. The terms are interchangeable and both refer to using less over time. Weaning or tapering happens in everyday life, not just with heroin use. People who drink a lot of caffeine may reduce the number of cups of coffee or energy drinks they consume over time to avoid headaches. Baby-led weaning refers to when infants are changing from breast milk or formula to solid foods. These terms apply to any situation where something is being reduced to stop as opposed to stopping abruptly.

Mentally and Physically Preparing for Heroin Withdrawal Effects

The side effects of heroin use disorder can plague the body, but heroin withdrawal is uncomfortable and there is no way around it. Physical withdrawal effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Muscle and stomach cramps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chills

The mental side effects of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings

When going through heroin withdrawal, it’s important to not do so alone. Remember, the brain is being overwhelmed with chemicals and trying to find balance. Over-the-counter medications can help with the physical symptoms, but the mental symptoms will have to clear on their own. Having support is crucial during this time. If thoughts of harming yourself, others, or suicidal ideation occur, seek medical attention immediately.

The Risk and Dangers of Detoxing at Home

Tapering off HeroinWhen it comes to detoxing at home, there can be significant risks. In a treatment setting, symptoms can be managed with medication and therapy to help the person feel comfortable and safe. When done at home, only over-the-counter medications are available and may not alleviate all symptoms. The mental side effects, such as increased anxiety and depression, are the most dangerous. Thoughts may occur that you wouldn’t normally have, which can lead to self-harm or harming others. This also is one of the main reasons people who detox on their own relapse, to silence these thoughts and end the discomfort.

Tapering off Heroin vs Quitting Cold Turkey

As we have talked about, tapering off heroin can be safer than quitting cold turkey. The phrase cold turkey comes from the chills and cold sweats associated with stopping heroin all at once. This method can be harmful, especially to those who do not have a support system. Tapering can still be dangerous as heroin is not regulated, meaning there is no way of knowing what it contains. Fentanyl-laced heroin is all over the substance market, and if a dose with fentanyl is taken during tapering, the person using may go back to what they were using before.

Getting Treatment for Heroin Use Disorder

Deciding to wean off heroin is courageous, and your first step to freedom. Clean Recovery Centers has a full heroin use disorder treatment that will prepare you for your new life substance-free. Our program includes:

Heroin Detoxification

The first phase of treatment is called preparation. This includes a 24-hour detoxification period monitored around the clock medically and with emotional support. Detox can be dangerous as heroin withdrawal symptoms can become fatal. We offer medication-assisted treatment during this time to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual.

Residential / Inpatient Rehab Services

There are two stages to our residential treatment program.

Residential One – This is part of phase one of the treatment program. Individuals are in a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, live-in environment. Medical support is available if needed, but the main focus is on individual, group, and family therapy. The length of stay in this treatment phase is 3-4 weeks.

Residential Two – This is where the transition to phase two happens. Phase two is the action phase, where individuals confront where the addiction started and prepare themselves for independent recovery. At Clean Recovery Centers, this step is referred to as Day/Night Treatment, or DNT. While most clients choose to live in community housing on-site for this phase, it is not required. The program is a minimum of 30 hours of services per week. The four main focuses of DNT include experiential processes, defense mechanism identification, belief system exploration, and symbolic integration. All of these components are to help transition core beliefs and develop balance to a clean life. This phase of treatment typically lasts 2-3 weeks.

Mental Health Path – For those who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition during phase one, the treatment path can change to accommodate those needs first. Clients go into a residential II setting after detox and receive specific treatment for their diagnosis as well as education and medication management.

Outpatient Rehab Services

Phase three of the treatment process is the maintenance stage. At Clean Recovery Centers, we have two versions of outpatient services, intensive outpatient and outpatient. For intensive outpatient, or IOP, the client can choose to reside in a 24/7 monitored transitional living on-site or at home. The program is 9 hours per week minimum and continues with individual counseling. Outpatient is for those living at home or in sober living off-site and is 2 hours per week. Both services build on the skills learned in inpatient treatment and therapies to continue on the path to living heroin-free. The length of stay for phase three is around 6-8 weeks.

If you or someone you love is managing a heroin use disorder and are worried about withdrawal, there is hope. Clean Recovery Centers has a full staff of medical professionals and licensed therapists to make sure your experience of recovery is safe and comfortable. Call us today at (888) 330-2532 to learn more about how we can help you get clean, live clean, and stay clean.


Can you successfully taper off heroin without any professional help?

While it is possible to successfully taper off heroin on your own, it is not recommended. Tapering can still be dangerous as heroin is not regulated, meaning there is no way of knowing what it contains. Fentanyl-laced heroin is all over the substance market, and if a dose with fentanyl is taken during tapering, the person using may go back to what they were using before.

What is heroin withdrawal and how long does it last?

Heroin withdrawal occurs when the body no longer has heroin present. The brain gets overwhelmed with chemicals causing uncomfortable symptoms. Withdrawal can last up to 5 days after the last use of heroin.

Is it possible to quit heroin addiction cold turkey?

It is possible to quit heroin cold turkey. In a treatment facility surrounded by professionals, quitting heroin all at once is done safely and effectively.

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