Heroin Withdrawal and Detox: Recovery is Possible for Women Who are Addicted

Heroin continues to be a drug of choice for many women, who may be nervous about quitting because of withdrawal.


That is how so many people get stuck on this drug, and they can easily become afraid of getting off it. Fortunately, a quality detox program can help with that.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were only 46 cases of heroin overdoses in 2010. By 2017, that number had gone up to 224 cases. In addition, the Colorado Department of Human Services reports that there were 948,000 heroin users in the country in 2016. So many of those people are living in Colorado, and these are individuals who are in need of help so they can quit.

Heroin is a dangerous drug, but it is easy to see why so many women gravitate toward it. They may even do so with the knowledge that they may get addicted, but they feel they have no other options. We want women to know that there is help available to them so they can quit.


Women Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

Heroin belongs to a classification of drugs called opioids. These are addictive drugs that people use for a few different reasons. Many women who take them are using them to treat pain, and this is true for heroin as well, even though it is illegal. In addition to treating pain, the drug does cause a strong sense of euphoria, which can become addicting.

But stopping heroin will result in opioid withdrawal symptoms, and they can be very hard to deal with. They do not happen all at once, and usually, people will go through various stages of withdrawal.

Early Symptoms

The earlier symptoms of opioid withdrawal can include:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Increased eye tearing
  • Insomnia
  • Yawning
  • Excessive sweating
  • Achy muscles and joints
  • Agitation and anger
  • A runny nose

These symptoms may continue during the duration of withdrawal, and they may even get worse for a short time.

Late Symptoms

After a little bit of time has gone by, additional signs of withdrawal will begin. They can include:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

While these symptoms are not life-threatening in themselves, they can contribute to possible complications. They may start out being fairly mild but then increase in severity over time until they start to improve.

Withdrawal Complications

There are also possible complications that can occur when a woman stops using heroin. They are closely related to the symptoms that occur later during the withdrawal phase.

When someone vomits during heroin withdrawal, if they are not positioned correctly, they can end up aspirating, which means they breathe the contents of their stomach into the lungs. It can lead to a serious lung infection or even suffocation. Also, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can easily lead to chemical and mineral disturbances in the body, which can lead to dehydration.

There are serious risks with heroin withdrawal because of the risk of complications. Because of the nature of this addiction and recovery, anyone could be in danger of experiencing them.

Why do People go Through Withdrawal?

Withdrawal only occurs once someone has become addicted to a drug regardless if it’s a man or woman. Once a heroin addiction has formed, the body has gotten used to having its regular dose of the drug. It really does not know how to function normally without it. That is primarily due to the role of dopamine, and what excess amounts of it do in the brain.

Dopamine is a chemical that the brain releases when a person is happy. We experience it every single day of our lives when we eat meals or when we enjoy a nice time with our spouses or friends. When a person uses heroin, their dopamine levels increase drastically; much higher than they normally are. Over time, that becomes the individual’s new way of feeling normal.

In addition, their brain loses the ability to make dopamine on its own; at least temporarily. Without it, they do not feel like themselves anymore, and they have a yearning to use heroin again to get those good feelings back.


What Does the Heroin Withdrawal Timeline Look Like?

It is important to understand what the body goes through before making the decision to quit heroin. A woman should understand all of the phases she will experience, and she will also want to know how long they will last. This is what can be expected:

  • The early symptoms of withdrawal usually begin within the first eight to twenty-four hours after the last dose of the drug.
  • At the end of the first twenty-four-hour period, some of the later symptoms of withdrawal may begin to surface.
  • Over the next few days, withdrawal symptoms will become progressively worse. Cravings will be intense during this time period as well.
  • By the seventy-two-hour mark, most people have experienced the peak of withdrawal. That is as bad as their symptoms will get.
  • Once the peak has passed, symptoms should start to improve, but that can be quite a process that can take as long as ten days for some.

The duration of withdrawal will vary, depending upon a number of factors. Those who have been using higher doses of heroin will likely find that they need a longer period of time to detox. Less time is needed for lower doses, or for infrequent users. Age, height, and weight may also be factors, and women may take longer to detox than men.

One of the hardest parts about recovering from heroin addiction is having to go through Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS. This condition does not occur for everyone with this type of addiction, but it typically is more common than not.

When someone experiences PAWS, they have severe withdrawal symptoms that may seem to come back abruptly. They can be quite severe, and they can also be a real barrier to treatment for a lot of people.

Getting through PAWS can be hard, but it is not impossible. It can be very easy to relapse when going through PAWS. But that is why it is so important to have professional and personal support when a person is recovering from heroin addiction.


Options for Heroin Addiction Recovery and Withdrawal

It is important to know the different ways to quit using heroin so that the severity of withdrawal may be minimized. Quite often, people tend to think that all it takes is enough willpower to stop using, but that is not the case at all. Still, there are various ways that people use to try to quit, but unless they involve professional treatment, they rarely work. But a person should know what the options are.

Natural Drug Detox

This method is actually one of the most popular.

It seems like today, whenever possible, people are choosing more natural options for everything, and that includes detoxing from drugs. While there are some very good vitamins and supplements on the market, none of them have been FDA approved. That means that they might work somewhat for some people, but not for everyone.

Natural drug detox includes utilizing various holistic means to stop using a substance like heroin. People may try all kinds of things, including:

  • Increasing how much water or other fluids they drink each day.
  • Fasting food to speed up the detoxification process.
  • As mentioned earlier, taking vitamins and supplements to help with detoxing.
  • Acupuncture treatments.
  • Going on a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables and lower in meats and carbs.

Natural drug detox sounds like it might work, and for some people, it could. But there is always the risk of complications, and that is something that should not be ignored. If someone does experience complications, they will need immediate medical treatment.

Cold Turkey

Surprisingly enough, there are a lot of people who believe in the cold turkey method of quitting wholeheartedly.

They would rather just quit using heroin and their desire is to get through withdrawal as quickly as possible. Many may not even be aware of how dangerous and addictive this drug is. When they find out that they are addicted, they will quit cold turkey and they do so out of panic.

Like natural drug detox, cold turkey quitting is dangerous. Again, there is a risk of complications that cannot be ignored. No one should ever quit using heroin cold turkey because of how severe withdrawals can become. Those who do run the risk of relapsing when withdrawal becomes too difficult to deal with. And of course, those who relapse are at risk for overdosing.


Self-tapering is another way to quit that appeals to a lot of people.

This involves taking less and less of a drug over time. For women who are addicted to heroin, they may decrease their dosages, or they may try to take it less often.

Once again, this sounds like it might be a good solution that could minimize the effects of withdrawal on the body. But that just is not the way it works.

Most people who attempt to do a self-taper go through it much too quickly. The body and mind are likely to notice even the slightest changes in dosages, and withdrawals can still set in. The symptoms may not be as pronounced, but in some people, they are almost the same, as far as severity.

Self-tapering is dangerous, and for most people, this is not a method that is sustainable for very long. Users who attempt it are very likely to go back to using more of the drug just to get some relief.

Drug Detox Kits

Drug detox kits are products that can be purchased at many pharmacies, department stores, and even online.

They often contain vitamins and supplements that are believed to help the body go through the detoxification process.

There is no doubt that the supplements in these kits can be beneficial to a woman going through withdrawal. But when the user is addicted to a potent drug like heroin, they typically are not enough to help them through their symptoms.

Also, please note that these products have not been approved by the FDA either. There have been no clinical studies that show that they are effective for any type of drug detox.

Opioid Detox Programs

A quality detox program is the best way to treat withdrawal symptoms when a female is addicted to heroin.

Opioid detox will target specific symptoms and make it easier to manage. In fact, some of the more common symptoms might not be experienced at all.

Most experts agree that heroin treatment is a necessity when someone (man or woman) is addicted to this dangerous drug. Without it, relapse is far too likely, and overdoses can be fatal if they were to go back to using again.


Understanding the Risk of a Heroin Overdose

Recent data indicates that the number of people who have overdosed on heroin over the last six years has tripled. In 2016, there were 4.1 deaths for every 100,000 residents in the state. The sad truth is that many of these overdoses happened because those individuals relapsed on heroin.

When a person stops using heroin, they will go through the withdrawal symptoms we mentioned earlier. Even when only a day or two has passed since their last dose, their tolerance level can change drastically. The amount of the drug they used to use becomes too much for them the longer they abstain from it.

When that individual relapses, they are quite likely to revert back to the same amount of the drug they were using previously. But they do not realize that this amount is now too much. The result is often an overdose.

The good news is that heroin overdoses do not have to be fatal, but there must be quick action to save the person’s life. It is critical to call 911 right away. Paramedics can administer Naloxone right away, and get the person to the ER for further treatment.

The Opioid Epidemic in Colorado

Colorado’s opioid epidemic has been a serious problem for several years, and it actually started very innocently; at least in the eyes of medical professionals.

Doctors started prescribing opioid drugs in the 1990s, and they were ensured by pharmaceutical companies that these drugs were very safe. That assurance caused physicians to write prescriptions for these drugs excessively, and many people got addicted to them.

Once the risk of addiction became more clear, doctors stopped prescribing them as often. Patients had problems getting the medication they felt they needed, which turned them toward heroin. Many people who once used prescription painkillers ended up being addicted to a much harder, illegal opioid drug.

Signs of a Heroin Overdose

It is vital to be able to recognize the signs of a heroin overdose. This is true for someone who is addicted, but even more so for their family.

Some of the more common signs include:

  • Breathing issues, which could mean shallow or slow breathing. But breathing may also stop entirely.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Very small pupils.
  • Discoloration of the tongue.
  • A very low blood pressure.
  • A weak pulse.
  • Symptoms of constipation.
  • Fingernails and lips that turn blue.

The overdose victim may also fall into a coma or experience delirium. They may become disoriented or complain that they feel drowsy. All of these are also indicators that an overdose has occurred.

As we mentioned earlier, a heroin overdose is a medical emergency. Please call 911 if one is suspected.

Heroin Addiction Treatment for Women

Women who are addicted to heroin need to seriously consider getting professional treatment. Going to heroin rehab is the best way to recover from this addiction safely. It also gives people the best possible chance of being successful long-term.

Detoxing From Heroin

The first step in the recovery process is to go through the detox process.

This should always be done in an inpatient setting. While there are outpatient programs available, they may not be safe because of the risk of complications.

The detoxification process involves various treatments that are aimed at ridding the body of toxins. This can involve a combination of both medical and holistic treatments, depending on what each person needs to recover and get through withdrawal.

Medication-assisted treatment is a form of detox that is often used for people who are addicted to heroin. It involves taking medications that have been approved by the FDA specifically for this purpose.

There are several medications that doctors often recommend and prescribe for people with heroin addictions and it doesn’t matter if it’s male or female. They include:

These drugs can be very effective, but most of them can also be misused and abused. Vivitrol is an excellent option for a number of reasons. It is an injection that the individual receives once a month, but they must agree to a counseling program as well. It is non-addictive and has shown tremendous promise long-term.

The Next Step: Heroin Rehab

After going through the detox process, the next step is to go to rehab.

This step is so important because the root cause of the addiction must be addressed. If it is not, then the person will be very likely to return to using in the future.

For many women, they started using heroin because they suffered from a co-occurring disorder, such as an eating disorder, anxiety or depression. These mental health conditions frequently lead people to turn to drugs as a way to medicate their symptoms away.

The best treatment programs in Colorado understand co-occurring disorders and how important it is to address them. That is why they offer dual diagnosis treatment. This allows the individual to get help for both conditions at the same time.

There are several different ways that women can get heroin addiction treatment. Some women will need to go to an inpatient program to recover. They need a higher level of care, and they need to be in a facility where they can get medical help at all times. This is where a lot of people begin their recovery journeys.

Some women might do well with an outpatient program such as an IOP, or intensive outpatient treatment program. IOPs allow them to live at home, work and care for their families. This is often a refreshing option that many women are not aware is available to them.

Sober living is another option that women have available to them. With this type of program, they live at a facility for a lengthy period of time. While they are there, they get the treatment they need either in-house or at an outpatient program.

While there are many ways to recover, not all of them are right for everyone. It is important for women to find the one that will work best for them.

Ongoing Treatment and the Recovery Process

Once a person finishes their treatment program, their work is not done. They must continue to get some type of help and support. This might mean starting with an inpatient program and then transitioning into an IOP. After that, it might mean regular therapy sessions and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Addictions never go away because they cannot be cured. But they can be treated, and that means getting continual support.

Heroin Addiction Treatment is Available for Women

At Women’s Recovery, we know the struggles women face when they are addicted to heroin. They often use it because they feel they have no other choice, but we want you to know that you do have choices. You can opt to stop, and with our help, you can be successful.

Do you have more questions about heroin withdrawal and recovery? We are here to assist you in any way that we can. Please contact us.

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