On its own, heroin withdrawal is not capable of directly killing a person. With that said, the effects of heroin and heroin withdrawal can be dangerous.
Under the right circumstances, heroin withdrawal symptoms can cause a domino effect that could result in a fatal outcome, especially for people with co-occurring health conditions.
While the chance of experiencing life-threatening symptoms during opioid withdrawal is not tremendously high, there are a number of factors that can increase the risk of a fatal experience.
What Is Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome?
Heroin withdrawal is a subset of opioid withdrawal syndrome. Both syndromes are characterized by unpleasant symptoms resulting from the cessation of opioid drug use.
All opioids and opiates interact with the opioid receptors in your brain and are capable of causing this syndrome. However, the symptoms are often more severe with more addictive substances.
That is why heroin withdrawal is usually more severe than withdrawal from commonly abused prescription drugs like OxyContin (oxycodone).
Potentially Fatal Complications With Heroin Withdrawal
Opioid withdrawal symptoms are not usually life-threatening but can lead to cardiac and respiratory complications that may require medical care at the local emergency department.
These are some examples of potentially dangerous conditions that can occur as a result of heroin withdrawal.
Heroin withdrawal can cause both diarrhea and severe nausea with vomiting – two conditions that can quickly deplete a person of hydration and upset the electrolyte balance.
When a person is losing more fluid than their body is taking in, it can cause vital organs to stop functioning properly, affecting important bodily functions such as circulation and respiration.
Heroin drug use is known for causing a person’s heart rate to slow down.
Suddenly stopping heroin use can cause erratic changes in heart rate and blood pressure that may result in a heart attack, stroke, or other severe cardiac conditions.
Severe dehydration can lead to another condition known as hypernatremia, a high concentration of sodium in the blood.
Hypernatremia can cause neurological malfunctions, including confusion, twitching, seizures, coma, and death.
What Are The Symptoms Of Heroin Withdrawal?
The symptoms of heroin withdrawal are notoriously uncomfortable and have often been described as having severe flu symptoms.
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include:
- fast heart rate
- increased blood pressure
- increased body temperature
- muscle aches
- nausea with or without vomiting
Other Causes Of Heroin-Related Deaths
Heroin deaths directly resulting from withdrawal symptoms are rare. Unfortunately, deaths related to heroin use are not.
There are a number of ways that heroin use can be fatal.
In recent years, heroin laced with fentanyl has become exceedingly common.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin, and the combination greatly increases the risk of fatal overdose.
People who abuse heroin may find themselves abusing additional substances, often at the same time.
The abuse of multiple substances, also known as polysubstance abuse, can increase overdose risk, especially if the other substances are also central nervous system depressants.
People who use heroin in combination with alcohol, benzodiazepines, or other opioids are the most at-risk.
Heroin is particularly dangerous for anyone with a pre-existing condition, especially one that involves a person’s cardiovascular system.
In addition to physical symptoms of withdrawal, heroin withdrawal can also wreak havoc on a person’s mental health.
It is not uncommon for someone who is experiencing heroin withdrawal to feel anxiety, depression, hopelessness, guilt, or shame.
As a result, people going through withdrawal are susceptible to suicidal thoughts, especially if they had any mental health disorders prior to their heroin use.
Can Someone Go Through Heroin Withdrawal On Their Own At Home?
A person can go through heroin withdrawal on their own and without any assistance. They might even succeed if their heroin addiction is very mild, but it is not recommended.
In many cases, heroin withdrawal can be too difficult to overcome this way and many people find themselves relapsing repeatedly just to escape the withdrawal.
How To Safely Go Through Heroin Withdrawal
The safest way to go through heroin withdrawal is to enroll in an inpatient detox program. Medical detox programs can provide symptomatic comfort and 24/7 monitoring.
Medically Monitored Detox
Medical detoxification at a treatment center helps you withdraw safely from heroin by using medications such as clonidine or benzodiazepines to ease the harsh symptoms of withdrawal.
You also receive monitoring from healthcare professionals when you go through medical detox, so if your symptoms do become severe, you will immediately receive the necessary care.
Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help wean a person off of opioids or alcohol at a more comfortable rate.
MAT can also be used in an outpatient setting as a maintenance program that helps lessen drug cravings as you go through therapy.
Medications used for this kind of treatment include:
- buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone)
Therapy And Counseling
Evidence-based therapy and counseling can help people address some of the mental health issues that might have led to their addiction in the first place.
Behavioral therapies are especially helpful when treating addiction and can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT).
Find Substance Abuse Treatment For Heroin Addiction Today
If you are facing an opioid use disorder, you don’t have to go through withdrawal alone. There are detox and addiction treatment programs that can help.
Call us to learn how we can help you or a loved one find the treatment options best suited to your needs.Article Sources
- National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
- National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus
- National Library of Medicine: StatPearls