Quitting heroin means fighting for your life against an inner addict who wants to control you, own you, and kill you. Choosing to come off junk and learning to control your junkie might be the most important decision you’ll ever make. Your life is your own, and you can learn to take control of it.
Quitting Cold Turkey
1Quit cold turkey only if you’re healthy enough to endure it. Withdrawing cold turkey means quitting heroin abruptly and getting your withdrawal symptoms over with as quickly as possible, usually 5-7 days of flu-like symptoms and suffering. It can be traumatic psychologically and physically, making it only recommended for users in relatively good health.
- Cold turkey heroin withdrawal is, in some cases, fatal, making cold going cold turkey is not recommended for pregnant women, or people with severe health problems.
2Set a definitive date and then taper down as much as you can. If you want to go cold turkey, it can help to try to get yourself down to as low a dose as possible before you stop altogether it to lessen the shock. Whether you want to say, “I’m cold turkeying starting Friday” or “I’m cold turkeying as soon as this runs out” is up to you, but set a point at which you’ll have to force yourself to cold turkey, and go through with it. Take off work and get ready for the process.
- It’s critical that you avoid “tapering down” as an excuse to keep using. If you’re out of dope and you convince yourself to buy more just so you can taper, you’re still using and you’re not quitting. When you make the decision to cold turkey, you need to jump. Now. It’s like a Band-Aid, just yank that thing off and get it over with.
3Burn all your dope bridges. When your cold turkey date rolls around, it’s time to destroy all your works, your needles, your dirty spoons, flush your dope, get rid of the empty baggies lying around, even throw out your belt if you need to. Delete your dealer’s number. Get rid of anything you associate with taking heroin in preparation for cold turkey. Make it impossible to use.
- If you don’t trust yourself to really make it impossible, get help. Let a trusted friend, family member, or sponsor go through all your drawers with you and take everything away. Don’t throw it in the kitchen garbage, destroy it by smashing it with a hammer and having someone else throw it away at an undisclosed location.
4Find a place to stay. Have someone come over and help prepare your place, stocking up on the necessary supplies for enduring withdrawal, if you’re going to cold turkey there, or check yourself into a safe place like a hotel or a friend’s house where you’ll be able to spend the week in quiet, and have them clean out your place for you while you’re in the middle of it. Either way, wipe a week off your schedule and get ready for hell.
- Get someone to check up on you regularly throughout the hard week to come, or better yet, get someone to stay with you and see you through the process. It can be a dark and lonely feeling cold turkeying all by yourself. So don’t.
5Stock up on everything you’ll need for 5-7 days. The single most important thing you’ll need is lots and lots of drinking water and time. It’s essential that you stay fully hydrated while you’re in the throws of cold turkey and that you cut yourself off from your life as an addict while you’re going through withdrawal. Fluids, over-the-counter flu medication, and some food you’ll be able to stomach like peanut butter and soup will help make the process a lot easier, as well as enough clothes to change into and out of.
6Drink lots of water, Gatorade, and grapefruit juice. Drink as much as you can stomach. Night sweats and diarrhea will be a problem, both of which can dehydrate you quickly, so make sure you’ve got plenty of water and you’re keeping it down as best you can. Gatorade helps keep your electrolytes and your blood sugar up, while grapefruit juice can provide essential vitamins. Likewise, straight up multi-vitamins and isotonic mixtures do wonders.
- If drinks other than water nauseate you, try to water them down to drink them. Gatorade will really help keep your electrolytes up, which is essential. Cut the drink with some water and keep it down. You’ve got this.
7Take Nyquil, Imodium, and dramamine to combat the flu symptoms. There’s no use beating around the bush: Heroin withdrawal will feel like the worst flu you’ve ever had, and it’ll last for several relentless days. Common symptoms include severe night sweats, nausea, and diarrhea, so it’s a good idea to keep some flu medication around and take it as needed to keep the symptoms in check and help you get some rest.
- In preparation, sometimes it helps to take a dose of milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide, a laxative) a few days before you start, while you’re still tapering down, to clear out your system and make the diarrhea somewhat milder during cold turkey.
- Some have found success in taking large doses (30-40 mg) of Imodium for the first couple of days during the worst part of cold turkey, and then starting to taper down to avoid constipation. Try to space out the OTC drugs you take, if any, and avoid abusing them.
- Natural alternatives like Valerian are also popular and effective in calming your nerves and softening the nausea you’ll experience. Since it even binds to the same brain receptors, think of it like herbal Valium that’s cheap and available at Wal-Mart.
8Eat something. Bread and peanut butter can save your life during cold turkey. It’s going to be hard to keep anything down, but forcing yourself to eat a few bites of peanut butter sandwich will help give you strength and help you feel human. Keep some broth or ramen on hand to heat up and vary the routine a little, but whatever you do, try to eat a little bit every day to stay as human as possible.
9Stay clean and try to sleep. Have a pile of bedsheets handy because the night sweats can be rough. Change your clothes and underwear every day. try to keep yourself as clean as possible, if for no other reason than to distract yourself. Take warm baths when it feels appropriate and rest up. You’re fighting the good fight, so try to relax as much as possible and rest.
- Feeling extremely cold chills will be common for you throughout cold turkey (that’s why it’s called cold turkey). Warm baths can feel really great, keeping you warm and close to normal. When you’re feeling the chills come on and you can’t get warm, jump in the bath or the shower and let the steam work on you.
10Get some exercise, if at all possible. It might sound ridiculous, or like the last thing that you’d want to do, but going for a long walk or jog is the single most effective way of relieving the leg cramps and chill-pains you’re going to feel throughout the process. Sometimes it’s even as if you don’t have any symptoms at all when you’re using your body to get some exercise. Force yourself to move around and then reward yourself with a warm bath. Take those first few steps toward being clean.
11Take it a day at a time. You’re fighting the hardest fight you’ll ever be in. It’s not going to be fun, but you’re doing the first necessary work of quitting heroin for good and reclaiming your life. You’re not a slave to dope. Prove it.
Quitting Warm Turkey
1Consider using prescription medication to ease the effects of withdrawal. If the option is available, using certain prescription drugs in a controlled and careful environment can be a more effective method of kicking heroin for good. You can monitor your intake more carefully, curbing the withdrawal symptoms and keeping yourself feeling relatively normal while you quit heroin.
- While you run the risk of further addictions to other drugs, learning more about “warm turkey” methods can help ensure that you don’t fall into their possible traps.
2Explore free or low cost options in your area. The problem with warm turkeying, as opposed to quitting cold turkey, is that it costs money you might not have, and requires health insurance you might not be able to get. Call the Substance Abuse hotline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to find out more about free or reduced clinics in your area you can learn more about and speak with to explore your options.
- To avoid becoming addicted to other prescription drugs, don’t rely on the same old chain of dealers that resulted in you having to quit heroin in the first place. Don’t try it on your own. Do it the smart way, by getting the professional medical help that’s available to you and taking drugs as recommended.
3Find a state subsidized methadone clinic in your area. Methadone is an opioid agonist that’s administered in a regulated manner at clinics, many of which are free or quite cheap, to help heroin users who hope to quit manage the symptoms of withdrawal and taper down in a supervised manner. It’ll still be up to you to negotiate your quitting, but getting drug tested and checked out by physicians while you do it can help curb the psychological trauma of heroin withdrawal for some users. You’re doing the right thing.
- Try to start with as low a dose as possible. Some clinics start with doses in excess of 70mg, making it “too easy” on some users who hope to quit more quickly and effectively. Communicate with the staff and let them know your intention of quitting, not dragging out the process. If you’re healthy enough for a lower dose, try to force yourself to start smaller.
- It’s unfortunately common for heroin users to become dependent on methadone, or even become double-dippers, who take methadone in the morning and begin using heroin later in the day when the effect wears off. Methadone isn’t right for everyone, but it’s usually the cheapest option, especially if you can apply and qualify for insurance aid in your state.
4Talk to your doctor about the Suboxone or Subutex approach. Suboxone or Subutex is sometimes less of a hassle than getting on methadone, and will greatly help with cravings. For some, it’s also much easier to taper off than methadone. The amount of time you will take Suboxone/Subutex is much shorter than Methadone as well- maintenance generally lasts for 3 to 6 months, depending on the person and doctor. 
5Prepare for the doctor’s questions. It’s important to be totally honest with any clinicians or doctors you consult about your addiction if you want prescription drugs to help quit heroin. Coming up with elaborate fantasy tales to tell as a way of getting a couple of Xanax could start a chain reaction in which you’re rejected, get angry, and end up using again to manage the dope sickness. Come clean. If your goal is to quit heroin altogether, tell the doctor your intentions. They can help.
- You may need to agree to take periodic drug tests, HIV screens, and undergo other procedures to be admitted to state-run clinics. Getting on prescription drugs can be a much more involved process than getting a couple of pills, so prepare to be run through the gauntlet.
6Ask about other prescription drugs to curb the withdrawal symptoms. If you don’t want to go on methadone, or cheap options aren’t available in your area, talk to your doctor about a prescription for other drugs that can help make the withdrawal process somewhat softer. As long as you take them in a smart and controlled manner, this can be an effective way of quitting. Never abuse prescription drugs while quitting heroin.
- Clonidine is a non-narcotic BP med, given by most addiction doctors, quite effective at managing your withdrawal symptoms, especially anxiety associated with the process.
- Valium and Xanax are benzodiazepines effective in treating addiction, battling insomnia, and treating your anxiety.
- Phenobarbital and Ativan are relatively-weak narcotics that are sometimes prescribed to help take the edge off.
- Tramadol is a painkiller sometimes prescribed specifically to combat leg pain or restless-leg syndrome and has proven quite effective in soften the restlessness associated with withdrawal.
7Commit to secondary withdrawal. The biggest problem with warm turkey methods of quitting heroin is that, ultimately, you’re still on dope. It may have a different name, but if you’re still daily using drugs to function, you’re not quit yet. Whatever you’re taking, you must also commit to going through the difficult work of quitting altogether and getting sober.
- Depending on your method of warming the turkey, your secondary withdrawal might be brief and mild, or it might be a close cousin to heroin. It may take several weeks before you start feeling normal again. Go through the same process of selecting a quitting date and committing to it.
8Consider attending a rehabilitative detox facility, if you can afford it. The warmest turkey would be a private rehab clinic you can go to while you experience withdrawal under full surveillance, receiving medical care, psychological care, and time away from your life as an addict. Unfortunately, a full rehab package for several weeks can cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000.
- These packages are often the end result of family interventions and can actually serve to make addicts feel extremely guilty because of the associated cost. If you cold turkey alone and end up reusing, you might feel disappointed in yourself, but if you withdraw at a place that’s costing your parents thousands of dollars a night, you might feel much more terrible and guilty. Don’t let it get to the point where such a situation becomes necessary.