Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Francine Mends, MD on August 12, 2020
If you’re entering treatment for heroin addiction, then you’re in good company. Thousands of people enter treatment for heroin addiction every year. For most people, treatment is the only way to move past heroin addiction.
Heroin is an opioid drug that causes sedating effects and euphoria. It ranges in appearance from a white to brown powder, and also comes in a black sticky form called black tar heroin.
No matter the form, heroin is very addictive. Many people find that they experience multiple relapses before seeking treatment. Treatment helps you stop using heroin by providing you with inpatient or outpatient care that’s focused around recovery.
Treatment centers that treat heroin addiction use medication-assisted treatment (MAT) along with counseling and therapy to get your addiction under control.
Over 91% of people with heroin addiction experience a relapse, but treatment and aftercare can help reduce your risk and protect you.
Inpatient Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Most people who need heroin addiction treatment are good candidates for inpatient treatment. Inpatient treatment is an intensive program that treats addiction using therapy, medication, and education during an extended stay.
These programs require you to stay at the facility 24/7, but the benefit is that you get complete care and monitoring to keep you comfortable.
You’re physically away from home during recovery, which means less access to places or people that trigger use.
Inpatient programs are time-intensive to keep you focused on recovery. The main types include regular inpatient and residential treatment.
Here’s how they differ:
- Inpatient: A typical inpatient program keeps you busy! You’ll spend your waking hours in individual and group therapy sessions, recreational therapy, educational workshops, and appointments. Being busy and focused on recovery can help keep your mind off triggers during treatment.
- Residential: Residential care programs are slightly less structured than inpatient programs, but still provide a high level of care. You’ll have some freedom in your room between sessions, but in a recovery-friendly environment that’s free of temptations.
Both types of heroin addiction programs come in varying lengths depending on your needs. It’s best to choose a program that’s at least 90 days long. Longer programs are proven to have better results in treating opioid use disorder (OUD).
Outpatient Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Not everyone has the time commitment to go to an inpatient program. If you need to be available for other responsibilities, like childcare or work, then an outpatient program can give you that flexibility without sacrificing your care.
Outpatient programs for heroin addiction offer therapy, medication, and other services on a part-time basis. You’ll attend daily and weekly appointments. Those appointments may include therapy, drug testing, medication and check-ins.
Between appointments, you’re free to live your life at home and take care of other responsibilities.
There are 3 main types of outpatient programs, including:
- Outpatient: Standard outpatient programs are an option for people who have a low risk of relapsing on heroin. If you have a short-term history of drug use without co-occurring mental health conditions, an outpatient program can provide you with flexible treatment options. Your care team will work with you to choose the right program length for you.
- Intensive outpatient (IOP): Depending on your program, you could attend IOP anywhere from 3 to 5 days weekly. The number of days and length of sessions depends on your condition and stability. You could spend up to 30 hours a week in IOP care. Consider choosing IOP if you’ve relapsed on heroin before.
- Partial hospitalization (PHP): PHP programs have longer and more frequent sessions compared to IOP. These programs are a good choice for people who can commit 5 to 7 days a week to treatment. You’re technically still an outpatient because you go home at night, but you’re receiving the same level of care as an inpatient stay.
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Both inpatient and outpatient programs for heroin addiction use medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
This is the use of medication to treat heroin withdrawal, cravings or addiction. It works best alongside other evidence-based treatment methods, like therapy and counseling.
The most common MAT drugs for heroin addiction include:
- Buprenorphine: You may know this drug by the name Subutex. This medication reduces withdrawal and lessens the effects of narcotics, so if you relapse, you’re less likely to keep using heroin.
- Methadone: This medication prevents you from feeling opioid withdrawal when you stop using heroin. It has a higher potential for abuse than other MAT drugs, so it’s available only in a clinical setting.
- Naltrexone: This medication prevents you from feeling high when you use other opioids, so it reduces your risk of relapse. It reduces cravings, but you must start on it after withdrawal is complete.
Medication is effective at reducing the risk of relapse in heroin users, but it’s not a good fit for everyone.
MAT drugs can interact with dozens of medications and medical conditions. Buprenorphine alone has around 600 drug and medication interactions.
These drugs shouldn’t be taken with antidepressants, nerve pain medications or muscle relaxers. If you have certain conditions like adrenal insufficiency or seizure disorders, you should refrain from taking these drugs. Talk to your doctor about whether MAT is right for you.
Counseling and Therapy for Heroin Addiction
Therapy and counseling are cornerstones for effective heroin addiction treatment.
After all, OUD is a brain disease that affects your behavior. Therapy addresses the brain changes and the behavior changes to help you regain control over your life.
For people who have OUD, the most effective treatment types include:
- Contingency management: This form of treatment uses rewards as a form of behavior modification. You’ll agree to meet certain recovery goals such as negative drug tests. When you meet those goals, you’ll receive a reward in the form of a voucher or cash prize.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT helps you learn patterns in your thinking and behavior so that you can change them to patterns that benefit you. If your thought patterns lead you to use heroin when you’re stressed, then CBT will help you overcome those patterns.
- Psychotherapy: Also known as talk therapy or psychodynamic therapy, this kind of therapy helps you make sense of your life, feelings, and behaviors. Knowing the background behind why you use heroin can help give you control over it.
- 12-Step programs: The 12-Step program was developed to treat alcohol use disorder (AUD), but it’s expanded to treat others, too. Narcotics Anonymous is a 12-Step shoot off that welcomes people who are recovering from heroin and other opioids. The 12-Step programs offer social support and community based around healing.
Heroin addiction treatment often uses multiple treatment types at once. You may find that medication, counseling, and group therapy are all parts of your treatment that work well for you.
Aftercare for Heroin Addiction
You wouldn’t stop taking your heart medication after getting out of the hospital for a heart attack, would you? So, why would you stop treating your heroin addiction after inpatient ends?
Aftercare is a critical part of reducing heroin relapse. It looks different for each person and depends on your health, drug use history, relapse history, and even your home environment.
Your treatment care team will help you form an aftercare plan before discharge. Treatment is all about teaching you how to manage your condition in the real world because heroin addiction doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Some effective aftercare strategies include:
- Group support, including 12-Step groups or heroin-specific recovery groups
- Medication-assisted treatment to control cravings and withdrawal from heroin
- Outpatient treatment to keep tabs on your heroin addiction
- Transitional housing such as a sober living home or recovery house
Does Heroin Addiction Treatment Work?
Addiction treatment has a proven effect on long-term recovery when it addresses heroin use, increases self-efficacy, and treats psychological issues.
Up to 91% of people who have heroin addiction experience a relapse. With treatment and aftercare, that percentage drops down to 40- 60%.
You can increase your odds of long-term recovery and reduce the risk of relapse by choosing an evidence-based heroin treatment program. Treatment programs are more effective when they:
- Use evidence-based treatment
- Use a whole-body treatment model (e.g. medication and therapy to treat physical and mental symptoms)
- Last at least 90 days or longer
Who Needs Treatment for Heroin Addiction?
If heroin addiction is affecting your life, then you should seek treatment. Every person who has OUD can benefit from treatment. Heroin use has long-term effects on your body and brain. Those effects can get worse and become permanent without treatment.
Some signs that you need treatment for heroin addiction include:
- Avoiding people and activities that you care about
- Cravings for heroin that you can’t ignore
- Neglecting your hygiene and appearance
- Neglecting responsibilities to use heroin
- Spending too much money on heroin
- Trouble keeping your job because of heroin use
- Withdrawal when you stop using heroin
Find Treatment for Heroin Addiction
Search our directory to find treatment for heroin addiction. Our directory of addiction treatment centers can match you with the right evidence-based treatment program for your OUD.
Reducing the risk of relapse is within your hands, so choose a treatment center and make the first call today!
- What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?
- Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction
- Heroin: Effects, Addiction & Treatment Options
- Treatment of heroin addiction: current approaches and future prospects
- What options are available to treat heroin dependence and addiction?
- Lapse and relapse following inpatient treatment of opiate dependence
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