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Heroin Addiction Treatment

Published on December 29, 2020
doctor speaking with a patient about heroin addiction treatment

Heroin is an illegal opioid drug made from morphine, which is a natural painkiller derived from the opium poppy plant. 

Some people abuse heroin by injecting, smoking, or snorting it. The drug quickly attaches to opioid receptors throughout the body, causing a surge of euphoria (intense joy), comfort, and relaxation. This is why many people become addicted.  

Also called substance use disorder (SUD), addiction is a serious, life-threatening disease that makes you feel unable to control your drug use. Fortunately, people who are addicted to heroin have a number of treatment options

If you or someone you love struggles with heroin use, contact an addiction treatment center. Staff will evaluate your situation and help you design a personalized treatment plan. Most plans consist of inpatient detoxification followed by medication-assisted treatment. 

Heroin Detox

When you’re addicted to heroin, you become physically dependent on it. This means your body can’t function properly without the drug. If you stop taking it, you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • trouble sleeping
  • cold flashes with goose bumps
  • aching muscles and/or bones
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting 

While most of these symptoms aren’t life-threatening, persistent diarrhea or vomiting can lead to dehydration, heart failure, and death. That’s why it’s important to withdraw at a medical detox center.

During a detox program, you’ll receive 24/7 care and supervision from a team of health care professionals. They’ll help you gradually stop using heroin instead of quitting cold turkey. This strategy, which is called “tapering,” can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Your treatment team may also prescribe medications, such as sleep aids or anti-nausea drugs, to make withdrawal more comfortable.

Read more about Heroin Withdrawal and Detox

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Once you complete detox, your heroin treatment team will likely suggest that you attend a medication-assisted treatment program (MAT). You can choose inpatient or outpatient treatment depending on your needs. 

In MAT, health care providers prescribe medications approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reduce withdrawal symptoms and heroin cravings. 

These medications, which act on the same opioid receptors as heroin, include:

  • methadone (brand name Dolophine or Methadose), which is an opioid agonist 
  • buprenorphine (Subutex, Subcloade, or Probuphine), which is a partial opioid agonist
  • naltrexone (Vivitrol), which is an opioid antagonist 
  • Suboxone, which is a combination of buprenorphine and an opioid antagonist called naloxone 

All of these drugs can help you avoid relapse. 

Along with medication, MAT provides other recovery services such as therapy, wellness activities, and aftercare planning. 

Therapy

Therapy can help you change unhealthy behaviors and address any underlying mental health issues that contribute to your drug use. Most heroin rehab programs offer various types of therapy, including:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy, where you can work with a mental health professional to identify triggers for heroin use and develop healthy coping skills
  • group therapy, where you can connect with other people who are struggling with opioid use disorder and other forms of drug addiction
  • family therapy, where you and your loved ones can learn how to resolve conflicts and maintain your recovery 
  • art therapy, where you can strengthen your mental health through creative expression 

Wellness Activities

Many opioid addiction treatment programs offer wellness activities like yoga, meditation, and exercise. These activities can boost your mental health and reduce the risk of relapse, especially if you make them a regular part of your life. 

Aftercare Planning

Before you leave your addiction treatment program, your treatment team will help you design a personalized aftercare plan to avoid relapse. Your plan may include recovery services such as support groups, ongoing therapy, and medications to treat underlying mental health conditions. 

If you or a loved one struggles with heroin use, please reach out to an ARK Behavioral Health specialist to learn about our addiction and substance abuse treatment programs.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - What Are the Treatments for Heroin Use Disorder?
National Institute on Drug Abuse - Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse - What Is Heroin and How Is It Used?
U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Opiate and opioid withdrawal

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