Heroin is a highly addictive drug with no medical use. It is related to morphine, which is derived from the poppy plant and has similar but more pronounced effects.1 Heroin use is on the rise leading to a greater need for successful heroin treatment plans.
Heroin produces an intense high because of the way it bonds to receptors in the brain. The brain becomes accustomed to it, and abruptly stopping heroin use can cause acute withdrawal symptoms. People going through heroin withdrawal may experience symptoms that feel similar to a terrible case of the flu, and those symptoms run alongside a desperate craving for heroin.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin withdrawal symptoms peak within 48 and 72 hours after the last dose of the drug, and the process is rarely considered fatal.2
People who are in good health, who don’t have underlying conditions that could be exacerbated by the physical withdrawal symptoms, can go through the process without experiencing severe and life-threatening consequences. However, the process can be quite painful and scary, and it can lead to relapse. In a formal heroin detox program, there are medical and behavioral treatments available to help with withdrawal symptoms, and of course, there is no access to heroin, so relapse is not an option.
There are a variety of replacement medications that work on the same receptors used by heroin in the brain. These medications can play an important role in the recovery process for people who experience debilitating cravings for drugs that simply can’t be eased with other types of care. Several medications are available for the detox process for those addicted to opioids including methadone, buprenorphine and naltrexone. Each medication works in slightly different ways giving those going through detox options of how to best manage withdrawal symptoms.3
People who use medications for heroin addictions are often provided with a tapering schedule. Here, they’re given a dosage of replacement drugs at the beginning of therapy that’s similar to the amount of heroin they took on a regular basis. The dosage is reduced slowly until the person is taking no replacement drugs at all. During the tapering, medical professionals look for signs of distress, including the following:
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Jerking muscles
- Watering eyes
By monitoring these type symptoms, the medical caregivers can help make decisions on the detox process for each individual client to help ensure the most success.
Along with medication for the withdrawal process, successful heroin treatment also includes behavioral therapies to help individuals uncover what led to addiction and how to overcome those habits.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is a counseling technique that seeks to change the underlying thoughts and behaviors leading to heroin addiction. It is a short-term form of counseling that helps addicts consider lifestyle and thought-based habits contributing to addiction.4 CBT is an evidence based treatment that has helped people for many years build new life skills apart from addiction.
Because of its fast-acting potency, heroin use overtime increases a users impulse nature. Those who use heroin are used to immediate gratification. Another behavior therapy that can help retrain inappropriate impulses is contingency management.Here, people are provided with rewards for each step toward sobriety they take and each impulse they successfully overcome.5
The rewards are typically small and could include the following:
- Gift certificates
- Vouchers for services
By providing people with rewards now, therapists give those people a reason to participate in their recovery in the moment of temptation. Each time they attend therapy or complete some other sobriety-related task, they’ll be provided with a gift, and that might be enough to help them stay motivated in therapy. The goal of contingency management is that over time the therapy sessions will sink in, and the gifts will become less and less important.
Replacement medications and addiction therapy are often provided in intensive programs that take up the vast majority of the person’s time. Inpatient programs, for example, provide care in residential settings. The person lives, eats and breathes recovery. Outpatient care can also be intense, requiring the person to spend a significant amount of time in therapy each and every day. At some point, these programs must end, and the person returns to his/her own community.
At The Oaks at La Paloma, we know that this transition period can be overwhelming for people in recovery. Returning home means returning to the environments that once harbored an addiction. Our Recovery Assistance Program can help. Here, we provide one-on-one coaching, monitoring, counseling, drug testing and more—all designed to help people step down from intensive care without stepping back into drugs. For people in recovery from a heroin addiction, this can be lifesaving help.
If you’d like to find out more about this program, or any other aspect of heroin addiction care, please call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline today. Our caring admissions coordinators can help start you on your road to recovery today.
1 “Heroin.” Medline Plus. 15 June 2017. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017
2 “What is heroin?” NIDA. July 2017. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017
3 “DrugFacts: Heroin.” NIDA. January 2018. Web. Accessed 21 May 2018
4 Ben Martin. “In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” PsychCentral. 2016. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017.
5 “What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?” NIDA. March 2018. Web. Accessed 21 May 2018