How to block and prevent heroin cravings

Heroin is one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs currently available, which is all the more reason to go through detox and embrace a new sober life.

However, knowing what you’re getting into —and what will help— ahead of time will be helpful when it comes to tackling heroin withdrawal and cravings.

Going through heroin withdrawal

Heroin withdrawal is not an easy experience. Symptoms will generally appear within 4-8 hours after the last dose, and symptoms you may experience include:

  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Chills.
  • Depression.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Goosebumps.
  • Insomnia.
  • Irritability.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Leg cramps.
  • Restlessness.
  • A runny nose.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Sweating.
  • Tremors.

Symptoms generally peak within 24-72 hours and subside after 7-10 days.

Spotting heroin cravings

After withdrawal, you are likely to experience cravings. The prominent symptom of a craving is the powerful desire to use your substance of choice. Other signs to watch for include:

  • Clammy or sweaty skin.
  • Inattentiveness.
  • Memory problems.

There are also triggers that may induce cravings, such as:

  • Being around people who use heroin or with whom you used heroin in the past.
  • Having extra money or getting paid.
  • Feeling anxious, depressed, or worried.

It is important to remember that cravings are normal and that they do not mean that you want to start using again. They’re just your body’s way of remembering what it was like to be high.

How to prevent cravings with medication

There are a number of medications that help to prevent cravings for heroin:

  • Methadone can be used for maintenance of heroin addiction and has been used this way successfully since the late 1970s. The majority of studies on methadone maintenance shows that it reduces narcotics-related deaths, heroin users’ involvement in crime and the spread of AIDS. It has also shown efficacy in helping users gain control of their lives.
  • Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic narcotic that has been approved for treatment of heroin use disorders after twelve years of research. While it is a newer (and therefore more unknown) drug, it tends to cause less respiratory depression and appears to be safer in the event of an overdose. Buprenorphine is also less addictive and produces fewer withdrawal symptoms than methadone, so discontinuing it is much easier.
  • Naltrexone blocks the effects of heroin (and other opioids) in the brain so that you cannot get high from using. This may help to prevent relapse, but it may not help with drug cravings.
  • Cortisol, a stress hormone, has been shown to decrease cravings by 25%. However, it is only effective in people who used heroin at lower levels. High-level users were unaffected.
  • L-alpha acetylmethadol or LAAM was approved in 1994 as a Schedule II drug for helping combat substance use disorders and cravings. It lasts longer than methadone, so someone would only need to come to a clinic three times a week to receive medication instead of every day. It produces no euphoric effects, but it can produce negative side-effects such as rashes, nausea, and heightened blood pressure, which can dissuade people from use.

Dealing with cravings in other ways

If you’d rather not use medication to combat cravings or if you feel like you’re ready to cope with cravings on your own, there are a few techniques to try:

Read the guide on relapse prevention here.

  • Distraction, or doing something else that gets your mind off the craving. This is generally something physical, like going for a walk, cleaning, or doing relaxation exercises. Making a list of distractions in advance can help you when cravings strike.
  • Talking about craving, or sharing your feelings of anxiety and vulnerability with your support system, whether that be friends, family, a sponsor, a therapist, or a medical professional. Be sure to choose a person or group of individuals who will be able to handle and understand your cravings without being overwhelmed by them.
  • Going with the craving, or allowing a craving to happen, peak, and pass. This helps people with substance use disorders to feel more in control of their cravings when they occur.
  • Recalling negative consequences, or making a list (mental or physical) of the reasons you want to live a heroin-free life or the difficulties and problems that arose from using.
  • Using self-talk, or challenging automatic thoughts such as “I’ll die if I don’t use” and normalizing cravings with new thoughts such as “this is an uncomfortable experience, but many people go through it, and I can deal with it, too.”

Preventing relapse therapeutically

There are a couple of different types of therapy that have been proven effective when dealing with heroin use disorders and cravings for heroin.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps users deal with stressors without using drugs, identify and change behaviors and ways of thinking that may lead to negative consequences, find their personal motivation to change, and develop ways to refuse heroin if it is offered in the future.

Contingency management exchanges vouchers for negative drug tests. The vouchers can be saved and exchanged for items that promote healthy living.

Overall, heroin withdrawal and cravings can be difficult, but with the right medication, therapeutic techniques, and coping mechanisms, they can be dealt with easily and effectively. If you feel that you have a problem with heroin use, feel free to call a heroin hotline to get help today.

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Blocking and preventing heroin cravings
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