Heroin is a synthetic opioid illegal in most places in the world. Heroin works the same way as prescription opioids by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain.
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How is Heroin Addiction Treated?
At first, the effects of heroin use feel good. However, over time, the euphoria fades. People start using heroin to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Heroin addiction can be difficult to treat, and some people need rehab to treat the addiction successfully. During the initial stages of rehab, withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable and this is part of the reason why heroin users seek out and continue using the drug.
After the initial detox, symptoms may become milder but might last for months or years. Different treatments are necessary to help with side effects and cravings:
- Pharmacological Treatments: Prescription drug treatments treat symptoms of withdrawal and symptoms of opioid use disorder (OUD).
- Behavioral Therapy: Two popular forms of behavioral treatment are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management (CM). CBT is similar to standard therapy and focuses on modifying expectations and behaviors related to drug use. CM is less common and is a voucher system where people are rewarded items or prizes based on clean urine drug screens.
- Combination Therapy: A combination of pharmacological and behavioral therapy. Most people will need a combination of these types of therapies.
Types of Rehab for Heroin Addiction
There are four main heroin treatment options available: inpatient, outpatient, residential rehab and teletherapy.
Inpatient Rehab for Heroin Abuse
Inpatient rehab is in a facility where people live and undergo heroin detox and withdrawal. Medical providers provide medical and therapy services around the clock. The patient’s time is structured to support the healing process.
Inpatient rehab provides treatment for every area of people’s lives while they are recovering from an addiction. Inpatient rehab may involve:
- Balanced diet: Meals are designed to provide the nutrients absent from a typical diet during addiction. People recovering from heroin crave high sugar and fat foods. An inpatient rehab diet is designed to avoid the weight gain that comes with heroin addiction recovery.
- Build healthy habits: Besides healthy eating, rehab creates new habits around exercise, hobbies and free time. Treating the addiction leaves a vacuum, especially if the drug was associated with social activities. That space must be filled with healthy hobbies to prevent setbacks.
- Community: Other residents in rehab understand what one another other is going through. Other residents help provide social support.
- Establish healthy boundaries Living with an OUD means healthy boundaries may not exist. Rehab helps build boundaries and tools to maintain them after discharge.
- Medical support: When detox is life-threatening, medical staff are trained to handle and treat these situations.
- Remove negative influences: Drug use and addiction are often heavily influenced by association. The people that a person uses drugs with can sabotage treatment and separation from these influences is critical.
- Structure: Inpatient rehab provides a daily and weekly structure that helps foster recovery.
Outpatient Rehab for Heroin Abuse
Outpatient treatment requires a high level of trust between the patient and the doctor. Most doctors will only agree to outpatient treatment if they know the patient well. Outpatient rehab includes pharmacological treatments, behavioral, treatments or a combination of both. Speak with your doctor to see if outpatient treatment is right for you or your loved one.
Residential Rehab for Heroin Abuse
Residential rehab blends inpatient and outpatient heroin treatment programs. For this type of treatment, patients live in a facility with access to medical and psychiatric care. However, people can leave and attend jobs, school, or fulfill their obligations. Residential treatment allows people to remove negative influences in their life that encourage drug and alcohol abuse while letting them continue to fulfill their roles.
Teletherapy for Heroin Abuse
With advances in technology, online counseling, telehealth and teletherapy services are becoming more common and effective forms of mental health treatment. Addiction treatments were once restricted to in-person meetings, but can now happen anytime and anywhere with a reliable internet connection. The Recovery Village offers teletherapy treatment for those who are struggling from substance abuse and mental health issues.
Dual Diagnosis Treatments
Dual diagnoses are treated differently than a standalone SUD because together, they are more complex than the diagnoses alone. Sometimes a mental health diagnosis triggers a SUD, but less often the SUD can trigger a mental health problem.
Types of Therapies to Expect During Rehab
Therapists use different types of therapy depending on their training and the needs of the patient. The most widely known therapy is CBT, but other examples of potential therapy types include:
- 12-step facilitation therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Community reinforcement approach (CRA)
- Contingency management (CM)
- Family behavior therapy (FBT)
- Motivational enhancement therapy (MET)
- Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT)
Group therapy is composed of a therapist and several individual members. Common types of therapy within a group setting are CBT and REBT. In group therapy, the therapist begins the discussion with a positive statement and each member contributes throughout the session. Group therapy can improve a person’s confidence in social situations while giving them a positive outlet for treating their heroin addiction.
Individual therapy is beneficial for people who need a more targeted approach or their situation is unique. Engaging therapy 1-on-1 can be more accessible to people with severe anxiety in social situations.
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Drugs Used in Heroin Rehab
During the first period of rehab, a person goes through detox and withdrawal. Detox is the period when the drug is leaving the body, and since heroin metabolizes very quickly, detox may be finished by the time rehab starts.
Immediately after and sometimes during detox, withdrawal symptoms will start. Many drug therapies in rehab are targeted at easing the symptoms of withdrawal. Some heroin treatment drugs include:
- Cravings: clonidine is used to manage opioid and heroin cravings.
- Diarrhea: loperamide is the main drug used for diarrhea. Rarely other drugs might be chosen if loperamide is not effective.
- Nausea/Vomiting: ondansetron is useful for preventing nausea and promethazine treats nausea after vomiting.
- Pain: non-opioid medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen can be used to help manage pain.
After the initial withdrawal symptoms subside, sometimes doctors prescribe medications to treat the OUD. These medications alleviate cravings and withdrawal symptoms after the initial detox.
- Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine activates opioid receptors to stop withdrawal, but it also prevents heroin from working. Heroin will not feel as good when people use buprenorphine.
- Methadone: Methadone activates the same opioid receptors as heroin, but gives less euphoria. Methadone breaks down slowly and lasts five days in the body, while heroin lasts only 30 minutes.
- Naltrexone: Naltrexone blocks opioid receptors completely, so using heroin will not get people high.
How Long Is Heroin Rehab?
Rehab’s length depends on each person. Rehab can last anywhere from a week to several months, but it will depend on how well the addiction responds to treatment. People with longer addictions and more severe withdrawal symptoms will likely stay longer.
Ongoing Recovery for Heroin Addiction
A good rehab facility has ongoing treatment support in the community. They might be part of a large health-system with outpatient follow-up. Alternatively, they may have strong relationships with other outpatient treatment centers and providers.
Heroin addiction treatment does not stop when people leave rehab. Treatment can be lifelong, and follow-up is critical for success.
How to Find the Right Rehab for Heroin Addiction
Pick a heroin rehab center for your loved one based on their needs. Consider the following factors when researching what to look for in a treatment facility:
- Credentials of the center and doctors
- Follow-up support
- Treatment Approach
If you or a loved one are considering heroin treatment centers, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative who can get you started with the treatment process. Personalized treatment programs work toward securing a healthier future for yourself or your loved one. Long-term sobriety is possible, call today.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What Are the Treatments for Heroin Use Disorder?” 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Behavioral Therapies.” 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Opioid Overdose Crisis.” 2019. Accessed May 29, 2019.
MedlinePlus. “Dual Diagnosis.” 2018. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Petry, Nancy M. “Contingency Management: What It Is and Why Psychiatrists Should Want to Use It.” The Psychiatrist, 2011. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Psychiatric Services. “An Integrated Treatment Model for Dual Diagnosis of Psychosis and Addiction | Psychiatric Services.”. 2010. Accessed May 29, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
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