Treatments For Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is an unpredictable, complex disease that affects millions of people every year. Fortunately, there are several options that have proven successful in treatments for heroin addiction and maintaining sober living. As identified by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment may include: 

  • Medication
  • Behavior counseling
  • Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • Long-term follow-up to prevent relapse

The most successful treatment is the use and progression of all of these, as needed. A complete treatment program begins with drug detoxification, followed by residential rehabilitation, outpatient care, and drug addiction and recovery services. Each of these phases of treatment builds upon each other to equal a year-long program focused on reaching and maintaining sobriety. 

Phase One: Detox 

Detox is the period of time when all drugs and toxins are eliminated from the body and physical health is restored. The timeline generally lasts seven to ten days, depending on the severity of your drug addiction. In this phase, heroin withdrawal symptoms manifest, which are painful and intense. Under the care of a medically managed program, medication such as methadone or suboxone may be used to assist with the severity of symptoms and cravings. 

It’s recommended to go through this phase in the care of a treatment facility that can monitor your body’s reactions and provide support day and night. Fighting against the withdrawal symptoms often lead to relapse when trying to detox alone. Going through the process in a safe and secure place will make it as comfortable as possible and allow you to progress to the next phase of care.

Phase Two: Residential Rehabilitation

Once you’ve resumed a stabilized physical and mental state, the next phase of treatment for opioid addiction can begin. Residential rehab at Northbound Treatment assigns an interdisciplinary team to collaborate with you about a course of action for your individual needs and care. This team is made up of licensed psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and advisors, all focused on your success.

They implement evidence-based practices, therapies, and educational opportunities to guide your healing. Since men and women are impacted differently, there are gender-specific treatment options for heroin addiction, which research has shown encourages people to stay in treatment longer and have better outcomes. A typical day of residential treatment includes morning meditation, meal time, group therapy and activities, physical exercise, free time, and planned experiential outings. The importance of a set schedule is amplified to focus the mind on staying busy and feeling balanced in the present moment. 

Additionally, there’s the option of a faith-focused recovery program, LINKS, that’s based on the best practices of addiction medicine and the principles of Christianity. It does not have a religious affiliation, but rather offers a specialized program for those who wish to progress in their healing while strengthening their relationship with God and their beliefs. Faith is a strong motivation during the recovery period and LINKS provide spiritual support as part of this process.

Phase Three: Intensive Outpatient Care

The ideal length of time of residential rehab is three months before intensive outpatient treatment for heroin addiction begins. This level of care is for those who have a safe and sober environment where they can live and maintain sobriety without residential treatment. In some cases, people who may have previously completed an addiction recovery program seek outpatient treatment to prevent relapse. Either way, participants must be safely detoxed before attending any sessions. 

In this phase of care, there is flexible scheduling to work around a person’s real-life needs. Outpatient therapy is designed to help clients build the tools and strategies necessary to reach a sustainable, balanced lifestyle in long-term recovery. This program also allows anyone who has mental health concerns to incorporate this healing into their treatment as well. After working with your clinical team, you’ll create a schedule that includes at least nine service hours per week and is aligned with your set goals.

Outpatient care involves individual and group therapy, psychoeducation, recreational and experiential activities, as well as participation in a specialized program, such as Collegebound®, Careerbound®, Music Therapy, or Trauma Program. It’s during this level of long-term recovery where you build added confidence and motivation as you progress.

Phase Four: Addiction Support Services

Following three months of residential treatment and five months of intensive outpatient care, the typical commitment for addiction support services is four months or longer to equal a continuous year of sobriety. This level of support helps to ensure prolonged success even after treatments for heroin addiction is complete. It provides you with the planning, resources, and support to achieve your next steps.

Through addiction support services, participants learn how to maintain a sober lifestyle, avoid temptation, promote healthy habits, and obtain a life balance for the long-term. Some of the services last as little as thirty minutes, which makes it manageable to work into a daily schedule. There is ongoing support available through 12-step meetings and sober living houses for anyone who requires a transition back into the world post-treatment. 

Each phase of care is equally important to the recovery journey because it covers the physical, mental, and psychological aspects of recovering from addiction. If addiction was once the norm, it takes time to learn to live without it, as harmful as it is. This requires time, counseling, education, and reflection, which is built into this complete curriculum of care.

What to Expect During Treatment

No two experiences of treatment are exactly alike since each person is on their own separate journey. In terms of what to expect, there is a solid foundation of treatments for heroin addiction and best practices in place to support you at all times. With a team of specialists and therapists on your side, you can create a plan that works best for your needs. There may be months or phases of care that are more difficult than others. You may experience setbacks or unproductive days. Relapse is also a common concern among clients as well. 

This is all normal and part of healing. If relapse occurs, this doesn’t signify a failure in the recovery process, but rather an opportunity to get back on track right away before allowing addiction to take hold of you again. Treatment is therapeutic, beneficial, but also challenging as it uncovers deep-rooted issues linked to your addiction. With each phase of care, you’ll become stronger, more confident, and have more clarity about what you need for your health to support a sober, happy lifestyle.

Through therapy, you’ll learn about the root cause of your addiction and its triggers. By understanding where it stems from, it will better guide the strategies and tools to combat them or eliminate them when they appear down the road. 

Knowing When to Seek Help

There is no set timeline or event that occurs which automatically makes a person believe they’ve become addicted. However, there are signs of heroin addiction that make it clear that it’s time to turn to the assistance of others. Drastic changes in your physical appearance and state of mind are ways that illustrate how heroin has affected you. Some of the main symptoms include:

  • Constricted pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Slow breathing
  • Itching
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Memory loss

Heroin addiction can also lead to overdose and other dangerous health events, such as a heart attack or stroke. It affects your relationships with others by taking control over how you feel and act. When the body becomes addicted to heroin, you’ll experience painful withdrawal symptoms of the initial stages of detoxification. This is the body’s perception that it needs drugs to function. 

Facing the reality of these symptoms is difficult to accept. Denial, anger, and apathy are all part of the way addiction messes with your brain. However, if you feel like heroin has taken control of our life in any way, seek the help of a treatment facility and decide what’s best based on what you’re experiencing. You may possibly need the support of outpatient care rather than residential rehab. This is determined with the aid of the care team assigned to your treatment.

Benefiting From The Continuum of Care

The various phases of treatment for heroin addiction are designed to work together to provide you full treatment programs that you can build upon to create a life of balance and sustainable sobriety. In the beginning phase of heroin detox, your body is starting to become adjusted to a new way of feeling. Though stabilized, it’s likely still weak and may not be quite ready to jump to the last phase of treatment immediately after. Each part is specific in its teachings and support to make you stronger every day. 

Recovery is a journey that doesn’t have a set timeline or stops along the way. While there is an outline of everything should unfold, you may encounter setbacks or stay in one phase of care a little longer to maximize its therapeutic benefits. Each program at a treatment center is designed with your long-term well-being in mind because there are no quick fixes to addiction recovery. Healing takes time and patience, but sobriety and peace can be part of your future if you want it to be. 

Sources: 

  1. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/signs-heroin-addiction

Article Reviewed by Paul Alexander

Paul AlexanderPaul Alexander is the founder and CEO of Northbound Treatment. He received his Certified Addiction Treatment Specialist training at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, CA, and was awarded Outstanding Alumni Service Award in 2002. Paul holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Criminology, Law and Society, Summa Cum Laude, from University of California, Irvine, and a Juris Doctorate degree from Loyola Law School of Los Angeles. He believes wholeheartedly in transformational leadership, organizational health and effective, fully integrated substance use disorder treatment.

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