Treatment for opioid and heroin addiction are similar in that medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is often used for both to help minimize withdrawal symptoms and curb the urge to use drugs.
When seeking treatment for heroin addiction, it’s important to choose a drug and alcohol treatment center that has a medical doctor on staff and a certified opioid treatment program that allows them to provide MAT.
Because of the severity of heroin addiction, you may experience symptoms such as:
Medication-Assisted Treatment for Heroin Addiction
There are several FDA-approved drugs used in treatment for heroin addiction—each designed to help alleviate the cravings for heroin and to lessen the withdrawal symptoms as a person is going through the detox process. Medication, in some cases, can also be used long-term for years to come.
Buprenorphine (commonly known as Subutex) reduces cravings for heroin and does not produce a high, so there’s less risk of becoming hooked on it; however, it can become habit-forming and can potentially be abused (injected).
Buprenorphine products are a mixture of buprenorphine and naloxone, the drug that helps reverse opioid overdose; however, not as strong as buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone alone.
Methadone has been used for more than 50 years in treatment for heroin addiction by making it impossible for a person to experience the associated high, plus it works well for those who don’t respond to other types of medications; still, it’s highly addictive and has to be carefully monitored in daily doses to prevent overdose.
Naltrexone, which also interferes with the person’s ability to experience anything pleasurable about using heroin, is a drug that is nonaddictive; the more long-acting versions of the drug seem to be more effective in terms of compliance among users.
Medication-assisted treatment for heroin addiction is also approved for pregnant women. Using heroin during pregnancy leads to neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a condition in which the baby is addicted to heroin. Medication-assisted treatment during pregnancy may help the baby have milder symptoms and recover after birth.
Behavioral Therapy Treatment for Heroin Addiction
In addition to medication for physical withdrawal, heroin addiction treatment further involves therapy—a critical ingredient to success—and learning new habits and behaviors to help prevent relapse. Heroin, in particular, has a very high relapse rate. Still, as with any other addiction disorder, it’s important to address any underlying trauma or mental health issues (dual-diagnosis: mental health/substance use disorder) and cultivate a new lifestyle that doesn’t include people and places where heroin use takes place.
We also have relapse prevention therapists who are specially trained to help people with heroin addiction recognize relapse thought patterns and behaviors. Instead of repeating the same negative behavior, the person with heroin addiction is newly prepared with a relapse prevention plan to disrupt the cycle of relapse and have an increased likelihood of long-term success.
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