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. In the past, the only medication used for heroin addiction was methadone—a highly addictive substance itself—whereas now there are several medications available depending on a person’s health history as well as their individual drug experience and patterns of behavior.
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Heroin detox with lighter symptoms
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 has a certified opioid treatment program that allows them to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Many people prefer an inpatient detox environment where you’ll have medical as well as psychological and emotional support throughout the detox process. Medication-assisted treatment can help minimize the harsh effects of withdrawal symptoms. Under medical supervision, your care providers will also ensure your safety as the drug leaves your body during the first days and weeks of detox.
Because of the severity of heroin addiction, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Bone pain
- Cold flashes
- Muscle cramping
Nausea, restlessness, sneezing and general weakness are also common withdrawal symptoms from heroin as are depression and insomnia (inability to sleep).
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 become hooked on it; however, can become habit-forming and can potentially be abused (injected)
- Suboxone – which is 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. Getting medication-assisted treatment in pregnancy may help the baby have milder symptoms and recovery after birth. (Substance abuse treatment for pregnant women at Mirmont Treatment Center is available for pregnant women up to 36 weeks pregnant for detox and medication-assisted treatment along with carefully coordinated OB/GYN care with our clinical partner.)
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 of new habits and behaviors to help prevent relapse. Heroin in particular has a very high relapse rate, but 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.
Another important aspect in treatment for heroin addiction is being able to cope with stressful life events without needing to get high. Evidence-based practices such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), for example, have become integral to the work we do here at Mirmont Treatment Center, helping patients live in the present moment—not just one day at a time, but one moment at a time.
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.