Heroin is a powerful illegal drug that is directly involved in the deaths of thousands every year in the U.S. Heroin has an extremely high potential for abuse and dependence. Once addiction sets in, it usually requires a comprehensive approach to effectively treat the condition, prevent relapse, and maintain long-term sobriety.
Due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms, people who are addicted to heroin usually begin treatment by undergoing a medically-assisted detox.
Medical Detox and Ultra-Rapid Detox
Heroin withdrawal symptoms, on average, onset within 12 hours of the last dose, peak in intensity from 48-72 hours, and last for one week. While heroin withdrawal is rarely life-threatening, the detox period can be exceedingly challenging to endure.
Medical detox programs often use medications to decrease the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and monitor individuals 24/7 to ensure they are safe and as comfortable as possible.
In some instances, people choose to undergo an ultra-rapid detox, in which they are placed under anesthesia and given medications that accelerate the withdrawal process. In theory, these individuals will awaken from the anesthesia having escaped the worst of the withdrawal symptoms while unconscious and are ready to move forward in recovery after a day or two.
In reality, however, ultra-rapid detox can be life-threatening. In contrast, a typical medical detox is rarely dangerous (and also less expensive.) Also, ultra-rapid detox isn’t usually followed up by behavioral therapy or continued support, so those who leave detox and reenter the outside world are particularly susceptible to relapse.
Psychotherapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, have been clinically-proven to be beneficial in helping people overcome opioid addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an extremely popular evidence-based treatment that teaches those new to recovery techniques for achieving and maintaining abstinence.
During psychotherapy, individuals learn which environmental factors place them at risk of relapse and how to avoid “triggers” whenever possible. Likewise, people are given strategies for overcoming temptation that will, at some point, inevitably occur.
Behavioral therapies require little except motivation, active participation in the therapeutic process, and effective implementation of the techniques learned.
Many of those in recovery from heroin addiction find that participation in support groups, such as 12-step programs (e.g., Narcotics Anonymous), can be very beneficial. People who attend these meetings on a regular basis have access to a substance-free social support system. They can make friendships and share experiences with others who are also sober and understand the challenges they are encountering.
Some people in recovery find Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) helpful, but there are other options for support groups. Meetings are free, readily available in most urban areas, and can complement a more comprehensive recovery program.
Experiential therapies allow individuals to express themselves and bond with others in a variety of ways in a group setting. These include, but are not limited to, art and music therapy, adventure and wilderness therapy, equine therapy, and gardening.
The purpose of these activities is to allow people to practice some of the techniques they are learning in treatment using creative enterprises or stimulating physical challenges. The bounds of what one can learn during experiential therapies are nearly endless.
For example, in art therapy, people may be asked to create an artistic piece that they believe best describes themselves, their life, or their addiction. There is no right or wrong way or any gauging of creative talent in these cases. Instead, they are meant to be honest expressions that, in truth, often turn out to be very insightful. Furthermore, such insights are usually identified and explained by a trained art therapy instructor in front of the group. The result is often an eye-opening experience for both the artist and those present.
What Is Best for You?
The best form of treatment is one that meets the individual’s needs and has the best chance of being effective. No one method is going to be best for everyone. However, in general, most people seem to have the best success when they undergo medical detox followed by behavioral therapy and other integrated treatment components, such as participation in support groups and counseling.
Overcoming an addiction to heroin is no doubt challenging. However, it can and has been done by countless numbers of individuals. Whatever path to sobriety you choose, understand that it will take time and concerted effort—there are no quick or easy fixes.
Research has shown that people who stay actively involved in treatment for at least a year have a higher likelihood of staying abstinent long-term. Receiving a combination of long-term residential treatment followed by outpatient treatment and continuing aftercare is a great start.
Comprehensive, individualized addiction treatment can help you reclaim your life, free from heroin forever! Contact us as soon as possible to find out how we can help you begin your path to long-lasting recovery!