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Heroin Addiction Treatment

Written By
Chris Elkins, M.A.
This page features
7 Cited Research Articles

Heroin addiction is a chronic disease that’s associated with high rates of relapse. Treatment for heroin addiction can help you overcome withdrawal, learn how to prevent relapse and find resources to begin a successful life in recovery.

Treatment for heroin addiction isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. You can begin your recovery by detoxing from the drug or by taking maintenance medications. You can receive counseling and therapy at an outpatient facility or at a residential rehab center.

Depending on the severity of your addiction, treatment may last several months or several years.

Regardless of the type of heroin treatment center that you attend, some form of rehab is usually required to quit using heroin for good. Few people are able to recover from the disease on their own, but many people who attend rehab recover from heroin addiction.


Detox is usually the first phase of treatment for heroin addiction. During heroin detox, you’ll overcome physical dependence on the drug. Dependence is one of the physical side effects of heroin use. It’s associated with cravings and withdrawal.

Withdrawal from heroin is one of the biggest barriers to recovery. Without treatment, withdrawal is so uncomfortable that most people can’t imagine getting through it.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle ache
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea

During inpatient detox, nurses and therapists will monitor you and help you feel as comfortable as possible. They may provide medications, such as clonidine, to ease some symptoms of heroin withdrawal, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Patients may also receive a medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone or buprenorphine, to help them taper off of heroin. This type of detox is referred to as medically supervised withdrawal. It may be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis.

Maintenance Treatment

Some people who are severely addicted to heroin are poor candidates for heroin detox. They have a high risk of relapse during the counseling phase of treatment. For these people, maintenance medication can lower the risk of relapse during counseling, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Maintenance medications such as methadone and buprenorphine ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings. People who are maintained on methadone or buprenorphine can function normally and have a low risk of heroin relapse.

While they’re taking a maintenance medication, they can attend counseling and therapy. They can learn to live without heroin. They can find a job, go to school and form healthy relationships with people who don’t use heroin.

Once they have a stable history of sobriety from heroin, they can taper off of the maintenance medication.

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Counseling and Therapy

Detox and maintenance medications treat the physical symptoms of drug addiction. Counseling and therapy treat the psychological and behavioral symptoms.

Many people relapse after heroin detox because they don’t know how to maintain sobriety. Without therapy, they may not know how to cope with cravings. Trauma, stress or other types of triggers can also lead to relapse. Therapy helps people overcome these obstacles.

Types of therapy used to treat heroin addiction include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Contingency management
  • Community reinforcement plus vouchers

Therapy also helps people recovering from heroin addiction recognize and understand their dysfunctional behaviors. It teaches them strategies to overcome difficult situations without resorting to drug use. It also provides positive reinforcement for healthy behaviors.

What Happens After Treatment

Heroin treatment shouldn’t end when you leave a residential rehab facility. You should continue to attend outpatient therapy until you and your therapist agree that you’re ready to quit attending therapy.

People who go to support group meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous, Heroin Anonymous or other recovery groups, tend to have more success than people who don’t access support resources.

If you’re on maintenance medication, talk to your doctor about the best time and method for tapering off the medication. Discontinuing methadone or buprenorphine abruptly may cause withdrawal symptoms and cravings that increase the risk of relapse.

Overall, it’s important to always remember the lessons that you learn during heroin addiction treatment. Maintaining recovery may be easier as time passes, but you should never let your guard down.

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