What is Heroin?
At the beginning of the heroin addiction recovery process, the addict checks into a formal detoxification program. During the next several days, the addict’s body expels the drug, and the addict learns to adjust to life without heroin. At the end of detoxification, the heroin addict is considered “clean.” This doesn’t mean, however, that the addict can be considered fully rid of addiction concerns. In fact, if the addict doesn’t enter a formal treatment program to help deal with the basis of the addiction, relapse is quite likely. A study published in the Chinese Journal of Drug Dependence makes this relapse risk quite clear. Researchers found that, of those who completed a detoxification program without a rehabilitation program, 97.89 percent relapsed to heroin use within one year. In fact, 21.79 relapsed within three days of leaving detoxification units.
Formal rehabilitation programs can help to turn these numbers around.
While detoxification programs can help an addict deal with the chemical changes caused by addiction and heroin withdrawal, heroin rehabilitation programs can help the addict learn how to manage cravings, develop healthy relationships and rebuild the life that has been devastated by the addiction. In short, these programs can provide the help the addict needs to truly recover.
An inpatient heroin rehab program is the most widely recognized form of therapy. Here, the addict enters the program of his or her own free will, and agrees to abide by a specific set of rules and regulations regarding conduct. It’s a bit like taking a vacation from the outside world and real life, allowing the addict to escape from his or her stresses and triggers so the addict can focus on only one thing: conquering the addiction. It can be a powerful, and transformative, experience.
In the past, residential treatment was the dominant, if not the only, method used for heroin addiction rehabilitation. However, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many insurance programs won’t pay for this form of treatment, and as a result, other options have been created. For example, there are some heroin rehab programs that allow the addict to live at home while undergoing treatment. Some programs require daily therapy sessions, while others are much less restrictive and offer weekly or even monthly attendance. In most cases, these outpatient programs require the addict to submit urine samples before each session, just to make sure the addict hasn’t reverted to heroin use once more.
These outpatient heroin rehabilitation programs can take place in a variety of settings, including:
- Therapeutic communities
- Community mental health clinics
- Local health department offices
- Private psychiatrists’ offices
Choosing between an inpatient and an outpatient program can be difficult. In general, people who do not have strong family support or who have other mental or physical conditions that should be addressed do best in an inpatient program. Those who can lean on friends and family for support, and who have no other conditions that play a role, can succeed in outpatient programs. This is a decision that should be made in consultation with the addict’s doctor.
At Rehab International, we can also provide assistance as we work with a large network of treatment facilities.
We can outline what each program can do and help families make an informed choice. Call us today to find out more.
In order to be truly effective, a heroin rehab program needs to be tailored and customized to meet the needs of that particular patient at that particular time. Addiction rehabilitation programs don’t use a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, addiction staff truly tries to understand the medical history of the addict and come up with programs that can help that addict recover. In order to do this tailoring, the addict will have to answer a series of questions about his or her heroin use and past history of detoxification and relapse. The counselor might also try to determine where the addict is living, whether or not the addict is working, and how easy it will be for the addict to get to and from a treatment center. These sorts of questions can help the therapist come up with an addiction treatment plan that will work.
Once this assessment is complete, the counselor develops a specific plan and shares it with the addict. The addict might be asked to sign a document, agreeing to the plan.
The plan might include the following components:
- Individual therapy
- Family therapy
- Support groups
People recovering from a heroin addiction often need to take specific medications for months or even years after they complete a detoxification program.
Heroin does long-term, significant damage to the brain and these medications are designed to mimic the effects of heroin, so the brain is allowed to function normally. Medications are sometimes provided to heroin addicts during detoxification programs. When they enter rehabilitation programs, they continue taking the drugs on the advice of their doctors. It’s important to stress that the addict is not substituting one addiction for another. These medications are considered therapies, used to treat a specific imbalance in the brain. They don’t provide any recreational benefit, and they are given under the advice and supervision of a doctor. They’re not considered recreational drugs.
For many years, methadone was the drug of choice for heroin addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methadone doesn’t cause any sort of intoxication. Instead, it simply fools the brain into believing that heroin is available in the bloodstream. As a result, the addict feels no symptoms of withdrawal, and is able to think clearly and focus on therapy. Methadone is often provided in liquid form, and it must be taken while the doctor watches. Often, addicts must take methadone every one to two days.
A new medication, known as buprenorphine, is also used to help heroin addicts heal.
Like methadone, buprenorphine fools the brain into believing heroin is available, but unlike methadone, buprenorphine is given in pill form. This means the addict can take home the medication and use it privately, instead of being asked to head to a specific clinic for a daily dose of the drug. It’s a more convenient way to provide relief. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) reports that buprenorphine is often given at a low dose at the beginning of treatment, and the dose is increased until the addict feels comfortable and free of side effects. If the patient and the doctor decide that the addict is strong enough to go without the medication, the process works in reverse, and the addict slowly takes smaller and smaller doses, under the doctor’s supervision.
Studies suggest that there is no real difference between these drugs in terms of efficacy. For example, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, methadone produced slightly fewer symptoms of withdrawal at the beginning of the treatment program, but by the end, no differences were seen. Once again, the addict’s doctor will need to make a final decision on which drugs to use based on the addict’s health and medical history, as the studies don’t seem to indicate a clear preference for one drug over another.
Medications are only half of the puzzle, when it comes to heroin rehabilitation. The addict needs to learn how to control his or her behavior in order to fend off a relapse, and therapy can make that behavior change more likely. Most addicts participate in some form of individual counseling, where they discuss why they believe they take drugs and why they’d like to stop doing so. In some sessions, they may discuss their frustrations and their cravings, and in other sessions they may discuss past hurts that seem to haunt them and make cravings for drugs grow stronger. Sometimes, the addict does a form of role-play, coming up with solutions to situations where he or she is tempted to use drugs. Some therapists even provide prizes to addicts when they reach sobriety milestones.
Therapy sessions may be difficult, but they can provide real help.
Addicts might also be asked to join support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous. According to SAMSHA, recovery takes place when an addict learns to make new friends and form healthy relationships with others. Support groups can facilitate those friendships. Here, the addict is surrounded by others who are not using heroin, but who understand what cravings feel like and why the drug is appealing. People who have never used heroin may simply not be able to relate to heroin cravings, but the addict may want and need to talk about struggling against those cravings. A support group is a perfect place to discuss those topics.
Families may also participate in counseling sessions with the addict.
A family has the ability to help an addict heal, so they must be involved in the addict’s care. By participating in counseling sessions as a group, they all learn more about addiction and how relationships can help or hinder healing.