As with any drug addiction, the first step to recovery is to seek help at a facility qualified to treat not only the immediate symptoms of heroin withdrawal but the ongoing issues as well, issues that can last months and even years. It’s in fact vital to seek professional help: heroin addiction recovery and relapse statistics show that only about 35 percent of addicts successfully complete outpatient therapies, while more than 65 percent achieve lasting recovery in an inpatient setting.
Heroin addiction treatment drugs are often a major component of and the first step towards recovery for the user, and have be honed over many decades because heroin abuse has been so prevalent for so long. The two basic types of medications include agonists—which activate the opioid receptors that typically shut down when heroin is suddenly withdrawn—and antagonists—which block those receptors to interfere with the “rewarding” effects heroin provides.
Perhaps the most well-known medication for heroin withdrawal is methadone, a slow-acting agonist that is taken orally on a daily basis. Used since the 1960s, methadone helps prevent many of the common withdrawal symptoms addicts experience by slowly easing the brain off the high heroin produces. Another oral medication, in use for less than 15 years, is Buprenorphine, which relieves the intense cravings addicts can expect to occur. Naltrexone, on the other hand, blocks the effects opioids such as heroin have on the brain, and can administered once a month.
However, research into heroin addiction clearly demonstrates that combining these medications with behavioral treatments is by far the best course of action to prevent a relapse and help the addict achieve lasting recovery. Behavioral therapy most often takes a cognitive approach to treatment by helping modify the addict’s ability to cope with the various stress triggers of everyday life. During cognitive therapy, many recovering addicts are taught to use physical activities such as hiking, swimming and yoga as an outlet to relieve stress, alongside one-on-one counseling as well as group therapy sessions where addicts can share both their fears of addiction as well as their expectations for recovery and a return to a healthy and happy lifestyle.
As with so many drug problems family support for the heroin addict is vital to recovery, and therefore family members are encouraged to attend specific therapy programs that can help them deal with the changes in dynamics that occurred as a result of their loved one’s addiction. And often, it’s this support from those closest to the addict that can make the difference in the chances of a relapse or achieving a life free of heroin’s devastating consequences.