5 Most Commonly Used Heroin Treatment Methods

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As one of the most potent illegal opiates in existence, heroin addictions have wreaked havoc and devastation in the lives of people from all walks of life. According to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Service Administration, the span between 2006 and 2013 saw first-time heroin rates double from 90,000 to 169,000. This trend continues as opiate addicts seek out stronger and stronger drug formulations.

Not surprisingly, the need for heroin treatment methods has grown. As heroin’s harmfull effects on the body and mind can vary from person-to-person, there’s a dire need for effective heroin treatment methods.

Considering how aggressively heroin all but destroys the brain’s ability to sustain normal bodily functioning, the sooner a person seeks out needed treatment help the better. Ultimately, the severity of any one person’s addiction determines which heroin treatment methods will work best.

Heroin’s Effects on the Body

Like most all opiates, heroin produces pain-relieving effects along with certain side effects, such as euphoria and calm. The drug’s side effect profile accounts for much of the destruction brought on by heroin and other opiate drug types.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin works by binding to mu-opioid receptors located throughout the brain and body. Normally, the body’s own mechanisms activate receptor sites, which in turn release neurotransmitter chemicals.

Heroin’s ability to activate these sites sets a series of chemical reactions in motion. Over time, heroin’s effects cause rampant chemical imbalances to take shape throughout the brain and body.

The chemical imbalances brought on by chronic heroin use eventually start to warp the areas of the brain that regulate learning, motivation and drive. These effects tap into a person’s thinking and emotions, altering his or her belief systems and priorities. At this point, the addiction cycle has taken root.

Heroin treatment methods address the physical and psychological aftereffects of addiction. In many cases, addicts require the use of multiple heroin treatment methods during different stages of the recovery process.

Screening & Assessment

Heroin Treatment Methods

Your treatment plan will be determined based upon your medical assessment.

The screening and assessment stage enables treatment providers to identify a person’s treatment needs and determine what heroin treatment methods will best address these needs. According to the University of Hawaii, a range of factors must be considered as addiction in and itself operates on multiple levels within a person’s life. Factors considered include:

  • A person’s health status
  • Psychological status
  • Length of drug use
  • Frequency of use
  • Motivation for treatment
  • Support network access

In general, the more severe the addiction, the more likely a person will benefit from multiple heroin treatment methods as different methods work to treat different aspects of addiction.

Heroin Treatment Methods

1. Detox Treatment

More than anything, the onset of withdrawal effects accounts for why it’s so hard to maintain abstinence from heroin for any length of time. Withdrawal symptoms can vary in severity and duration, with the worst of withdrawal lasting anywhere from one to two weeks.

Withdrawal symptoms usually take the form of:

  • Extreme agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Profuse sweating
  • Confused thinking
  • Random muscle aches and pains
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Drug cravings
  • Diarrhea

For these reasons, most anyone addicted to heroin will require some form of professional detox treatment to stop using the drug. More often than not, this heroin treatment method becomes a necessary first step in the recovery process.

2. Medication Treatments

In cases of severe withdrawal, medication treatments offer much needed relief as some symptoms can make the detox stage unbearable. In effect, medication treatments provide relief in different ways, which makes for one of the more versatile heroin treatment methods.

Clonidine, commonly used as a blood pressure lowing treatment, works well at relieving symptoms of agitation and lessening the severity of other symptoms as well. Methadone, another commonly used detox medication treatment, acts as a type of substitution therapy, mimicking the effects of heroin without producing a high effect.

Other medication-based heroin treatment methods used during detox:

  • Robaxin
  • Thorazine
  • Imodium A-D
  • Non-opiate analgesics

3. Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral-based heroin treatment methods address the psychological aftereffects of addiction on a person’s thinking and behaviors. In essence, addiction treatment doesn’t begin until a person starts working on the psychosocial, behavioral factors that drive drug use.

Both cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management work well at helping addicts understand the mechanisms that drive addiction-based behaviors and develop the types of thinking and behaviors that support ongoing abstinence. While cognitive-behavioral heroin treatment methods specifically work with a person’s thinking patterns or mindset, contingency management uses a positive reward system as a means for retraining a person’s behaviors.

4. Life Skills Training

As one of the more practical heroin treatment methods, life skills training provides recovering addicts with the tools for creating and maintaining stability in their daily lives. Life skills training also equips addicts with needed relapse prevention strategies for dealing with daily life stressors. This involves teaching a person to identify the cues that trigger drug-using behaviors and devise strategies for overcoming these urges. This heroin treatment method also stresses the importance of building a support system, which becomes a source of relief and guidance when the urge to use is overwhelming.

5. Methadone Maintenance

People coming off chronic, long-term heroin addictions may well experience the aftereffects of heroin for months or even years into the recovery process. In effect, the damage done to brain chemical processes takes considerably longer to heal and also places a person at high risk for relapse for the duration.

As one of the oldest heroin treatment methods, methadone maintenance works to “wean” addicts off the effects of heroin while supporting damaged brain chemical processes. According to Harvard Health Publications, methadone maintenance often becomes the treatment of last resort when other forms of treatment fail.


Heroin addiction essentially impairs brain function on both a physical and psychological level. Treating just the physical or psychological effects of addiction leaves a person susceptible to relapse and continued drug use.

While medication therapies can work wonders at relieving uncomfortable withdrawal and cravings effects, the psychological aspects of addiction remain well intact. Likewise, only addressing the addiction “mindset” leaves addicts to struggle with persistent withdrawal and cravings effects.

For this reason, the use of multiple heroin treatment methods offers addicts the best chance at a successful recovery process. Ideally, the combination of medication therapies and behavioral-based heroin treatment methods best equip addicts with the types of supports that make long-term abstinence possible.