Last updated: 04/30/2019
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Heroin addiction recovery takes time and motivation, but it also requires professional treatment. There are actually several methods that can be employed to help you create an effective and long-term recovery, and some may be used together to form a treatment program that suits your needs.
1. Methadone Maintenance Treatment (MMT)
According to the National Institute of Justice, MMT is “a medication-assisted treatment for individuals with opioid dependence.” Patients are given daily doses of methadone that minimizes withdrawal symptoms, reduces cravings, and blocks the opioid receptors in the brain so the patient can live their daily lives. The drug does not cause euphoria when dosed properly, and because it can potentially be abused, it is dispensed only through highly regulated treatment clinics.
Many people start out on MMT because heroin can cause such a severe dependence syndrome. Over time, they may be weaned off methadone or stay on it indefinitely. As such, it is a helpful long-term solution for recovery.
2. Buprenorphine Maintenance
Buprenorphine maintenance works similarly to MMT but patients who take the former drug are often those with less severe dependencies. A person could switch from methadone to buprenorphine over time and may want to because buprenorphine can be prescribed at a doctor’s office and taken home instead of only dispensed through a clinic.
Buprenorphine is a highly available, pharmacological treatment method, especially when compared to methadone (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). A person can also stay on this drug for a prolonged period of time, keeping them from experiencing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
3. Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps patients change their beliefs and attitudes toward heroin abuse as well as their actions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the program does this by teaching patients “a range of different skills that can be used to stop drug abuse and to address a range of other problems that often co-occur with it.”
A patient in CBT learns how to recognize patterns in their thoughts and behavior that are unhealthy and to replace these with new ones. Because the program helps change the way patients learn, they begin to think about their substance abuse in a different way and start to employ better coping mechanisms. This therapeutic program has been found highly effective for long-term recovery from many different drugs, including heroin specifically.
4. Contingency Management
Contingency management focuses on retraining the brain as well, but instead, helps to reverse the changes made to the reward pathway. When a person becomes addicted to drugs, their brain begins to crave the high of the drug over anything else, and contingency management helps patients work on wanting better, healthier things.
A drug test is performed, and if the patient’s test comes back negative, they receive a reward. In some cases, it may be a voucher for a service or product that is contingent with a drug-free lifestyle (groceries, movie tickets, etc.), and in others, it could be a drawing for a cash prize. Rewards get better every time they present a negative test. If the individual’s test comes back positive, they have to start over with the lowest tier reward. And because this therapy can be used in outpatient care and over as long of a period of time as necessary, it can be very helpful to long-term recovery.
5. Narcotics Anonymous
Though not considered a traditional treatment option, Narcotics Anonymous, or NA, is a 12-step support group where individuals can attend meetings and go through a highly structured process as they recover from heroin abuse. An individual can attend NA while in treatment or after their treatment has ended. And with the help of its structured steps and ability to increase one’s social support network, members often stay sober by either staying involved indefinitely or attending meetings when they need to.