Heroin Addiction Treatments

Heroin is one of the most abused substances in the United States. Learn more about treatments in this article. 

What is Heroin?

Heroin is an addictive drug made from morphine, which is found naturally in certain opium poppy plants. It can appear in many different forms, either as a powder or a sticky, sap-like substance and can be white, brown, or black. It is an extremely addictive drug, but heroin addiction treatments are available. 

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How Addictive is Heroin?

Due to heroin’s ability to reduce pain and elicit feelings of euphoria, it is a highly addictive substance that can cause dependency. Addiction can occur before substance abuse becomes a regular occurrence and can result in various medical emergencies.

Drug Class

As a derivative of morphine, heroin is classified as an opioid. Opioids can either be natural, like heroin, or synthetic, such as fentanyl. While not all opioids are illegal—in fact, many opioids such as oxycodone are useful in a medical setting for alleviating pain—many types are.

Opioids work to alleviate pain by interacting with receptors on nerve cells in the body, specifically in the brain. As a result, heroin effects can include  

Due to their pain-relieving qualities and ability to produce euphoria, they are commonly abused. In 2019, 49,860 overdose deaths were caused by opioids.2
Many of these opioids were heroin overdoses

Drug Schedule

Heroin is a Schedule I substance. Substances that fall into this category included ecstasy, marijuana, and dozens of other substances. Those categorized into Schedule I have been deemed to have no accepted medical use in the United States.

Due to their addictivity and impact on the brain and body, Schedule I substances have an increased risk for causing the development of addiction or a substance use disorder. 

Street Names

There are many street names for heroin. Some of these include 

Many of these heroin street names are derived from how the substance is abused, which includes smoking heroin and snorting heroin. 

Treatment for Heroin Addiction

Heroin Addiction treatment

Heroin addiction can be dangerous and can increase the risk of medical emergencies such as seizures, coma, and overdose. However, there are many forms of heroin addiction treatment available that can provide multifaceted recovery. By addressing both the causes, effects, and sources of addiction, treatment can help promote a healthier lifestyle. 


Drug detox is the first and one of the most important aspects of heroin addiction treatment. Drug detox, or detoxification, is a period of rest in which the body is allowed to metabolize and process any traces of the substance left from the last dosages.

While it is important in seeking long-term recovery, drug detox should be undergone in a medical setting. Not only does it have the potential to be dangerous, but it also can result in withdrawal. Heroin withdrawal is a series of symptoms that occurs as the body reverts to its natural chemistry, which often requires a drop in dopamine and other elevated chemicals.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT, is a form of treatment often used simultaneously with therapy to address the symptoms of substance use disorder and withdrawal while providing the tools for long-term care.

Heroin withdrawal can cause severe physical and psychological disciform that can make recovery difficult. MAT is designed to address these concerns without aggravating the condition, resulting in an improved rate of recovery.

Medicines such as buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone are used to treat opioid use disorders specifically. These substances reduce heroin withdrawal symptoms while also negating many heroin effects that lead to its abuse. 


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most popular therapies utilized in the treatment of substance use disorders. Like many forms of therapy, CBT is designed to provide new perspectives and coping mechanisms that aid in the success of long-term recovery and treatment of a substance use disorder.

Substance use disorders can impact how the brain perceives certain situations and interactions, and CBT can be beneficial for correcting these potentially harmful pathways. 

How Long Will It Take to Get Through Detox?

The drug detox timeline depends on many factors both pertaining to the individual as well as the substance abused. 

Type of Substance

Certain substances will have a different chemical makeup, meaning that they may have the potential to last longer in the body.

Heroin detoxification depends partly on the half-life of the substance. A half-life is the amount of time it takes for exactly half of the initial dosage to remain. When more of a substance is in the body at once, the heroin detoxification can take longer. 

Duration of Addiction

The longer an addiction or substance abuse disorder has occurred, the more the body has adapted to the altered state caused by a drug. It can not only increase the duration of drug detox but may also increase the severity of withdrawal. 


The body is only able to metabolize and eliminate a certain amount of a substance at a time. As a result, when a substance use disorder is more severe, it may result in increased abuse. More abuse can create a higher amount of heroin in the body, which will take longer to fully detox. 

Method of Abuse

Different forms of abuse can impact the body in different ways. When a central-nervous stimulant is snorted, as an example, it can have a greater impact than other means of abuse, which can cause a greater change in brain chemistry and overall increase the severity of the addiction. 

Family History

Family history can play one of the biggest roles in substance abuse disorders and the development of addiction. Those who have had family members, especially close family members, have a higher risk of disorders relating to substance abuse. This issue can be due to higher rates of exposure and access as well as genetics. 


The role of genetics in addiction and treatment is a common trope in scientific studies.4 Many of these studies have lent to the idea that genetics plays a large role in how a body reacts to a substance, including how it retains and eliminates certain substances. 

Underlying Medical Conditions

Heroin substance abuse and consequently heroin addiction can occur as the result of an underlying medical condition, often called a co-occurring condition. It can include both physical and mental disorders. 

Relapse Prevention

Heroin Addiction treatment

After recovery, it is essential to continue heroin addiction treatment methods such as therapy as well as new methods to prevent relapse. Co-occurring disorders or a family history of drug addiction and substance abuse disorders can make relapse a more common part of treatment.

However, relapse is a part of the chronic illness that is a substance use disorder and can occur to anyone, which is why recognizing the warning signs and developing a heroin relapse prevention plan is important. 

Causes of Relapse

Relapse can occur as a natural result of a substance use disorder classification as a chronic illness. However, it can also occur in response to triggers, such as a trauma response, peer pressure, or other daily stress-causing factors.

Opioids like heroin have a higher rate of relapse during the alcoholism treatment process, which is due to how it impacts the body and alters brain chemistry.

Relapse Warning Signs

Often, relapse is not a sudden occurrence. Those who struggle with relapse usually struggle with it for long periods before it occurs. As a result, there are often signs that can be a witness is someone seeking long-term treatment for a substance use disorder that can be an indication of relapse. Some of the most common heroin relapse warning signs include
  • Change in attitude
  • Change in behavior
  • Overconfidence
  • Isolation
  • Self-harmful practices such as neglecting hygiene and intentional isolation
  • Increasing access to substances

Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

After heroin detoxification, one of the first steps in pursuing long-term recovery from heroin addiction is creating a relapse prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan is a way to reduce the risk of substance abuse after heroin addiction treatment. It involves identifying high-risk situations and creating an active course of action to avoid relapse during exposure to triggers.

Often, therapy and counseling can be significant tools in creating a relapse prevention plan. 

Assess History with Drugs and Alcohol

While family history plays a large role in addiction and recovery, so does individual history with drugs and alcohol. Different backgrounds may present different, unique challenges. As a result, assessing this background can help create a relapse prevention plan tailored best to the individual to address their needs and triggers. 

Determine Relapse Signs

Learning to recognize heroin addiction relapse signs can provide the opportunity to address and explore substance abuse concerns in a safe environment. Relapse signs may vary between individuals. 

Establish the Actions to Take to Avoid Using

Maintaining recovery is an active journey that involves making informed decisions and choices. As a part of a relapse prevention plan, it is important to consider and account for all situations where use may occur.

However, when uninformed exposure to a substance happens, it is also vital to be prepared to commit to a course of action to leave the situation and avoid use. It can also occur on a small scale, such as removing supplies from the home.