Heroin Addiction Treatment and Rehab
Heroin is an opioid drug that is formed from morphine after it is taken out of the opium poppy plant. Heroin use can result in a very reinforcing, euphoric high that may lead people to continue using it.1
Unfortunately, heroin use can lead to addiction and result in harmful health effects, and possibly lethal overdose. Heroin addiction is treatable, however. Many people have been helped by professional treatment strategies, which may include both medications and behavioral therapies as part of their recovery process.1
Seeking heroin addiction treatment can be an important step in a person taking back control of their lives and overcoming the cycle of substance misuse. Individualized treatment plans that are tailored to a person’s unique needs may be particularly beneficial in helping them maintain sobriety and return to a healthy and productive life.2
If you or someone you care about is interested in quitting heroin, this article will explain:
- What to know about heroin withdrawal.
- Options for heroin treatment, including detox and medications.
- Relapse prevention and aftercare.
- How long heroin treatment lasts.
- How to find a heroin addiction treatment center.
What is Heroin Addiction?
Heroin is an extremely addictive drug that can quickly lead to misuse. Heroin addiction, which is diagnosed as an opioid use disorder, involves an inability of a person to control their heroin use despite the negative consequences it has on their lives.1
Heroin’s addictive potential comes from the drug’s effects on the brain. It binds to and activates opioid receptors, which can result in an intensely rewarding feeling at high enough doses.1
Over time, using heroin regularly can result in certain structural and neurochemical changes in the brain. 3 Some studies suggest that long-term heroin use can even lead to a deterioration of the white matter in the brain, which could influence decision-making, behavior regulation, and responses to stress.3
In addition, heroin quickly produces tolerance, which means you need to take more of it to feel the same effects; and dependence, which means you need it to feel normal and to prevent withdrawal.3
Heroin withdrawal occurs when someone who is dependent on the substance suddenly stops or cuts down their heroin use.1 Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant, but professional detox services can help a person more comfortably manage the heroin withdrawal process.
Left unmanaged, the sometimes severely uncomfortable heroin withdrawal symptoms can reinforce the cycle of addiction because people may relapse, or go back to using heroin after a period of abstinence. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin withdrawal symptoms can include:1, 3
- Cold flashes accompanied by goose bumps.
- Muscle or bone pain.
- Sleep problems.
- Uncontrollable leg movements.
- Strong cravings for heroin.
Treatment Options for Heroin Addiction
A heroin addiction treatment center may offer a combination of treatment approaches to help a person get started on the path to sobriety. Many provide a full continuum of treatment that begins with detox, the first step in the recovery process, and continues through with aftercare, which takes place once you’ve completed formal treatment.
Everyone has different needs, which is why individualized treatment is so important.2 Many effective treatment programs incorporate the following:11
- Medical detoxification for withdrawal management
- Medications for managing substance use disorders beyond the detox phase
- Behavioral counseling
- Evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues
- Treatment and preventive measures for medical issues
- Long-term follow up to help prevent relapse
In addition to addressing problematic drug use, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that treatment should consider and attend to factors such as:2
- Social issues.
- Vocational needs.
- Legal problems.
Heroin Detox Treatment
Detox is often the first step in addiction treatment, but on its own is not a complete form of treatment because it doesn’t address the underlying issues that may have led to addiction. Heroin detox helps a person safely and comfortably withdraw from heroin and become medically stable before entering other forms of treatment.5
Heroin detox treatment consists of a set of interventions, such as medications and constant monitoring, to make sure a person is safe and comfortable during the detox process.4
Depending on your specific needs, heroin detoxification treatment can take place in different settings, such as inpatient hospitals or outpatient clinics. Though the overall length of detox varies from person to person, heroin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as 6-12 hours after it was last used.12 Symptoms may peak in severity between 24-48 hours after a person’s last use and gradually diminish over the course of a week.3 A person can expect to remain in detox as long as it takes for most symptoms to largely resolve before continuing on with the remainder of treatment.3
Some of the factors that can impact the length of detox and treatment for heroin withdrawal include:5
- Physical health.
- Mental health.
- Potential for withdrawal complications.
- Patient readiness to change (i.e., to engage with treatment).
- A history of or potential for relapse, continued use, or other problems.
Medications for Heroin Addiction
Medication is an important component of both heroin detox and opioid use disorder treatment because it can help a person manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings. When a person feels more comfortable and has fewer cravings, they may be less likely to relapse and use heroin again.4 Medications a person may receive include:4
- Buprenorphine. This is a partial opioid agonist, which means it partially activates opioid receptors in the brain to manage withdrawal symptoms during detox. With a ceiling to its opioid effects, buprenorphine is less likely to result in the rewarding “high” or other adverse side effects associated with heroin or other misused opioids. Buprenorphine may also be continued beyond the detox phase as maintenance treatment for opioid use disorder.
- Methadone. This is a long-acting full opioid agonist. Methadone completely activates opioid receptors but does it more gradually than other opioids, so there is less chance of a “high” when used during detox. Like buprenorphine, it also helps prevent the onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Methadone is only available at specially licensed outpatient opioid treatment programs. As with buprenorphine, methadone may also be used as maintenance medication for opioid use disorder.
- Naltrexone. This is an opioid antagonist, which means it blocks the effects of opioids, so a person won’t feel the euphoric effects of heroin if they use it. It is used to help a person remain sober and prevent relapse. Naltrexone treatment may be initiated at the completion of the opioid detox phase.
Inpatient or residential treatment for heroin means a person lives on-site at the facility for the duration of treatment. This form of treatment may be especially beneficial for people who require a high level of support, such as those with more severe addictions, those without a supportive home environment, or people with co-occurring mental health disorders.11
During intake, a person will undergo evaluation to determine the appropriate level of care for their needs. Residential treatment can include more supportive environments like medically-managed or clinically-managed care. These types of treatment emphasize 24/7 medical monitoring and stabilization for those who need a more structured environment, like people with co-occurring conditions.6
Inpatient care may offer services such as: 7
- Treatment medication.
- Employment training.
- Behavioral therapies.
- 12-step facilitation.
- Education to help develop better coping skills to stay sober and prevent relapse.
Outpatient treatment for heroin addiction means a person can live at home and travel to a rehab facility for treatment services. Like inpatient treatment, it can also occur on different levels of care including intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) or partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), which are highly intensive and supportive programs.
Outpatient heroin addiction treatment can be beneficial for those who don’t need 24-hour care and supervision, and need to continue working, going to school, or attending to personal matters.
People will attend treatment according to the level of care determined by treatment professionals. This can range from 6 hours a week to 20, depending on a person’s needs.6
Relatively less intensive levels of outpatient care can be helpful as a step-down for those who have already completed more intensive levels of care or those with less severe addictions.6
Services at an outpatient heroin treatment center typically focus on education and group counseling. These services can help address behavioral issues that contributed to or led to a person’s addiction and help develop better coping skills to avoid relapse.7
Behavioral Therapies for Heroin Addiction
Behavioral therapy is a cornerstone of a heroin treatment program because it helps to address the thoughts and behaviors that accompany addiction. Behavioral therapy can take different forms, but the main goal is encouraging behavioral change.
Some effective behavioral treatments for heroin addiction include:4
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help create awareness around unhelpful thoughts and emotions, and the impact they have on behavior. It also teaches ways of developing healthier behaviors and better coping skills to avoid relapse.
- Contingency management, which is a form of positive reinforcement. People receive vouchers or other incentives in exchange for positive behaviors, like negative drug screens.
Heroin Relapse Prevention and Aftercare
After treatment, it’s important to receive continuing support to promote long-term recovery. Relapse prevention and aftercare can help a person continue to manage triggers and stressors, so they don’t resume drug use.
Treatment teams will help people create a solid aftercare plan prior to completion of the treatment program to help them continue their post-rehab recovery efforts. It can incorporate various forms of continuing care, such as:7, 8, 9
- Participation in self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
- Individual counseling.
- Outpatient group therapy sessions.
- Phone-based monitoring and counseling with the treatment center.
- Mindfulness-based relapse prevention groups.
- Recovery management check-ups.
How Much Does Treatment Cost?
The cost of treatment can vary widely depending on several factors, such as:
- Location of the rehab facility.
- Type of treatment program.
- Amenities offered by the program.
- Types of services.
- Insurance coverage.
If you or a loved one doesn’t have insurance, or insurance doesn’t cover the full amount of treatment, there are many ways treatment centers may help cover the cost, including:
- Sliding scales.
- Payment plans.
- Grants based on financial need.
If you do have insurance, check your coverage before choosing a facility by contacting your provider or speaking directly with the treatment facility.
How Long Does Heroin Treatment Last?
The length of treatment can vary from person to person. The overall duration can be affected by different factors, such as: 9
- Length and severity of the addiction.
- Co-occurring mental or physical health conditions.
- Level of motivation to change.
In their Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, NIDA explains that some form of continuous treatment that lasts at least 90 days is associated with more positive outcomes.10 Methadone maintenance treatment should last at least 1 year but can be much longer depending on your needs.10
Find Heroin Treatment Centers
Recovering from heroin addiction isn’t easy, but seeking treatment is a brave first step in the recovery process. If you or a loved one are ready to begin treatment for heroin addiction, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help. Reach out to one of our caring admissions at navigators at to learn about treatment options and help you get started on the path to a happier, healthier, and substance-free life.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, June). Heroin DrugFacts.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): Principles of effective treatment.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Heroin research report: What are the long-term effects of heroin use?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Heroin research report: What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2015). Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2015). What are the ASAM levels of care?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): Types of treatment programs.
- McKay, J. R. (2021). Impact of continuing care on recovery from substance use disorder. Alcohol research: Current reviews, 41(1), 01.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): What helps people stay in treatment?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide (third edition): How long does drug addiction treatment usually last?
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.