In a study conducted in 2012 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 467,000 people met the criteria for heroin dependence. The researchers point out that this represents a doubling in the number of people hooked on heroin, when compared to figures released in 2002.
Heroin addiction numbers might be rising simply because the substance is quite potent, and it’s also remarkably inexpensive. For just a few dollars from any dealer operating on the street, an addict can walk away with an envelope of drugs that’s certain to overwhelm the body in no time at all. And once users develop a daily habit, they can struggle to stay sober. Thankfully, there are a number of methods experts can use in order to end the cycle of addiction and help people to see the value of a safe and sober life.
Understanding Heroin Addiction Treatment
Almost anyone who has an addiction needs the help of a formal treatment program in order to recover. Addictive drugs tend to alter the chemical makeup of the user’s brain, and those changes can make it difficult for people to plan ahead and make good choices about the future. They’re not weak or somehow dealing with a moral failure, but they do have a serious medical problem that requires a targeted response.
This theory holds true, no matter what sort of drugs the user might take, but among all of the addictive drugs, heroin is widely considered to be the most dangerous. That’s because the drug is so powerful and potent that the brain tends to stay damaged for months or even years, making relapse after even long-term sobriety a sad possibility. The actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, for example, admitted to reporters that he relapsed to drugs after 23 years of sobriety, and in the early months of 2014, he died due to an apparent overdose of heroin. As this sad example makes clear, these addictions can be persistent, and as a result, long-term therapies are considered absolutely vital.
In a typical heroin treatment program, clients are provided with medications that can soothe the symptoms of physical distress that come during a transition from intoxication to sobriety.
Some medications can even block signals of craving for heroin, allowing people to feel focused on recovery rather than feeling desperate for another hit of drugs.
In addition to medication management, people with heroin addictions are also provided with intensive therapies, including:
- Contingency management therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family therapy
- Exposure therapy
All of these techniques attempt to help addicted people to use the power of the mind in order to reduce cravings and impulsivity. As the therapy moves forward, people learn how to avoid the people, places and things that spark cravings for heroin, and if those things can’t be avoided, they learn how to handle the triggers without feeling overwhelmed with the urge to relapse. When these behavioral therapies are combined with the use of medications, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addicted people have the best chance at long-term sobriety.
A study published in the journal Substance Use and Misuse suggests that length of care is often associated with treatment success. In other words, those people who stay engaged with a treatment program for a long period of time tend to stay sober for longer than people who drop out of their programs before they’re done. However, in addition to worrying about the length of care provided, families might need to spend time thinking about where that care will be provided, if they’d like to ensure success.
In an inpatient program, clients move into the facility in which they’ll receive care. They never leave the grounds of the facility, and they’re under supervision around the clock. As a result, the amount of temptation they might feel to use drugs might be reduced, and they might also have help to tap into whenever something seems unusual or risky.
An outpatient program, on the other hand, provides care for people who have a need to continue to live at home. People like this might still face temptation, but they might have friends and family members to lean on as they heal, so they won’t be tempted to fall back into their old habits and dip back into heroin. These programs can help some people stay connected with their family members and their communities, and for some, those connections provide strength.
No matter where the addicted person gets intensive care, whether it’s in an inpatient facility or in an outpatient clinic, it’s likely that the program will need to provide some sort of follow-up care in order to keep a relapse from taking hold. Heroin is just potent, and sometimes, the addiction remains just below the surface when intensive treatment is through, and the person remains at risk for a relapse as a result. For example, in a study in the journal Psychopharmacology, researchers found that people with heroin addictions experienced an increased heart rate and a tendency to make rash decisions when exposed to heroin cues, and those changes persisted for up to 24 months after treatment was complete. People are just profoundly altered by heroin, and short bursts of therapy just don’t do the trick as a result.
In an aftercare program, clients might be provided with touch-up therapy, so they’ll have the opportunity to keep working on their addictions even as their lives change. Clients might also be encouraged to participate in support groups for addiction, so they can meet other addicted people and draw strength from the changes these people have made. Some addicts even choose to participate in alumni programs at the facilities they’ve used, so they can keep in touch with the recovery community in a formal way and come back for more intensive forms of treatment if they relapse.
At Axis, we believe that addicted people need months of care in order to really recover from a devastating heroin addiction. We provide residential care that can get people on track, and we also use outpatient care to strengthen the lessons people obtain in those treatment programs. We also stay in touch with our clients, and we offer reenrollment if something seems amiss. Please call us, and let’s talk about how we could help someone you love.