Treatments For Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an opiate that is highly addictive and abuse of this drug has dangerous side effects, which could lead to overdose.

Heroin Treatment

There is a range of effective methods that can be used to treat heroin addiction. These include pharmacological (medications) and behavioral approaches that assist in restoring a degree of normalcy to behavior and brain function. When used alone, pharmacologic and behavioral treatments can be tremendously useful. However, studies have found that for some individuals, integrating both treatment methods is the most effective approach.


Numerous scientific studies have revealed that treating heroin addiction with medications decreases drug use and increases treatment program retention. It also decreases involvement in criminal activities and the transmission of infectious diseases among addicts.

When individuals addicted to this opiate quit initially, they undergo heroin withdrawal symptoms; this includes pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which could be quite severe. The use of medications can assist in this detoxification phase to alleviate cravings and other physical symptoms, which typically prompt an addict to relapse. While not an addiction treatment, detoxification is a valuable first step when followed by some type of evidence-based treatment technique.

Medications specifically developed as a treatment for addiction to opioid work through the same receptors as the illicit drug. However, these medications are safer and more unlikely to produce the dangerous behaviors by which addiction is characterized. The three categories of medications typically used in this type of treatment are:

  • Agonist
  • These activate the opioid receptors
  • Antagonist
  • These block the receptor and obstruct the satisfying effects of opioids.
  • Partial agonists
  • These also activate opioid receptors; however, they generate a smaller response.

Included among the effective medications for heroin treatment are:


This slow-acting opioid agonist is orally ingested and designed to reach the brain slowly. This dampens the “high” that is associated with other methods of administration while preventing heroin withdrawal symptoms.


This opioid antagonist is not sedating or addictive and it blocks the action of opioids. Naltrexone does not lead to physical dependence.

Buprenorphine (Subutex)

This partial opioid agonist eliminates drug cravings without causing dangerous side effects or the “high” of other opioids.

The medication that is ultimately used will be largely based on factors such as the specific medical needs of the patient.

Behavioral Therapies

There are many effective behavioral treatments for heroin addiction can be delivered in outpatient and residential settings. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and other such approaches have been found to provide effective treatment for heroin addiction. This is particularly so when they are used in combination with medications.

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