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Heroin Addiction Treatment Centers

A heroin treatment center seeks to helppersons struggling with a heroin addiction start a drug-free life. While treatment normally begins with the heroin detoxification process, the approach is more comprehensive. It is a mixture of therapy, relapse prevention, and group therapy used to try and help the struggling individual overcome their problem.

Those who follow through with treatment and complete their individualized heroin treatment program tend to do well and have a chance to reach lasting recovery from their addiction to heroin. Many may struggle with some point in the treatment process, however, and end up relapsing back into the cycle of heroin addiction. Therefore, it is important that their treatment is managed by experienced addiction specialists with the help and support from loved ones.

Detox and Heroin Addiction Treatment Centers

In order for heroin abuse treatment to be effective, it must be planned and supervised by professionals. To match heroin treatment to you or your loved one’s needs, specialists will gather information to analyze the situation and make arrangements for the first step: the detoxification stage.

Namely, heroin treatment starts with the heroin detoxification process. Before real recovery can begin, the individual must be free from all mood and mind-altering substances. This includes heroin. Most people realize the difficulty in detoxing from heroin, because heroin withdrawal symptoms are notoriously uncomfortable. Most persons struggling with addiction need help with this part of the process.

Many will turn to a specialized facility for help during this stage. In such a setting, medical staff may help the person make it through withdrawal by giving them certain medications. In most cases, a synthetic opiate drug is used as a maintenance drug. The person will first be stabilized with recommended dosages of either methadone or buprenorphine for the entire course of the treatment and often into recovery, following discharge. This strategy helps minimize discomfort so the person can proceed to the next stage.

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Heroin Counseling

Following the detoxification stage, most heroin treatment centers have a segment of treatment that they refer to as “residential.” This is where the person will start attending groups, lectures, and meetings to learn more about their addiction and about the process of recovery. Now that the treatment seeker is fully detoxed from the physical standpoint, the challenge is to maintain their newfound sobriety and avoid relapse.

Treatment centers strive to instruct persons undergoing treatment on relapse prevention. They do this by discussing various strategies for avoiding relapse and different methods that can be used to maintain ongoing support when the person leaves treatment. In many treatment centers, 12-step programs are used as a means of providing this ongoing support, though there are some alternatives out there as well.

A Complete Approach to Treatment for Heroin Addiction

In modern heroin treatment centers, the treatment process normally consists of the following aspects:

  • Assessment
  • Medical stabilization
  • Treatment plan
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Individual assignments or group projects
  • Testing for drugs or alcohol use
  • Orientation to self-help groups such as the 12-step program
  • Education on substance use disorder
  • Life skills training
  • Relapse prevention training

Treatment may also need to include specialized treatment of co-occurring mental health conditions and education and counseling for family members.

As part of their holistic approach to treatment, heroin treatment centers may encourage clients to seek personal growth in a number of areas of their lives. For instance, they can include other activities which have the potential to improve the quality of life of recovering individuals and promote their physical wellness: music and art therapy, spirituality-based programs, and outdoor activities.

The center might have extensive exercise accommodations, classes on nutrition, and an emphasis on physical health and fitness. While this may be a more effective approach for long-term success in recovery, most treatment centers do not have the time or resources to explore these options as part of their core program, and basically stick to more traditional drug addiction recovery strategies.

Basic heroin addiction treatment can be as simple as detox followed by 12-step group participation, or it can be as intensive as a 2 year stay in a long-term heroin treatment center. It all depends on the person and their specific needs in achieving their recovery goals. Success or failure of their recovery efforts is also in the hands of the patient.

Heroin Treatment: Finding a Way Out

To understand what makes certain treatment options for heroin users effective, it’s important to understand how a person becomes addicted to heroin and why regular heroin users quickly develop a potent addiction.1 This typically brings dangerous repercussions and health risks which can lead to a potentially fatal outcome:

  • Heroin addiction is more formally known as substance use disorder (SUD). The symptoms include developing rapid tolerance to the drug, physical dependence, cravings, and overall loss of control.2 3
  • The euphoria heroin users experience when they take the drug is extremely powerful. They will continue to chase this effect every time they use heroin. However, the effect may not be the same unless they increase the intake of the highly addictive drug. This is why heroin users are at risk of developing a tolerance to the drug and becoming dependent.
  • Cravings for the drug become severe and the decision to take the drug becomes automatic, at which point addiction starts to spin out of control.
  • Heroin addiction is a vicious circle. If a person addicted to heroin stops using abruptly, they experience severe withdrawal. This makes the majority of persons struggling with addiction start taking heroin again.
  • Becoming a regular user who keeps increasing the intake is the moment when a person enters dangerous territory and reaches the point of no return until they are ready to join heroin addiction treatment.

This doesn’t really fit into this part of the discussion. Should be cut or moved to above section on how heroin use can progress into a substance use disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Treatment for Heroin Abuse Work?

Since prolonged heroin use causes lasting changes in the brain, heroin addiction treatment needs to be planned and executed with the help and support from experienced addiction specialists.4

This is why heroin addiction treatment is coordinated by a team of professionals specializing in addiction treatment, from social workers and counselors, to doctors and nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, and other professionals.5 Admissions navigators in heroin treatment centers are typically the first point of contact of treatment seekers.

A full continuum of care included in the complete to treatment combines the process of physical detoxification and comprehensive long-term therapy for the purpose of rehabilitation. The purpose is to teach former users how to live without heroin through psychological therapy, medical treatment, education, relapse prevention and other techniques. The key component of the treatment is Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT and ongoing maintenance drugs.

To be effective and lead to lasting results, the treatment plan needs to be comprehensive and based on a thorough assessment of the case. The plan is developed and coordinated by a team of addiction specialists. They will make an overview of addiction-related problems, treatment goals, and a strategy to meet those goals.

What Are Some Treatment Options for Heroin Users?

Treatment for heroin addiction should take place in a compassionate, supportive environment with medical supervision such as inpatient heroin addiction treatment programs. Individuals in recovery need individualized treatment plans, which is the focus of inpatient treatment facilities. In these facilities, addiction specialists conduct in-depth assessments to find the optimal holistic approach to a person’s treatment for heroin addiction.

The most effective heroin treatment programs in terms of long-term success combine psychological therapy with medicines:6

  • Inpatient treatment: These hospital or clinic-based programs combine detoxification and rehabilitation services.
  • Residential programs: Treatment within a living environment or a therapeutic community that may last up to a year.
  • Day treatment or partial hospitalization: 4-8 hour a day treatment over the course of several months.
  • Outpatient and intensive outpatient programs: Treatment at a program site during which the person continues living at home but has to meet attendance requirements.
  • Opioid treatment programs: Outpatient treatment which uses medication for opioid replacement and includes counseling and other services.
  • Provisional forms of care: These options are used to support treatment and recovery and may include interim care, transitional housing and telemedicine.

It is important to understand that whatever course of treatment you or your loved one opt for, recovery is a lifelong process. Regardless of treatment type, duration, and steps, it is important to persevere and be diligent about the treatment itself and about maintaining quality follow-up care.

Which Maintenance Drug Is Used in Heroin Addiction Treatment Programs?

Treatment for heroin use disorder and opioid use disorder in general can be medication-assisted.7 Medications used for this may include buprenorphine, methadone, and naltrexone. Medication used to facilitate the detoxification stage and help with heroin withdrawal symptoms include clonidine, loperamide and ondansetron.8

Medication-Assisted treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment is the industry gold standard for opioid use disorder treatment. For this the therapy needs to be strictly controlled so as to lower the risk of overdosing while keeping symptoms of withdrawal at bay for a longer period of time.

However, for the therapy to work, patients need not only remain on these medicines for the foreseeable future, but also have a planned course of treatment. Their program should incorporate psychological behavioral therapy which creates the optimal environment for a lasting change and recovery.

Buprenorphine and Methadone

Heroin addiction treatment programs use maintenanc drugs such as buprenorphine and methadone to help people stop using heroin and make the withdrawal process easier. They enable this by relieving withdrawal symptoms and reducing cravings.

Namely, these drugs operate much like heroin as they bind to the same opioid receptors in the brain, but they do so to a lesser degree, more weakly.9


Naltrexone is another medication used in heroin treatment. This drug functions differently than maintenance drugs. It works by blocking opioid receptors, as a result of which heroin is rendered ineffective. Naltrexone requires the individual to be completely drug-free, which means they first have to complete the detoxification stage during which all heroin is eliminated from the system.

What Is the Difference Between Heroin Detoxification and Heroin Addiction Treatment?

As part of the recovery process, individuals with heroin addiction need to go through a detoxification process. Heroin detoxification, which includes the process of withdrawal, is the process of elimination of heroin and associated substances from a person’s system. This is the initial stage of heroin addiction treatment and the first step toward rehabilitation and recovery. It has a clearly definable timeline.

This difficult stage of recovery is followed by withdrawal symptoms. While this is only the beginning of treatment, the symptoms can be intense. This is why individuals who attempt to overcome their addiction on their own often fail. For this reason, the detoxification and withdrawal process should be medically supervised and medications can be used to reduce discomfort.

Heroin addiction treatment, on the other hand, requires long-term engagement and commitment. One of the key goals of effective heroin treatment is learning how to avoid triggers and prevent relapses. It also focuses on developing healthier behavioral patterns and coping mechanisms for overcoming addiction. It is worth noting that treatment does not have to be voluntary to be effective.10


  1. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2015). Behavioral health trends in the United States:Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use andHealth.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). TIP 63: Medications for Opioid Use Disorder.
  3. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Surratt HL, Kurtz SP. (2014) The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of the Past 50 Years.
  4. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Principles of Effective Treatment.
  5. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). What Is Substance Abuse Treatment? A Booklet for Families.
  6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). Types of Treatment Programs.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Heroin Drug Facts.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts.

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