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What Kinds of Medications Can Help With Heroin Withdrawal?

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Quitting heroin can be tough. For many people struggling to stop using this highly addictive drug, the distressing and uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal create a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to recovery. But when you withdraw from heroin under medical supervision, a variety of medications can help to minimize the symptoms of withdrawal and stop the cravings caused by addiction to the drug.

What Causes Withdrawal Symptoms?

When using heroin, every part of the body is affected. Heroin is a powerful narcotic drug that binds to opioid receptors that already exist within the body. Over time, continued use of heroin causes the cells of the brain and body adapt, so that when a user stops taking the drug, those cells have to readjust and return to a normal state. That can take some time, especially when you’ve been using heroin in large quantities, or taking it for a long time.

The opioid receptors that respond to heroin are located all over the body, including the brain, central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. Suddenly stopping heroin throws the cells in all those areas into crisis, and that accounts for the wide range of symptoms that are associated with heroin withdrawal. These symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Chills and fever
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea and stomach cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sleep problems such as insomnia and nightmares

Medications Help With Symptoms and Cravings

Heroin Withdrawal

Medications alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms so you can focus on recovery.

Because withdrawal symptoms can be severe and in some cases, even life threatening, addiction experts say that the safest way to detox from heroin is under medical supervision.

Medical detox can take place in a hospital setting, an inpatient drug rehab facility, or even as part of an outpatient heroin rehab program. Whatever the setting, though, a medically supervised detox program can make withdrawal easier with the help of medications that can control cravings, and ease the discomfort of withdrawal. That can make in easier to focus on long-term recovery from heroin addiction.

Some heroin users may take medications to manage withdrawal and recovery for only a short time, while others may need them for considerably longer.  Medications used in heroin detox include both medications for short-term relief of symptoms like muscle aches or digestive problems, and a group of drugs designed to affect the same opioid receptors in the brain and body that respond to heroin use.

Medical Management Can Support Long Term Recovery

Medications that are specifically used to help break the body’s addiction to heroin and other opioids fall into two groups: opioid agonists (drugs that act positively on the body’s opioid receptors to create effects similar to heroin), and opioid agonists – substances that block a response to opioids. All these medications must be taken under medical supervision and tapered off slowly to minimize symptoms.

Methadone Replaces Heroin’s Effects

Methadone was one of the earliest drugs used to combat heroin withdrawal and make it easier for heroin users to continue with addiction treatment. A full opioid agonist, methadone replicates heroin’s effects on the brain, but in a milder form, so that users don’t feel cravings and don’t experience withdrawal symptoms while working toward recovery.

Methadone is a highly controlled substance that is usually taken daily under supervision at a methadone clinic. Some users take methadone for short periods of time, while others may continue taking it for months or even years. Because methadone is an opioid agonist, it can cause addiction of its own in some users.

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Buprenorphine (Subutex) Reduces Cravings Without the High

Buprenorphine is a “partial” opioid agonist that fills the body’s opioid receptors. This stops cravings and withdrawal symptoms, but doesn’t cause the “high” of heroin and other opioids. Because buprenorphine never provides a full opioid effect, this drug is much less likely to be abused than methadone, and it can be taken by prescription, not through a clinic.

Suboxone Is An Effective Combination

A relative newcomer to the world of addiction treatment, Suboxone contains a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone, an opioid antagonist that blocks the uptake of opioids by the brain’s receptors.  In this way, cravings and symptoms are minimized, but the risk of dependence and abuse is very low. Suboxone can also be taken by prescription.

Recovering from a heroin addiction can be a challenge, but inpatient and outpatient rehab programs are there to help. But with the support of medications to ease the stress of withdrawal, the road to recovery can have far fewer bumps.

Are you struggling with an addiction to heroin – but worried about the effects of withdrawal? We can help. Contact us at 800-662-8079 for the answers you’re looking for right now.

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