How to Help a Heroin Addict
More than 590,000 people had a heroin use disorder in the U.S. in 2015, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
If you or someone you love is addicted to heroin, you’re not alone, and there is help available.
Approaching Someone About Heroin Addiction Treatment
When someone is battling an addiction to heroin, the loved ones surrounding them may feel unsure of how to deal with the issue. Addiction to heroin can cause a number of distressing symptoms and, chances are, the person wants to stop but doesn’t know how deal with the addiction or continues using to avoid the onset of withdrawal symptoms.
When you’re approaching someone who may not yet admit they need help, you can expect to encounter some very common emotions, including:1
- Rationalizations of drug use.
Your loved one may have excuses for the negative consequences of their drug use. For example, if they lost their job because of declining performance, they may blame it on a toxic workplace or a bad boss.1
When initially bringing up the suggestion of treatment, do your best to avoid negative dialogue that focuses on judgment. Try expressing only concern and asking the person if they’re open to hearing what you have to say. Give examples of how their substance use has harmed them—without resorting to blame. This may help them come to find their own reasons for seeking treatment.1
While there are sure to be some volatile emotions that have been building as your loved one has spiraled into addiction, do your best to keep these at bay during the conversation. Addiction is already isolating and stigmatizing, so negative communication can push the addict further away. You will likely see better results if you encourage treatment in a caring and supportive manner, while also making your personal boundaries clear and consistent.1
In some cases, professional help can be very useful. Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) is a training program, conducted by a therapist, that teaches the loved ones of an individual battling addiction how to bring up the topic of treatment in an effective and productive way. It has been shown to work in 7 out of 10 cases, and it involves a lot of dedication on the part of the family.2
To be clear, offering support to your loved one does not mean enabling their addiction to continue. Remember, you can set your boundaries while continuing to offer the support they need and encouraging addiction treatment. By making it clear that you love them no matter what and will do what you can to help them through their struggle against heroin addiction, you are establishing trust in the relationship that they may not have realized was there.
Is Heroin Addictive?
Because of the way heroin affects the brain, it is an extremely addictive drug. In 2013, nearly 5 million people in the U.S. reported having tried heroin at least once.
Heroin is an extremely addictive opiate due to how rapidly it enters the brain. It has both short-term and long-term effects. Short-term effects of using heroin include:
- Feeling flushed.
- Dry mouth.
- Severe itching.
With long-term use, physical dependence increases. The long-term effects of heroin use may include collapsed veins, bacterial infections, and arthritis, which is why it’s so vital to get help as soon as possible. In fact, heroin is a potentially deadly drug. In 2012, over 3,600 deaths in the U.S. were connected to heroin usage.
If you’re suffering the effects of heroin use and need help, don’t wait to find treatment.
Is a Loved One Struggling to Deal With Heroin Addiction?
The video below tells the story of Robbie, the lead singer of Vokab Kompany, who has watched his brother struggle with heroin addiction.
Recovery From Heroin Addiction Is Possible
View the video below to see the journey of one man struggling with heroin addiction from torment to treatment and recovery.
Credit: CBS News
What Are the Signs of Heroin Addiction?
Signs of drug addiction include needing increasingly larger or more frequent doses to feel the same effects. If you’re worried about yourself or someone you love, also watch for the following physical and behavioral signs of addiction to heroin:
- Small, pinpoint pupils.
- Slurred speech.
- Slower reflexes.
- Needle marks from injecting the drug.
- Mood swings.
- Spending money on heroin that you can’t afford.
- Taking risks to obtain the drug.
- Neglecting your appearance.
Heroin Addiction Treatment Types
Heroin can be extremely addictive. However, recovery from heroin addiction is possible. Treatment types vary depending on the individual, but one of the most effective treatments available to help people quit heroin use is methadone. Once the patient has undergone tests for HIV, cardiovascular infections, and hepatitis B and C, they will start detox therapy. During detox, certain medications may be used:
- Methadone is a synthetic opiate that reduces the withdrawal symptoms associated with ending heroin use.
- Buprenorphine is another prescription medication that has similar effects to methadone. While these can be addictive substances on their own, many consider these medications to be lifesaving.
Behavioral therapy is also used to help heroin abusers, often in conjunction with prescription treatments. Behavioral therapy styles include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which addresses destructive thought patterns and teaches skills for coping with stress.
- Contingency management therapy, which uses a points system that rewards recovering heroin users for remaining drug free.
Behavioral therapy can take place in a one-on-one setting or in a group setting.
Another helpful resource for many is Narcotics Anonymous (NA). This is a nonprofit organization made up of recovering addicts. Groups meet independently and provide support and guidance while learning to live sober lives. Group meetings can supplement other types of treatment.
Heroin addiction treatment can take place in a number of settings:
- Outpatient treatment is when heroin abusers live at home and continue their daily routines while receiving treatment.
- Inpatient or residential treatment is when the heroin addict lives full-time at a treatment center. This allows them to focus exclusively on recovery.
If you’re looking for treatment for yourself or a loved one, have a list of questions for potential programs you’re looking into. These could include:
- Are you licensed?
- What are your staff’s credentials?
- What are your therapeutic approaches?
- What are the facility rules?
- Do you take my (or my loved one’s) health insurance?
- Do you offer private rooms?
- What are your visitor policies?
- Do you offer medical detox?
- Is there a bed available immediately?
The more you ask ahead of time, the more comfortable you’ll feel about the program you pick.
Receive 24/7 text support at your convenience with American Addiction Centers. Our team is well prepared to advise on all things treatment and help you find the care you need. We’ve helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you too.
American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading treatment provider and has trusted rehab programs across the country. Please contact a caring AAC representative free at for helpful advice, information, or admissions.
American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly using the form below if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.
Recommended Heroin Rehab-Related Articles
How to Help Someone With Alcohol or Illicit Drug Addiction
The following links provide substance-specific information on how to help a drug addict: