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 a Loved One About Heroin Addiction Treatment
When someone is battling an addiction to heroin, the loved ones surrounding them may feel unsure of how to address 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 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 their drug use.
Your loved one may have excuses for negative consequences that are caused by the drug use. For example, if they lost their job because of declining performance, they may instead blame it on a toxic workplace or bad boss.1
When initially bringing up the suggestion of treatment, do your best to avoid negative dialogue that focuses on judgment of them or their actions. Try expressing only concern for them and asking 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
Addiction is already isolating and stigmatizing, so negative communication can push the addict further away.
While there are sure to be some volatile emotions that have been building as your loved one has spiraled down into addiction, do your best to keep those at bay during this conversation. Addiction is already isolating and stigmatizing, so negative communication can push the addict further away. You will likely have 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 someone battling an addiction how to bring up the topic of treatment in an effective and productive way. It has been shown to work in seven out of ten 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 your loved one needs and continuing to encourage treatment. By making it clear that you love them no matter what and that you will do what you can to help them through the struggle against their heroin addiction, you are establishing a trust in the relationship that they may not have realized was there.
Do You Love Someone With a Heroin Addiction? You're Not Alone
The video below tells the story of Robbie, the lead singer of Vokab Kompany, who has watched his brother struggle with heroin addiction.
Heroin Addiction Treatment
Heroin can be extremely addictive, and as of 2012, over 100,000 people were admitted to treatment facilities for heroin usage. However, recovery from heroin addiction is possible. The exact treatment varies depending on the heroin addict, but one of the most effective treatments available is methadone. Once the patient has undergone tests for HIV, cardiovascular infections and hepatitis B and C tests, the addict 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. Behavioral therapy is often used in conjunction with prescription treatments to help heroin users recover. Behavioral therapy styles include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which addresses destructive thought patterns and teaches skills for coping with stress.
- Contingency management therapy 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 help 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.
- Residential treatment is when the heroin addict lives full time at a treatment center. This allows the addict 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) 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.
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 US 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 US were connected to heroin usage.
If you're suffering form the effects of Heroin use and need help, don't wait to find treatment.
Quotes from heroin addicts
- “I live in real fear that I'll relapse, and being so much older now, there's no way I'd survive this time around.” (source)
- “My father died from addiction, we lost a cousin, I myself had numerous overdoses and helped prevent siblings from OD-ing…”
- “Recovery from heroin addiction is almost a miracle. Because it is not only your body that screams for the substance. Your brain wants it too. Without heroin, emotional pain feels unbearable.”
Recovery from Heroin Addiction is Possible
View the video below to see the journey of one man struggling from heroin addiction into treatment and recovery.
Credit: CBS News
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
Signs of drug addiction include needing increasingly larger or more frequent doses of heroin to feel the same effect. 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.
Am I Addicted to Heroin?
A sign that you're addicted to heroin is if you experience withdrawal symptoms when you're not using heroin. Symptoms of withdrawal include:
- Cold flashes.
- Leg movements.
- Muscle pain.
These withdrawal symptoms can be managed, however, so they are not an excuse to avoid detoxing.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Am I unable to stop heroin use?
- Do I spend money on heroin I need for necessities?
- Have I lost interest in hobbies and activities?
- Can I imagine life without heroin?
- American Addiction Centers. 2018.
- Meyers, R. J., Smith, J. E., & Lash, D. N. (2005). A program for engaging treatment-refusing substance abusers into treatment: CRAFT. International Journal of Behavioral and Consultation Therapy, 1(2). 90-100.