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Treatment of Heroin Addicts/Abusers

Abstract: A description of several different methods of treating heroin addiction.

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Treatment of Heroin Addicts/Abusers

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Written by: Wendy Moelker, Psychologist in charge, tutor, Emergis center for mental health care, Goes, the Netherlands.
First version: 22 Jul 2008.
Latest revision: 22 Feb 2018.

How can heroin addicts be treated? Describe treatment of heroin addicts/abusers.


There are many ways to treat heroin addicts. A long-term user (someone who has used for over a year) often has to use Methadone for a long time to diminish the strong withdrawal symptoms of the addiction. By using this substance, patients can stabilize and start revalidation or rehabilitation. However, some patients will never be able to stay abstinent for a long time. In that case, it is better to focus on decreasing the physical risk and the chance of death. Continued use of Methadone without tapering off is allowed in many countries.

Psychosocial treatments are effective parts of a total treatment plan of patients with opiate disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy, behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, group therapy and family therapy can be effective with heroin dependence. The choice for a certain treatment should be made after it is obvious what the patient wants, what problems should be solved, whether there are any other psychological problems and what have been the results of earlier treatments.

A patient with mild or moderate withdrawal symptoms can sometimes deal with these problems at home. The treatment of a heroin withdrawal syndrome is usually focused on relief of the critical symptoms and the motivation to take part in a long-term treatment of heroin addiction. Methadone can be prescribed temporarily and also Clonidine can be used to suppress the withdrawal symptoms. The use of other narcotics can interfere with or complicate the attempt to kick the habit.

The success of the treatment depends on various things:

  • The quantity and the kind of substances used.
  • The severity of the disorder and the consequences.
  • Simultaneous physical and/or psychological disorders.
  • The strong and weak characteristics of the patient.
  • The patient's motivation!!!
  • The social surroundings of the patient (friends, acquaintances, colleagues, family, etc.)

There are other medicines similar to Methadone, such as Subutex, Subuxone and LAAM (a long-acting preparation).

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