How do I quit heroin?

By Bryan Le 12/27/13

Quitting heroin can be hard, and one of the most important battles of your life. It's time to come up with a game plan.

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First Steps


The first step to quitting anything is to focus on a reason to quit—to stop hurting your family and friends, to cease spending all your time and energy into finding more heroin, to stop becoming who you are becoming—and stick to it. You must be willing to get clean or die trying, says HowToQuitHeroin.com. Some first steps you can take are:

Come Clean. Tell people about your problem. This will help you to be honest with yourself and others about your problem. Apologize to the ones you may have hurt in your addiction. The people who you confide and apologize to can help you stay on track to recovery. 

Cut ties.  Just as it's important to get all your loved ones on your side in your fight against your addiction, it's important to cut the ties that could pull you back into it. This means erasing certain phone contacts and not taking calls from dealers and friends who use. Block their numbers, consider changing yours—they can always call from another phone. 

Destroy your kit. Everything you used to use—needles, foil, tourniquet, lighters—needs to be destroyed. You can't allow yourself to be able to access, acquire or use heroin if you don't want to use it again.

Start a calendar. Not only will this help you set a goal to keep for the first seven days, but the more clean time you achieve, the less likely you will be to lose it when you see it all laid out in front of you.

Seek treatment. This step may seem intimidating and expensive, but your life as you know it is literally at stake here. Fortunately there is an entire service and treatment industry and nationwide support groups willing to help you in this endeavor. Heroin addiction treatments come in many forms, from drugs to residential programs, but the most effective treatments are comprehensive ones that combine different methods.

 

Treatment Methods


Detox

Detoxification programs aim to keep the patient in a safe environment—free from drugs, social influences or other psychological triggers that may cause them to want to use again—until withdrawal symptoms safely subside and dependency is broken. The most effective documented detox methods are therapeutic residential programs lasting 3 to 6 months. Be warned: this sort of treatment is not effective on its own—seek a longer term recovery solution to transition into (be it medication or support groups) after leaving rehab.

If you need help finding a rehab facility in your price range and area, refer to our Rehab Review page and see how previous patients of each facility rate their stay.

Methadone

Methadone has been the go-to drug for opioid addiction treatment for about 30 years and, when taken at appropriate doses, will suppress withdrawal symptoms and craving without intoxicating or sedating the user. Taken once a day, methadone will keep addicts awake, clear-headed and without withdrawal symptoms, allowing them to function normally. While some will eventually wean off methadone altogether, others may opt for maintaining use of methadone indefinitely. Critics of this method say that methadone simply replaces heroin as an addiction and, in its absence, also inspires withdrawal symptoms. But many who are now living productive and full lives on maintenance treatments beg to differ.

Buprenorphine (Suboxone)

A relatively new maintenance treatment, buprenorphine has even weaker opiate effects and is less likely to cause overdose and withdrawal problems than methadone while still effectively staving off cravings. But it still is criticized as a maintenance treatment and buys into the idea that painkiller addicts can never be drug-free, an idea that many find disagreeable. It's pricier than methadone and is not as likely to be covered by public health insurance, meaning buprenorphine users can pay to keep their treatment private while those who resort to methadone likely can't. The debate between buprenorphine versus methadone is ongoing:

Naloxone (Narcan)

Not necessarily a treatment, but essential for those who are opiate addicts or those who are close to someone using opiates or at risk of relapsing. Naloxone is an emergency nasal spray that is used to reverse the effects of withdrawal, and has saved many lives of those who could have otherwise died from overdose. It works by blocking heroin's (and other opiate narcotics') ability to attach to brain cells, effectively reversing the overdose. Law enforcement officers carried it as part of an experiment in Massachusetts and found it had a 95% success rate in saving 179 overdose victims. However given the stigma of drug addiction, it's difficult to lobby that more police and paramedics carry naloxone on the taxpayer's dime. Voices in the recovery community urge recovering people to speak their mind in order to make nalaxone available over the counter.

Support groups

Regularly attending a support group can help addicts get off and stay off heroin. Having a community facing similar struggles can boost the morale of someone trying to get clean, and sponsors can inspire and help keep an addict sober. Go to the websites of of Narcotics Anonymous or Heroin Anonymous online—their websites offer literature and information for those who are interested or who are taking part in a 12-step program. If you feel like it's right for you, you can also use the websites to find a local fellowship.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, some may find Narcotics Anonymous too spiritual for their comfort. If you seek something more secular, see if LifeRing, Rational Recovery or SMART Recovery have a chapter in your area. There are also specialized support groups, such as the female-focused Women for Sobriety and SOS Behind Bars for addicted inmates. Family members of addicts may share their particular struggles in Families Anonymous and Nar-Anon Family Groups.

Online Communities

Given the amount of time we spend on the web and the fact recovery takes place 24 hours a day, having an online resource you can tap into while you aren't at a meeting can help a lot. A site like Chat2Recovery lets you get in touch 24 hours a day with a licensed recovery professional. If you seek a more user-based community, try InTheRooms or Suboxone Talk Zone. Social media site Reddit also offers a message and image board for those in recovery, Redditors in Recovery and Opiates Recovery. Unlike the previously mentioned sites, Reddit's user base is not exclusively recovery-centered and is more eclectic.

And don't forget, TheFix.com is a great site for keeping up with the latest recovery-related news, in-depth features by experts in the field and stories by those who have been there and back.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter