If you have made the decision to stop using heroin, congratulations. That is a decision that can literally save your life. As you embark on your recovery process, however, it is important to understand from the outset that it can be a lengthy process, and one in which you are likely to experience intense mental cravings for the drug, long after your physical cravings have stopped. Although drug replacement therapies can help to reduce the cravings for some people, in others these cravings can persist for months or even years. So in this article we’ll present a number of tips to help you cope with them.
First, believe in your recovery, and don’t give up
When you are in the early stages of withdrawal from heroin, sobriety can seem like an impossible goal. But it really isn’t, and if you have faith and persist and seek the right treatment and support, you can achieve it. If you try to quit and relapse, don’t give up. Try again. Some people make several attempts to stop heroin use before they succeed.
It’s important to understand the nature of cravings
A craving has sometimes been characterized as similar to a deep yearning, but when the craving is for a substance as addictive as heroin, the yearning is sharper, stronger, and much more intense. These cravings should not be thought of as a cause for shame or concern – they happen to everyone who withdraws from this drug.
We can characterize these cravings as mental, since with proper treatment the actual physical cravings for heroin can go away in as little as a week. But that does not mean that the cravings are not real. They can at times be so powerful as to overcome the best of intentions, and they can cause a kind of amnesia that makes you forget your reasons for quitting. This is why it is so important to seek help in overcoming them.
Look into medication-assisted therapies
Opiate substitution treatment for heroin addiction can include the use of Suboxone (buprenorphine) to complement counseling and other support measures. Taking this medication is not just substituting one drug for another, because most people spend some time taking a regular “maintenance” dosage of it in the same way you would use medication to treat a chronic illness such as diabetes. Then, over time, they reduce the dosage, and finally eliminate their need for it. This process is called “detox” and can take several months.
Understand the brain science of heroin addiction
When you use heroin, the drug bypasses the normal functions of your brain that would generate signals of pleasure during normal activities like sex or even enjoying a meal. The drug tricks the brain into experiencing a false but very powerful sense of pleasure that overrides all others. When the drug is no longer present, it can take some time before your body regains the ability to feel pleasure from normal activities.
Be aware of the risk of overdose
One thing you should understand if you are committed to ending your use of heroin is that abstaining from the drug for some time actually increases your risk of overdosing should you relapse. This happens because your body loses its tolerance for the drug during your time away from it, and as a result a dose of heroin that you used to be able to handle can suddenly become deadly.
The most important thing is to seek professional help
The surest way to overcome cravings for heroin is to seek treatment from a professional rehab program that offers a combination of treatments – detox, counseling, and support groups. Detox and the use of medications cleanse the body of toxins and help to curb physical cravings, and counseling or support groups address the more psychological aspects of overcoming addiction. Rehab programs may involve sponsors (someone you can call 24/7 to help you with cravings), one-on-one counseling, psychotherapy, and/or regular outpatient meetings during which you can discuss your progress with other former users (such as 12-step groups or Narcotics Anonymous meetings).
These meetings provide former users with a safe place to discuss their experiences with addiction honestly, to receive encouragement from others who have overcome it, and to possibly help others.