Heroin is an extremely addictive opioid drug that works by releasing dopamine, often referred to as the “feel-good” hormone in the brain. The brain is not able to release such large quantities of dopamine at once without the drug. That is when the brain begins to crave the drug and the addiction has begun.
One of the worst parts of heroin is that it’s so addictive that it can be extremely difficult to stop taking it once you’ve started.
In the US alone, almost 700,000 people have experienced a heroin use disorder within the last twelve months. In 2020 alone, 13,165 people died from a heroin overdose.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help you overcome heroin addiction.
These steps are:
- Acknowledge the problem.
- Seek professional help.
- Get treatment.
- Attend a 12-Step programme.
- Look around you.
- Change your environment.
- Build a support network.
Acknowledge the problem
One of the most difficult parts of any addiction, but especially with a drug like heroin, is the shame that comes along with it. This shame is something that keeps many from seeking treatment and beginning to recover.
Before you can start any of the other steps it’s important to be honest with yourself about the reality of the addiction so you can find the right help for you.
Seek professional help
Without professional help, it can be almost impossible to recover from heroin addiction. A good professional will be able to educate you on the treatment options that are available to you.
This professional can be a doctor, counsellor, or social worker. All of them should be equipped with the knowledge to get you started on recovery and can make referrals to the resources you’ll need.
They will also be able to provide you with emotional support during the difficult part of recovery. Remember, their job is to support you through this process.
The withdrawals from heroin addiction tend to be so severe that you can make yourself very ill if you try and go cold turkey. This is where medical intervention is helpful.
Medical professionals can help you detox safely. They can do this by switching you from heroin to a heroin substitute such as methadone. Then once you are accustomed to the substitute drug they will slowly begin to wean you off.
Although you will still experience some withdrawal symptoms, following a gradual detox plan should minimize the negative side effects that you’ll experience.
Attend a 12-Step programme
A 12-Step programme, such as Narcotics Anonymous, is one of the tried and true methods for overcoming any sort of addiction.
They provide structure during a normally tumultuous time, mentorship, and a judgement-free community environment.
Look around you
One of the most important parts of recovery is realizing what factors influenced you to begin using heroin in the first place. This could be a number of factors but is most commonly a friend that introduced it to you.
If this is the case, it’s important to consider whether or not you will be able to stay sober with that relationship in your life.
Change your environment
If you are someone that frequently attends parties or events where drugs run rampant, it may be time to consider changing the environments that you put yourself in at least at the beginning of recovery.
The beginning of recovery is the most fragile part for most addicts. The cravings are still physical at that point and the physical and mental cravings combined can be very difficult for many to cope with. Try to make things easy for yourself and don’t put yourself in tempting situations or environments.
Build a support network
When you first start on your recovery journey, you’re likely to lose at least a few friends. Especially if you are someone that liked using heroin with or was introduced to the drug in their friend group.
Some of the best places to meet new friends are in your support groups. You may be able to make connections through your 12-step programme, and you can also find separate meetup groups for those struggling with or otherwise affected by addiction.
Remember, the best way to stay sober is to surround yourself with sober people.
Develop healthy stress coping mechanisms
When you are reliant on a drug you often begin to use that drug as your escape when dealing with situations. Once you’re in recovery, you can’t do that anymore.
That’s why it’s important to develop healthy stress coping mechanisms so you don’t resort back to drugs.
Some great coping mechanisms you could try out include relaxing activities such as yoga and meditation. Hobbies such as dancing, painting, reading, or simply spending time in nature can also help you to cope with stress.
Regular exercise is another great way to help yourself in the recovery process. Exercise releases endorphins, another feel-good chemical in the brain.
During recovery, you are likely to be feeling low, especially at first. After all, your brain didn’t have to release its own dopamine for quite some time and you’re likely not as sensitive to your regular levels of dopamine anymore.
Exercise will help your body to release endorphins which can help lift your mood. It can also help to stave off cravings and provide another avenue for you to build new relationships.
Don’t let a relapse stop you
Heroin is an extremely addictive drug and recovery is a lifelong process. Even once you are no longer using you are still in recovery, and as with most things, recovery isn’t linear.
Multiple studies suggest that approximately two-thirds of those who complete treatment for heroin addiction will relapse. However, this doesn’t mean that this is the end of recovery.
If you do relapse, get back into contact with your team, be honest about what happened, and figure out what the next steps are. Remember, relapse is a part of the process.
The most important thing to take away from this article is that the best way to recover from heroin addiction is with support.
Support from a professional counsellor, a 12-Step programme, your friends and family members, or a support group. These are the people that you will be able to lean on when things get tough and who will be able to remind you of why you’re fighting for freedom.
If you’d like to learn more about the heroin addiction treatment options available to you visit Achieve Wellness Recovery. There you can find a multitude of resources about addiction and more information on how to get help.
Zuella Montemayor did her degree in psychology at the University of Toronto. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.