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Heroin addiction: get help - Healthy body

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If you're addicted to heroin and want to stop, you can ask a GP or local drug treatment service for help.

As someone with a drug addiction you're entitled to the same confidential NHS care as anyone else who has a health problem.

If you're not ready to stop, you can still get help with staying safe and healthy.

How to get treatment for heroin

Heroin is an opiate drug (also known as an opioid). Other opioids include codeine, opium and morphine.

If you need treatment for addiction to heroin or another opioid you can either see a GP or contact your local drug treatment service.

At your first appointment the doctor or drugs worker will ask you lots of questions including:

  • how much heroin you take
  • whether you're using any other drugs or alcohol
  • what your physical and mental health are like
  • what your personal circumstances are – for example, where you live and who you're living with
  • whether you've had treatment for drugs before

They'll also ask you for a pee sample. This will be tested to confirm that you're using heroin.

You'll be given a key worker who will help you put together a personalised treatment plan. You'll meet them regularly throughout your treatment.

Maintenance or detoxification (detox)?

Your key worker will help you decide between 2 different approaches to stopping heroin – maintenance therapy or detox:

  • maintenance therapy – is where you switch from heroin to a heroin substitute, such as methadone or buprenorphine, and then stay on a stable dose of the substitute
  • detox – is where you switch from heroin to a heroin substitute before gradually withdrawing from the substitute so that you're completely free from both

Both treatments aim to help you withdraw from heroin gradually and ease withdrawal symptoms.

You'll usually live at home while you switch to maintenance therapy or go through detox.

Detoxing from heroin while living at home can take up to 12 weeks.

You can switch from maintenance therapy to detox at any time.

Your daily dose of methadone or buprenorphine will be supervised by a drugs worker or pharmacist for up to 3 months.

If you're also addicted to alcohol or other drugs, such as benzodiazapines, you'll be offered support with stopping these as well.

Overdose risk

Detox lowers your tolerance to heroin. This means your risk of overdosing is higher if you take heroin after detoxing.

Inpatient detox and rehab

You'll usually only be offered detox as a hospital inpatient or in residential rehab if:

  • you need medical help for other physical or mental health problems
  • you need to detox from alcohol or another drug, such as benzodiazapines, as well as heroin
  • community detox has not worked for you before

Visit rehabonline for more information about rehab.

Other support for opiate addiction

Other types of help and support you may be offered while you come off heroin include:

  • talking therapies – you may be offered a talking therapy like CBT if you need help with anxiety or depression while you're detoxing
  • support groups – your key worker will give you details of local self-help groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous or SMART Recovery
  • support for family and carers – your key worker can organise support for people close to you who are affected by your addiction (see advice for families of drug users)
  • help to stay healthy – this could be anything from advice on healthy eating to tests for infections such as HIV
  • incentives – you may be offered rewards, such as vouchers or doses of methadone to take at home, for sticking with your treatment and staying off heroin

What happens after detox?

After detox your key worker will carry on supporting you for up to 6 months to help you stay off heroin.

This support may include help with issues such as housing or getting back into work or education.

Page last reviewed: 23 March 2020
Next review due: 23 March 2023