When an addict emerges from a detoxification program, that person has purged the drugs from his or her system and is technically considered “clean.” The addict may have worked incredibly hard in order to achieve this goal, struggling through withdrawal symptoms with the help of medications and living in a treatment facility for days or even weeks in order to complete the process. This is an admirable feat, but it’s important to note that the addict can’t be considered fully recovered at the end of the detoxification program. In fact, the journey to long-term sobriety has only just begun.

As an influential article published in The Lancet in 1996 makes clear, addiction should be considered a chronic condition. The authors of the article use diabetes as an example. People who are diagnosed with diabetes are often told to change their diets and increase their exercise rates in order to prevent a relapse. Less than 30 percent of these patients comply. Similarly, while a heroin addict may be told to never, ever use the drug again, many of them do use again. The article states that only 30 to 50 percent of addicts stay clean a year after detoxification treatments.

People with chronic conditions such as diabetes or addiction often need close monitoring, intensive therapies and repeat reminders to stick with the changes they have made. They may need these interventions for the rest of their lives.

See Related: Heroin Detoxification in California

The Role of Counseling

In heroin rehabilitation programs, the addict spends a significant amount of time talking to qualified counselors. According to an article published by the University of Utah, talk therapies are a crucial aspect of addiction rehabilitation as the therapies allow the addict to identify and manage drug cravings. The addict might also learn about how the addiction works, and what sorts of situations lead that addict to use drugs. One-on-one counseling sessions allow the addict to role-play and plan, learning new strategies that he or she can use in order to combat the addiction. Some people benefit from participating in group counseling sessions. Here, the addict has the opportunity to meet other people recovering from heroin addiction. Often, addicts feel as though they are isolated, alone and struggling with their problem in a unique way. By introducing the addict to other people who are dealing with
the exact same problem, the addict may feel less alone and more comfortable reaching out to others for help. A mental health counselor often supervises these group counseling sessions. Addicts can also participate in group meetings with other heroin addicts. These meetings often borrow aspects from 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where the addict is asked to take responsibility for the addiction, make amends for past wrongs, ask a higher power for help when needed and rely on a sponsor to help when cravings become intense. Some communities are developing group meetings specifically designed for heroin addicts. These Methadone Anonymous meetings, as described in the journal Substance Abuse, can be quite effective. Members polled said the program was of great help, and the longer people participated, the more likely they were to stay away from heroin and other drugs.
Addicts with successful jobs, unrelenting family-related duties or low incomes might not be able to participate in residential treatment facilities. Their insurance may not cover the cost of the stay, for example, or they may not be able to step away from their lives for long periods of time. That doesn’t mean that these addicts have no options when it comes to addiction treatment, however. There are many outpatient treatment programs in the United States, including:
  • Day programs. The addicted person participates in intensive therapies during the day but returns home at night.
  • Doctor-provided therapies. Some addicts see their doctors for medication therapies, but continue with the rest of their lives as normal.
  • Outpatient counseling. Here, an addict meets with a counselor weekly and continues learning new methods to deal with addiction.
  • Community groups. Most communities provide 12-step program meetings multiple times per week, and these meetings are often provided at no cost. For people with extremely low incomes, this may be the most effective way to get help.
These treatment programs may be effective for people with hard-to-treat addiction problems. According to the Journal of Substance Use, people who lived in sober living communities tended to achieve significant decreases in drug and alcohol use, and they also tended to hold down jobs as well. This is quite an achievement. Sober living communities might not always be covered by insurance, and the costs can vary widely. In addition, if the addict returns to heroin use even once, that addict could be asked to leave the community immediately without notice. These two factors might deter some people from considering sober living communities.

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