Treatment for opioid addiction is a three step process:
- Physical withdrawal from the opioid
- Acute treatment for initial cravings
- Long-term treatment to maintain abstinence
Best performed on an in-patient basis, this three to five day period weans the addict off the drug while helping them cope with withdrawal symptoms. Medications may be administered as symptoms present.
Up to 3-months of rehab-style care, with counseling and behavioral therapy has shown the highest success rate. This period allows the recovering addict to deal with the problems their addiction has caused and helps them learn to live sober. Abstinence is critical during this phase and an in-patient situation is ideal. Unfortunately, many addicts cannot afford this and must seek help on an out-patient basis during this brittle period.
Because opioid addiction is considered a chronic condition, long-term treatment to maintain sobriety and prevent relapse is necessary. Whether this comes by way of a 12-step program, therapy, or an informal method, only by learning to live differently can an addict hope to remain recovered.
For severe opioid addiction, new medications and treatments on an out-patient basis have been added. Methadone has been shown to help heroin abusers, and buprenorphine is prescribed for other opiate addictions. However, these are meant to be combined with other treatment types to gain the full benefits.
An opioid antagonist (a drug that blocks the effects) is sometimes given on an out-patient basis as an aid to staying clean. The idea is that taking an opioid while on these medications will not give the user the usual high and hence help them avoid using.