Heroin addiction: get help

4 min read

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

As someone with a drug addiction you are 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. Other opiate drugs include codeine, opium and morphine.

If you need treatment for addiction to heroin or another opiate drug you can either see your doctor or contact your local drug treatment service.

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

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

They will also ask you for a urine sample. This will be tested to confirm that you are using heroin.

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

Maintenance or detoxification (detox)?

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

  • Maintenance therapy – this allows you to switch from heroin to a heroin substitute, such as methadone or buprenorphine. You then stay on a stable dose of the substitute.
  • Detox – this allows you to switch from heroin to a heroin substitute then gradually withdraw from the substitute so that you are completely free from both.

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

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

Detoxing from heroin while you are 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 three 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 after detox

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

Inpatient detox and rehab

You'll normally 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 hasn't worked for you before

Visit rehabonline for more info about rehab.

Other support for opiate addiction

You'll be offered other help and support while you come off heroin. This may include:

  • Talking therapies – you may be offered a talking therapy like
    cognitive behavioural therapy
    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
  • 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 and drugs team will carry on supporting you for up to six months to help you stay off heroin.

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

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.