Heroin is a highly addictive, life-consuming, and insidious illicit drug. Physically, heroin addiction is like a hijacking. The reward/pleasure center of the brain is basically kidnapped by heroin to induce a state of happiness and euphoria and once that part of the brain gets a taste of the euphoric feeling, it wants more. For people already at risk for addiction, this is a recipe for disaster. The good news? You can beat heroin addiction through intense drug treatment and professional support. But what about life after rehab? After completing a treatment program for heroin addiction, the next stage in recovery can bring some of the most difficult challenges, especially in the first few months. Those recovering from long-term heroin addiction will experience intense cravings and triggers in many forms and will need significant support and coping skills to stay committed to their sobriety. Here are some tips to help you stay true to your recovery journey.
Structure your day as you did in rehabilitation. Sticking to schedules and getting organized can help you achieve goals in your life, stay focused, and avoid relapse. Remember to find the things that bring you happiness, such as spending quality time with your kids, getting outside and hiking, playing sports, and doing anything that fills your soul.
Remember the days of total chaos when using heroin? The sneaking, stealing, and lying in order to buy and ingest the drug – followed by the fear of where you’ll get the next fix? Well, there will still be stress, but you and your body will no longer be on high alert. Sobriety offers stability and a strange feeling of calm. The drugs that once caused this chaos are completely out of your system and you now have the behavioral tools to solve issues without substances. But it is a life-long journey, and you will have moments of taking a giant step forward and then taking two steps back. One minute you’re doing your steps and feeling stable in your new life and the next – you are face to face with a family member or friend telling you how much you hurt them when you were in active addiction. It’s a rollercoaster, but the good days eventually outweigh the bad ones, and your ability to fill in the cracks and handle all of the ups and downs gets easier.
Even after someone has completed a treatment program, they may continue to struggle with cravings and thoughts of using, and this can lead to a heroin relapse. With this risk at the helm, you need to be brutally honest with yourself about the people, places, and social events that can cause you to fall into your old habits. Combining cravings with powerful triggers is a recipe for disaster, so avoid any situations or any other activity that reminds you of your past drug use.
Joining meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is incredibly effective after rehabilitation treatment. These groups are safe spaces where you can communicate, celebrate, and commiserate with others in recovery. Meetings are also useful in learning new ways to avoid triggers and manage cravings. Consistently meeting with your therapist is also a great way to continue to check in with yourself and stay honest about any negative feelings or emotions that could pose as a precursor to relapse.
Now that you are sober, you may realize that most of your friendships were toxic and often co-dependent. Establish healthy relationships and break away from anyone who poses a risk to your sobriety. Connect or reconnect with those who care about your well-being. Surround yourself with those who truly understand what you are going through and are as committed to your sobriety as you are.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Repeated heroin use changes the physical structure and physiology of the brain, creating long-term imbalances in neuronal and hormonal systems that are not easily reversed.” Now that your system has gone through detoxification, your brain is slowly forming new neural pathways to counteract the damaging effects of heroin. In addition, no matter how users ingested the drug, heroin abuse can also lead to a variety of physical problems such as gastrointestinal problems, immune deficiencies, mental health disorders like depression, and even sexual dysfunction – to name a few. After rehab, your body and brain need to heal. Creating a diet of balanced nutrition and getting plenty of exercise will go a long way in keeping you healthy and sober. Sticking with a high-fiber diet with plenty of complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains and vegetables) is recommended for issues like constipation, which is common after heroin (or any opioid) withdrawal. Exercise has been shown to reduce the body’s physical dependence on drugs like heroin, increase endorphins (the bodies natural “feel good” chemicals), and improve psychological well-being. Now is the time to join a healthy cooking class, gym, yoga studio, or do whatever activity you enjoy to keep yourself mentally focused and healthy.
Recovery is a lifelong process, and utilizing healthy tools and strategies is critical in preventing relapse, especially for those who have suffered from long-term heroin abuse. However, if relapse does occur, you have not failed – it’s just a temporary setback. When relapse happens, it is essential to get back into a treatment program immediately. After a relapse, some people gain valuable insight that will help them achieve long-term recovery. Recovery from heroin addiction is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone is different, and every treatment is different. However, the first step to long-term sobriety begins with an effective rehabilitation treatment program. If you or someone you care about is displaying signs of heroin abuse, get help today. Here at The Kimberly Center, we offer a variety of recovery programs that are designed to help our clients with their substance use disorders. We treat our clients on an individual basis to help them transition into a new life of sobriety. Call us today to begin 855-4-KCENTER (855-452-3683).