One of the biggest challenges people in early recovery from heroin addiction can face is strong heroin cravings.
Cravings for heroin can be blocked, prevented, and relieved with the use of medications such as methadone and buprenorphine, which are FDA-approved to treat heroin addiction.
What Are Heroin Cravings?
When a person has stopped using heroin or goes a long time without using heroin after regular use, they may experience cravings for the drug.
Heroin cravings are a common sign of heroin withdrawal, which can develop after a person has first stopped using heroin.
Cravings can be very strong and difficult to manage in the early abstinence period without treatment. With treatment, however, cravings for heroin can be effectively relieved.
Treatment For Blocking And Preventing Heroin Cravings
The most effective treatment for relieving heroin cravings is medication. This can be provided in conjunction with behavioral therapy (medication-assisted treatment) or alone.
The primary medications used to treat heroin cravings are methadone and buprenorphine. Both are FDA-approved to treat heroin dependence and heroin use disorder.
Methadone Maintenance Therapy
Methadone is a synthetic opioid agonist. For over 40 years, it has been used as a treatment for opioid dependence and heroin addiction. It can also provide pain relief.
Brand names for methadone include:
Methadone is taken orally and is slow-acting, meaning it does not cause the powerful, euphoric effects of other opioids such as heroin or oxycodone. It can produce mild euphoric effects.
Methadone can effectively relieve heroin cravings and reduce other withdrawal symptoms due to the fact that it binds to the same opioid receptors in the brain.
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Buprenorphine is a partial opioid agonist. It can relieve heroin cravings like methadone, with less side effects. It can come in the form of a film, tablet, injectable liquid, or subdermal implant.
Buprenorphine can be prescribed as:
- Suboxone (buprenorphine and naloxone)
- Zubsolv (buprenorphine and naloxone)
- Bunavail (buprenorphine and naloxone)
- Sublocade (buprenorphine extended-release)
- Cassipa (buprenorphine and naloxone)
Buprenorphine is a newer drug than methadone. Unlike methadone, it can be prescribed and picked up at a pharmacy for at-home use.
How Effective Are Medications For Heroin Cravings?
Research shows that medications like buprenorphine and methadone can be very effective for relieving heroin cravings and reducing other health risks associated with heroin addiction.
Important facts regarding the effectiveness of medications in treating heroin abuse:
- People taking methadone for opioid use disorder are more than four times as likely to stay in treatment.
- Both methadone and buprenorphine can effectively reduce the risk of fatal heroin relapse and increase the likelihood of a person staying off heroin.
Methadone and buprenorphine can both reduce the severity of heroin withdrawal symptoms, thereby reducing the risk of a person relapsing back into their drug use.
These medications are often prescribed for long-term management of cravings. When taken as directed, both methadone and buprenorphine are safe for long-term use.
Frequently Asked Questions About Heroin Cravings
Find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about heroin cravings and treatment options here.
❓ What Causes Heroin Cravings?
✔️ Craving heroin is a common sign of heroin withdrawal syndrome. Withdrawal is a condition that can develop if a person who is physically dependent on heroin stops using heroin.
Causes of heroin cravings include:
- chronic heroin use
- heroin dependence
- psychological addiction
❓ How Long Does It Take To Begin Craving Heroin?
✔️ The timeline for how long it takes to begin experiencing cravings for heroin varies from person to person. Generally, this is a sign of physical dependence.
Physical dependence on heroin can develop within weeks to months of use, depending on how often a person uses heroin and the amount used.
❓ Does Naltrexone (Vivitrol) Help With Heroin Cravings?
✔️ Naltrexone, also known as Vivitrol, is a prescription medication that is FDA-approved to treat opioid use disorder.
Naltrexone does not relieve heroin cravings. Naltrexone can block the euphoric effects of opioids, reducing the likelihood that taking an opioid drug will get a person high.
❓ Can You Relieve Heroin Cravings Without Medication?
✔️ Currently, medications for heroin use disorder—such as methadone and buprenorphine—are the only evidence-based treatments for helping relieve heroin cravings.
Through behavioral therapy and counseling, individuals can learn behavioral strategies for managing the distress that can accompany cravings.
However, this will be most beneficial in conjunction with medication and drug rehab.
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Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.
These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration—Information about Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse—Medications to Treat Opioid Use Disorder Report
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse—Study highlights effectiveness of methadone and buprenorphine
- U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse—What are the treatments for heroin use disorder?