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How does a heroin craving feel?

By Guest Writer, Kristie Garcia

How does an unbearable heroin craving feel?

A drug craving is somewhat similar to a deep yearning. But the craving for an addictive substance such as heroin, is sharper, stronger and much more intense. So, how does a heroin craving really FEEL? Kristie tells us from her experience. And, we invite your questions or comments about getting past an urge or craving to use at the end.

A craving is a brain activation

Most people who are withdrawing from heroin experience a strong desire to take more heroin. This is known as experiencing cravings, and cravings are common among people withdrawing from many addictive substances. Part of the craving is driven by the wish to reduce the symptoms of heroin withdrawal, and part of it is the desire to re-experience the pleasure of the heroin high. Also to stop the uncomfortableness of withdrawal.

When I’m experiencing cravings, it feels like life itself is dependent on getting and consuming either heroin or some other type of opiate substance that is causing those feelings. I usually feel justified in saying or doing whatever it takes to feel that satisfaction and relief. But that relief will only last until that drug starts to wear off, which might just be a few hours or might be a day depending on the quality of the heroin/opiate.

In my personal experience (and research can even back it up), cravings are strong memories that are linked to the effect of drugs on the brain’s biochemistry. Imaging studies have shown intense brain activation when pictures that are linked to drug use (like a pipe, or a white powdery substance resembling cocaine) are shown to addicts.

I know the intoxication you feel the moment that memory hits you and your entire body tingles with anticipation. It’s as if your whole being is crying out saying “This is what we’ve been waiting for. Give it to me!!!” I never know to expect it, but when they hit, there’s no questioning – I know that a craving has just taken over me. It’s no wonder that people go “out and use” over these things, especially, early on in recovery.

Trust me: been there, done that.

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How to get over a craving for heroin

So, how can you get past a craving? And are there ways to switch off a craving? Here are some really practical things that have helped me (and continue to keep me motivated).

1. Believe in recovery.

When you’re struggling with drug addiction, sobriety most definitely seems like an impossible goal. But recovery is never out of reach, no matter how hopeless your situation seems even though I can’t convince myself of this, IT IS A FACT. Change is possible with the right treatment and support, and by addressing the root cause of your addiction. Here’s what has helped me.

2. Don’’t give up.

Try again, even if you’’ve tried and failed before. This will actually be my 6th rodeo. The road to recovery often involves bumps, pitfalls, setbacks, and lots and lots of relapse (in my case). But by examining the problem and thinking about change, you’re already on your way.

3. Get professional mental health treatment.

Addiction and the brain go hand-in-hand. You have a better chance of kicking your heroin habit if you get drug counseling (therapy) and other support (namely by your friends and family) early in your decision to become drug-free. Counseling can include 12-step groups like NA, one-on-one counseling, psychotherapy, or entering a day drug treatment program.

4. Look into opiate substitution therapies.

Medication-assisted treatment for opioid dependence can include the use of buprenorphine (Suboxone) to complement the education, counseling and other support measures that focus on the behavioral aspects of opioid addiction. This medication can allow one to regain a normal state of mind whilst being free of withdrawal, cravings and the drug-induced highs and lows of addiction. Medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and dependence is much like using medication to treat other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, asthma or diabetes.

Taking medication for opioid addiction is not the same as substituting one addictive drug for another. Although I have not tried this myself, the people that I am associated with say that it is much harder to come off of methadone and suboxone, than it is to come off heroin. So just consider doing some research on it and talking with a doctor before you make that decision.

Once established on a regular dose, most people stay on buprenorphine for a long period of time. This is called maintenance and helps you to keep off street drugs. Some people gradually reduce the dose and come off it. This is called detoxification, or ‘detox’. However, it usually takes several months, and sometimes years, before most people are ready to consider ‘detox’. It is often safer to stay on buprenorphine then to ‘detox’ before you are ready. Buprenorphine-naloxone, generically named Suboxone.

Methadone is an opioid and has been the standard form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and dependence for more than 30 years. Methadone for the treatment of opioid dependence is only available from federally-regulated clinics which are few in number and unappealing for most patients. In addition, studies show that participation in a methadone program improves both physical and mental health, and decreases mortality (deaths) from opioid addiction. Like Suboxone, when taken properly, medication-assisted treatment with methadone suppresses opioid withdrawal, blocks the effects of other problem opioids and reduces cravings.

For many years doctors have used methadone to treat heroin addiction. But people who take methadone have to go to their methadone clinic often their medicine. This may be a help to people who need the supports services at their clinic, but for others it can be a barrier to treatment. Many communities do not have methadone clinics, or their clinics do not have room for new patients.

5. Understand the brain science.

When addictive drugs are consumed, they bypass the normal functions of the body that would generate signals of pleasure after activities like sex, eating or other pleasurable actions. The chemicals in the drug trick the body into feeling pleasure, thus the euphoria and sense of well-being a person can get when they are high. However, the chemical feeling that you get is NOT REAL. It’s an illusion. And when you end your physical and psychological dependence on heroin, life can only get better. Really.

So, how does a craving really feel? Now, it’s your turn to share. Because when we bring light to the pain and the difficulty of recovery, we help ourselves and each other. Please share your comments, feedback, or experiences below.

Reference Sources: SAMHSA.gov

Photo credit: Gaellery

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13 Responses to “How does a heroin craving feel?
Danny
7:55 pm March 2nd, 2015

Craving comes after first use, up until then it is an obsession. Find help in a drug rehabilitation program that suggests abstinence and a twelve step program. Treating an addiction with another addictive substance probably want work.

12:45 pm March 3rd, 2015

You are right Danny. However, the maintenance medications calm the brain’s cravings for the drug one is quitting. That’s why they are used as a part of a full recovery treatment program that works on learning new coping mechanisms, building a new and positive lifestyle, getting to the root causes of the addictive behavior and dealing with them. A good support system and talk therapy, as well as group sessions promise great results. The thing is, addicted individuals need the maintenance medications to be able to focus on their recovery. If used carefully and as prescribed, there is very little risk of cross-addiction.

Waismann
7:26 pm March 3rd, 2015

There are two types of cravings, physiological caused by empty receptors ( that could be eliminated with antagonist medication ) and psychological, usually caused by the necessity to self-medicate emotions. It is crucial to be able to assess and identify the source of the craving in order to control it.

12:54 am March 12th, 2015

Thank you for the useful additional info! You certainly are right about the types of cravings.

col
8:21 pm November 21st, 2015

Keep trying to leave alone but can’t even though it does nothing for me just a waist of money but still do it

Carrie
1:40 pm December 1st, 2015

I am trying to understand about heroin cravings to try and be of support to my partner who still uses despite being in a methadone programme. He has been an addict for twenty years, we are close to breaking up because of the lies that go with his addiction. I’m trying to help but not sure how to. Any advice would be greatly appreciated x

8:42 pm December 1st, 2015

Hello Col. You can fight and overcome addiction, no matter what. Call the helpline displayed on our site to get in touch with our trusted treatment providers who can help you find the most suitable rehab for you.

10:45 pm December 1st, 2015

Hello Carrie. Heroin cravings some of the strongest people experience during withdrawal, especially when we’re talking about addiction. Have you considered attending counseling sessions? Also, you can go to therapy to learn ways you can support him through recovery, and truly understand the addiction process. Stay strong!

Marla
8:08 am March 1st, 2016

How do you explain a “craving” for something you’ve never used? Lately I’ve had terrible craving for heroin, a drug I’ve never touched in my life. I have a terminal brain tumor, degenerative disc disease, bulged, herniated and fractured discs from my neck to my lower back. I took morphine for a couple of years, but started to have liver problems so I stopped using it. What could be causing my crazy thought about heroin making me feel better? I’m scared.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
2:59 pm March 7th, 2016

Hi Marla. I’m really sorry about your situation. This is the first time I’ve ever heard about a “craving” for something you’ve never used maybe it’s best you consult a therapist and talk about this with him/her.

Kourtney
10:06 pm May 12th, 2016

I never was on herion but i had surgey in 2012 for tendon repair. every since than ive been experiencing with diffrent types of pain pill. by far the worse withdrawls i experience was morphine 60mg. I was popping them like 2 once a day perscribed by the doctor. i was throwing up green stuff , i couldnt move, shaking and just a downright nasty feel. I eventually went to the methadone clinic. I thought that was the easy way out. this wasnt a very smart idea. then again maybe it was. i just feel like the cravings or really strong after quiting methadone cold turkey. i was just on 30 mg for 2 months once day. i quickly decided i needed control. I felt like a slave to the methadone clinic. I HATE THAT FEELING. i dont really feel anything physcally like last time. its onlyy in my head.Its like a fat girl love icecream. I dont know what worse. morphine or methadone!!! there is not medicine that can cure the disease of a substance abuser only Jesus Christ and im depending on him to get me through this. In Jesus Name I believe that it helped out alot of people, but its not for me. I want to be free. I asked God why he created such a powerful plant like the poppy plant. I was baffled for years. Now i come to the realization that it was made to prevent predators from detroying the plant.

Jack
12:10 pm June 8th, 2016

It feels like someone constantly pulling on your sleeve, relentlessly attempting to guide you in the opposite direction you’re trying to go.

Don
7:56 pm June 15th, 2016

Iv been off opiates for days weeks months at a time for the past 4 years and the craving was allways there especially when I’d sleep dreams about getting high were the worst and I’d allways go back never get treatment nothing well 4 days ago june 12 2016 will be always scared in my head forever the day i watched my mom dad and sister do everything they could do to bring me back when I od in are bathroom I say watched because I was there but gone no I didn’t c white lights all my family who’s gone no hands reaching for above or below thank God for the below part but I watched my dad almost pull my shoulder out of socket to get me flat on ground my sister put her hand on my nose to check if I was breathing such I wasn’t and my mom who’s a nurse look for a pulse that was gone to I was dead think dead at 30 I watched all this how I don’t no all I no is I was watching one minute next minute I opened my eyes alive before the paramedics got there I have an 8 year old daughter that almost lost her dad withdrawal cravings and using do not compare with death

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