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.
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 youre 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, youre 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.