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Heroin Recovery Rates: How Often Do Users Overcome Abuse?

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In 2007, it was reported that there were 153,000 people using heroin in the U.S., according to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World. In 2017, a report stated that about 494,000 people in the U.S. said they had used heroin in the past year, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It is no secret that heroin abuse and addiction are at epidemic levels in the U.S. This means that people need treatment to find recovery. The good news is that people recover from heroin addiction every day.

Exploring Heroin Recovery Success Rates

In the U.S., it is estimated that about 18 percent of people who seek substance abuse treatment do so because of heroin and other opiates.

Heroin addiction is a treatable condition. It is not curable, but like other diseases that affect the body long-term, there are ways to manage addiction successfully, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

It is estimated that about 60 percent of people who go to treatment for heroin addiction will experience a relapse, according to research published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. However, the prognosis is not as grim as it might seem.

A collection of studies was evaluated, and the results were published in Addiction. These studies focused on Vietnam veterans who had a high rate of relapse and addiction when they were young men. These men typically became addicted to heroin overseas since it was cheap and readily available. It was estimated that about half of the soldiers in the study experienced addiction.

About 12 percent experienced relapse once they got home. At the end of the study three years later, only 2 percent of the men still had a heroin addiction. 

Other research varies regarding abstinence and recovery rates. One study followed people addicted to heroin for 33 years. This study was published in 2001 by the NIDA. It concluded the following regarding the living study participants at the end of the study:

Heroin Recovery Study Results

  • About 20.7 of participants were still using heroin
  • Approximately 9.5 percent of participants refused to be tested
  • About 14 percent of participants were incarcerated
  • Roughly 55.8 of participants were abstinent
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By the time the study ended, about half of the nearly 600 participants had died. The results are based on the participants the researchers could contact.

Demographics and Regions

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It is estimated that in the U.S., about 75 percent of people who seek treatment for heroin addiction started using prescription opioids before turning to heroin, according to research published in JAMA Psychiatry. This statistic appears to be true for all demographics and all regions throughout the country.

It is important to note that not all people had legal prescriptions. Some used prescription opioids recreationally that were never prescribed to them before developing an addiction. 

In the past decade, about 90 percent of people who are new to using heroin are Caucasian, according to research published in JAMA Psychiatry. In fact, since the early 1970s, more than half of all people addicted to heroin have been Caucasian. 

Heroin use among most demographics has increased, according to the CDC. The demographics that experienced an increase include both men and women, people ages 18 and older, all household income groups, and people with all health insurance coverage levels, including no insurance. The only demographic that has reduced heroin use is people ages 12 to 17.

People who already have another substance use disorder are more likely to become addicted to heroin. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states:

  • Those with an alcohol use disorder are two times more likely to experience a heroin addiction.
  • Those with a marijuana use disorder are three times more likely to experience a heroin addiction.
  • Those with a cocaine use disorder are 15 times more likely to experience a heroin addiction.
  • Those with a prescription opioid painkiller use disorder are 40 times per likely to experience a heroin addiction.

The Importance of Customized Treatment

In the U.S., there are about 14,000 substance abuse treatment facilities, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These treatment centers are located throughout the country and offer different treatment options. 

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to addiction treatment. Different types of care will work better for some people than others, and it’s critical that treatment is tailored to the individual. 

Ultimately, success rates for treatment will be significantly higher if the program is customized to suit the individual’s needs. The program should also evolve as the person progresses in treatment. What they need at the beginning of treatment will be different than what they need at later stages of recovery.

How to Increase the Chances of Success

When someone is in treatment, there are certain things they can do to increase their chances of recovery. The first step is picking the right treatment program.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a good program that increases the chances of success will have the following:

  • Ongoing assessments
  • A continuum of treatment options
  • Integration of ongoing social support
  • A diverse range of services, including individual counseling, educational elements, pharmacological treatment, and group counseling
  • Case monitoring and management to ensure that clients are getting the right services at the right intensity 

There are several things a person can do to increase their chances of success on the road to recovery. 

  • Get help for the withdrawal process to reduce the unpleasant effects and increase the likelihood of completing it.
  • Choose a facility that uses a holistic approach, addressing all elements of the person in treatment.
  • Enroll in a program that allows clients to provide feedback.
  • Commit to learning.
  • Work hard to get the most out of each therapy type.
  • Stay in treatment for the entire duration of the program. The NIDA recommends that people choose a program that lasts no fewer than 90 days.
  • Build a support system.
  • Take advantage of support groups.
  • Focus on abstaining from all drugs and illicit substances, including tobacco.
  • Have a relapse prevention plan in place before leaving treatment.

How to Reduce the Risk of Relapse

Avoiding some people and things can help people to reduce their risk of relapse. 

  • Avoid drug suppliers and dealers. These may be friends, but it’s important to make a clean break in recovery.
  • Avoid people who are still struggling with addiction.
  • Be honest during treatment.
  • Eliminate distractions to improve focus on treatment.
  • Keep an open mind.
  • Create a healthier lifestyle with regular exercise and a balanced diet.
  • Improve communication skills. This will help to foster relationships that are critical to ongoing support in recovery.

People find success in treatment for heroin abuse or addiction every day. While heroin addiction can feel like a hopeless situation, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

With the right treatment and support in place, you can leave heroin abuse in your past and embrace success in all aspects of life in recovery. 

Sources

International Statistics. Foundation for a Drug-Free World. from https://www.drugfreeworld.org/drugfacts/heroin/international-statistics.html

Heroin Overdose Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/heroin.html

Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

(2014) The Changing Face of Heroin Use in the United States: A Retrospective Analysis of the Past 50 Years. JAMA Psychiatry. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24871348

(2014) Is Residential Treatment Effective for Opioid Use Disorders? A Longitudinal Comparison of Treatment Outcomes Among Opioid Dependent, Opioid Misusing, and Non-Opioid Using Emerging Adults with Substance Use Disorder. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25267606

(1993) The Sixth Thomas James Okey Memorial Lecture. Vietnam Veterans’ Rapid Recovery from Heroin Addiction: A Fluke or Normal Expectation? Addiction. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8401158

(2014) The Changing Face of Heroin in the United States. JAMA Psychiatry. from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1874575

(2001) 33-Year Study Finds Lifelong, Lethal Consequences of Heroin Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. from http://www.ehd.org/health_heroin_5.php

Today’s Heroin Epidemic Infographics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin/infographic.html

Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUHresultsPDFWHTML2013/Web/NSDUHresults2013.pdf

(1996) Treatment Protocol Effectiveness Study. Office of National Drug Control Policy. from https://www.ncjrs.gov/ondcppubs/publications/treat/trmtprot.html

How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last? National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment

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