Medically Reviewed by Dr. Mohammed Saeed, MD.
As many people have heard through various media outlets, opioid addiction rates in the United States have been on the rise for several years now. With upwards of 27,000 lethal overdoses each year, we’ve entered into what the government and media consider to be a nationwide epidemic.
All of this may sound intimidating but it’s important to understand that addiction is not an incurable disease. Even so, after reaching a state of sobriety, addictive tendencies and cravings may still linger, maybe even for the duration of the addicted person’s life.
That’s why it’s critical for anyone seeking recovery from addiction that the distinction between the terms “cured” and “sober” be identified early in the recovery process. Recovery is not a destination; there is no definitive cure that ends the burdens of addiction once-and-for-all. Rather, recovery is a journey to maintain sobriety and one that often lasts a lifetime.
The Risk of Relapse
This can often be discouraging for heroin addicts, as experts estimate that nearly 80% of heroin users who attempt recovery will ultimately relapse and slip into addiction once again. For many heroin addicts, the association of relapse with failure is where they begin to lose hope and truly believe that recovery is too far out of reach. After their first relapse, many heroin addicts believe that they’ve simply become so entrenched in drug dependency that their chances for overcoming addiction are slim to none. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Heroin addiction is a multidimensional disease and one that consumes many areas of an addicted person’s life. This can make recovery efforts for this particular drug extremely difficult, though not impossible. Successfully reaching and sustaining sobriety will require a combination of willpower and persistence, as well as the right clinical treatment program and a solid support system to hold them accountable to healthy lifestyle choices.
Recovery From Heroin Addiction is Possible
First and foremost, the heroin addict must want to become sober. Because heavy opioid use embeds itself so deeply within the brain, there needs to be a genuine desire to change unhealthy habits. In most cases, recovery isn’t simply a process of detox and medically supervised withdrawal, it’s a complete lifestyle transformation, which requires a lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle.
For most heroin addicts, successful recovery will require an inpatient treatment program. Treatment for heroin addiction should include comprehensive cognitive behavioral therapies to address the factors that influenced the choice to begin using heroin in the first place. Understanding the root cause of the addiction can help avoid triggers in the future, and by recognizing these in day-to-day life, it becomes easier to implement healthy coping mechanisms, rather than defaulting to drug use. Treatment programs that offer individual, group, and family therapies increase the likelihood of sustained sobriety after transitioning out of the treatment facility.
After leaving full-time treatment, lifelong sobriety will depend on an individual’s effort to continue to attend individual and group therapy sessions, as well as lean heavily on a support system to hold them accountable to a healthy lifestyle. Relapse often occurs when a recovering addict becomes comfortable and confident that they can remain sober on their own. This is why maintaining sobriety is considered to be a lifelong commitment. Triggers will always be there, and will often impact a recovering heroin addict throughout their entire life, which is why continued sobriety will be the result of leveraging support resources on a regular basis.
While experts believe heroin recovery is often successful for only 20% of addicts, the numbers alone should not discourage heroin users from seeking treatment. Overcoming heroin addiction takes courage, strength, and commitment, as well as the appropriate resources and support pillars. Remember that relapse is a common occurrence, but should not be mistaken as a failure. For heroin addicts, recovery is well within reach, and sobriety is far from impossible.