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Abstinence Based Recovery: The Best Chance for Heroin Addicts

Serenity Lane Treatment Center
Home Resources Articles Abstinence Based Recovery: The Best Chance for Heroin Addicts

Abstinence Based Recovery: The Best Chance for Heroin Addicts

Overcoming a dependence on heroin is a complicated, challenging and emotionally draining journey. Unfortunately, the rocky road to recovery presents a challenge to hundreds of thousands of citizens throughout America, who wish to break free from their heroin use.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine categorizes addiction as a primary, chronic disease of the brain and, although some heroin addicts attempt to overcome their problems on their own, the reality is that diseases usually require medical intervention. In that respect, drug addiction is no different.

The disease of addiction is a self-destructive one and, if left untreated, drug dependency can pave the way to further self-destructive behaviour. Heroin use is linked to increased likelihood of turning to other crime and can cause problems within relationships, lead to violence and create further mental health issues.

However, for heroin users, the journey to recovery is further hindered by the two main treatment methods available to them being in conflict with each other. Inevitably, of course, both methods purport to offer the best chance of a successul recovery, yet one of those methods has received widespread criticism and, it can be argued, is not actually a treatment for addiction at all.

Methadone Treatment

Physicians in the United States have been using methadone, a synthetic opioid, as a treatment for heroin addiction for around half a century, with the practice becoming widespread during the 1960s. When utilized in this way, methadone serves a replacement drug, theoretically allowing an addict to stop heroin use without experiencing the acute withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping ‘cold turkey’.

After being moved onto methadone use, the dosage is supposed to be gradually reduced until, eventually, it is discontinued completely, leaving a former heroin addict free from any drug use. Yet, in reality, countless addicts end up using methadone in the long term and become as dependent on it as they were with heroin in the first place.

Some critics have pointed out that methadone treatment serves as little more than a ‘quick fix’, replacing the former heroin use with another, legalized drug, while doing absolutely nothing to tackle the root cause of the patient’s addiction problem. As a result, long-term dependency on methadone is inevitable and the person remains an addict. Furthermore, methadone is, in itself, a dangerously addictive drug. Although statistically, patients receiving prescribed methadone treatment make up less than a quarter of all fatal methadone overdoses in the United, in reality that number is still far too high.

Others have been far harsher in their condemnation of methadone-based recovery methods. In the United States, Sen. John McCain labelled methadone treatment as “disgusting and immoral” and referred to its widespread use as little more than an “Orwellian drug swap.” Comedian Russell Brand, himself a recovered heroin addict, also attacked methadone treatment in the United Kingdom. Appearing before a home affairs committee examining government drug policy, Brand called for more compassion. “We might as well let people carry on taking drugs if they’re going to be on methadone,” he concluded.

Abstinence Based Recovery

If methadone is not the answer to solving heroin addiction, the main alternative treatment available is abstinence based recovery, initially carried out in rehabilitation facilities such as Serenity Lane. Indeed, it is through this method that heroin addiction can truly be overcome, rather than merely subsided or replaced with another addiction.

Abstinence based recovery, as the name suggests, focuses on complete abstinence from any drug use, thereby breaking the cycle of addiction. To achieve remission from the disease of addiction, complete withdrawal of all drugs and alcohol is required and abstinence based recovery promotes this withdrawal in a safe, controlled environment, with immediate support for the patient. By offering this support, the emotional toll of withdrawal can be sufficiently limited and the common withdrawal symptoms can be adequately managed.

Addiction takes longer than a day to form and therefore takes longer than a day to recover from. Various studies have shown that the amount of time spent in a treatment facility is proportional to the chances of actually achieving long-term recovery from heroin dependency.

Peter Asmuth, CEO at Serenity Lane Treatment Center in Eugene, Oregon revealed in an interview that research from the Serenity Lane facility has shown that best results are achieved after a full year of treatment. Studies have shown that the facility has over a 70% success rate for long-term recovery from addiction for patients who complete the full year.

In contrast to methadone treatment, abstinence based recovery does not include drug substitution or harm reduction policies. Instead, it requires complete acceptance of the addiction and places an emphasis on educating patients on the nature of addiction and supporting them in their continued battle against the disease.


Heroin addiction is hugely damaging to thousands of Americans, destroying relationships and ruining lives. One of the biggest problems facing addicts who wish to beat their addiction is the vastly different treatment methods on offer.

Although withdrawal from heroin is possible through methadone treatment, its harshest critics have condemned it as a scandal and an immortal practice. Certainly, it raises many ethical questions and, essentially, serves to replace one addiction with another, rather than asking an addict to confront the underlying causes of their addiction and giving them a realistic chance of beating it.

While confronting such issues can be daunting, it is also provides a real chance for addicts to win the battle against the disease of addiction as a whole, rather than merely beating one specific drug dependency.

These issues can only be adequately confronted after a patient withdraws from mind-altering drug use and accepts their status as an addict. It is for this reason that abstinence based recovery, carried out in a suitable rehabilitiation center, provides the best chance for heroin addicts, and those dependent on any substances, to recover and live a full and happy life.

Christine Redpath writes a regular column for DrugAbuse.com
More of her articles on health issues can be found at: http://drugabuse.com/library/how-to-help-a-drug-addict/

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