Overcoming Heroin Addiction without the Use of Pharmaceuticals: A Qualitative Interview Study [2020]

Although opioid maintenance treatment lowers mortality and has proven efficacy in reducing opioid use, it is not an option for every person with an opioid addiction. Studies of the experiences of those who have overcome their addiction without pharmaceuticals are rare, but vital to understanding the quitting process and how it can be facilitated. This study investigated what persons with a previous heroin addiction perceived as helpful when overcoming their addiction without the use of pharmaceuticals, and what they consider important for health services to consider. Eleven adults with former heroin addiction participated. Most described the leaving process as prolonged and including many attempts. Experiences such as being worn out and numb, life-threatening overdoses, personal losses or a growing feeling of missing important stages in life fueled the decision process. Envisioning a future without drugs was described as an important component. To maintain the decision to refrain from heroin use the possibility to gain a new social context was crucial. Results imply that health care professionals should be proactive by seizing the moment of opportunity for change (e.g., after an overdose), and should be empathetic and never give up on a person. Those concerned with care, welfare and other support or control systems in society must cooperate to offer more personalized support.

Christina Nehlin, Mimmie Willebrand, Charlotte Wollert Brander & Caisa Öster
Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Volume 52, 2020 – Issue 3
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