Anyone who has the misfortune to develop a potentially life-threatening illness or condition or who is close to someone who has, will be keen to know what their chances of recovery are. It is certainly true in the case of addiction, especially where dependence on powerfully intoxicating substances such as alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, cocaine and amphetamines is involved. Because of the seemingly intractable nature of the problem, a sense of hopelessness comes with the territory and is experienced both by the addicted person and those near and dear to them.
Although the individual’s particular situation has always to be taken fully into account, research tends to indicate a more hopeful picture than perhaps we might suspect when assessing the chances of recovery from addiction. For instance, significant numbers of addicted people recover without ever turning to professional treatment or other forms of help like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, a development often referred to as “unassisted recovery”. People in this category are generally found to suffer lower levels of co-morbidity, to be suffering less severe damage overall and have higher levels of “recovery capital” available to them. Overall, somewhere between 40% and 60% of people with a substance use disorder will probably achieve remission with or without formal treatment.
While there is a generally good prognosis when it comes to estimating chances of recovery from addiction, it is clear that this will not necessarily be swiftly realised. Having said that, once a problem has been identified the sooner help is sought and obtained, the less time it takes to secure full remission. But time will still be needed for recovery to take root. Some credible research suggests that as many as eight years and up to four to five treatment episodes may be required to achieve one year of fully sustained recovery. That recovery is then likely to need to be continuous over four to five years before the person’s risk of addiction becomes statistically no greater than that of the general population.
In the first 6-12 months people in recovery are at their most vulnerable to relapse. This paradoxically coincides with the period when they may be at their most optimistic, enjoying the fruits of early recovery as a variety of benefits begin to accrue. Unrealistic attitudes may lead to a lack of follow-through on some of the hard yards of recovery.
There is no one certain and exclusive path to recovery and people need to find the one that suits them best. However, to improve the chances of recovery from addiction, research indicates the need for a consistent managed approach over the long term. There’s no hope of a “quick fix”, the urge that is so central to addiction. Apart from anything else, the person’s brain needs time to readjust to the absence of the repeated influx of intoxicating chemicals.